In a recently published study of housing in the EC countries, Roger Quilliot, the French socialist former Minister of Housing, refers to the high level of poverty and housing need in Europe (Ghekiere, 1991). Fifty million of the EC's 337 million population are poor and mainly badly housed and between 3 and 5 million actually homeless. Clearly, recent years have seen the re-emergence of a major shortage of affordable housing. In many countries, some housing issues are again appearing in the political agenda . Concerns include the social, political and racial turmoil which surrounds some peripheral grands ensembles in France, the crisis of mortgage foreclosures and repossessions in the UK, the racially tinged conflict over access to and ownership of housing in reunified Germany and, most common of all perhaps, the rising tide of homelessness.
And yet, in the 1970s, after thirty years of heavily subsidised large scale building activity, the belief was common that the long struggle to provide decent and affordable housing for the majority of citizens had been finally won. True, limited and localised problems remained, 'special needs' groups still had to be catered for. But in many countries these years seemed to herald the emergence of what George Sternlieb called the 'post-shelter' society-housing economies and polities firmly focused on the expansion of home ownership and driven by financial concerns; profits for housing producers and financiers and capital gains for housing consumers-rather than by housing needs.
The reasons for the collapse of this scenario in the last decade or so are complex.