Officer Discretion and Minority Ethnic Housing Provision

Richard Tomlins

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16 Citations (Scopus)


Since the 1980s housing associations have supplanted local authorities as the major providers of new social housing in Britain. This development has been criticised as threatening to introduce particularism and socially constructed definitions of deserving/undeserving status in place of democratically accountable provision. However this article argues that fears about the actions of "unaccountable" housing associations are based upon a falsely grounded nostalgia for local state housing. For example the concept of local authority accountability has been largely notional for minority ethnic communities who have been marginalised and excluded from access to local authority housing. Therefore the potential for housing associations to develop more responsive policies is examined. Primary research from a major British housing association is used to focus upon the opportunities and constraints facing minority ethnic communities as a result of the discretionary role of social gatekeepers. However, it is noted that even the sensitive use of officer discretion may still represent paternalistic provision for minority ethnic communities. Consequently it is suggested that state provision throughout Europe should respond to difference by embracing the potential of a pluralistic housing policy. This would include facilitating opportunities for minority ethnic self-provision of housing alongside universal provision.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)179-197
Number of pages18
JournalNetherlands Journal of Housing and the Built Environment
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1997
Externally publishedYes


  • Social housing
  • Race equality
  • street-level bureaucracy
  • Officer discretion
  • Ethnicity
  • Discrimination


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