Does social housing regeneration pay off? Lessons from the Glasgow Stock Transfer

Blog post by Meng Le Zhang, George Galster, David Manley and Gwilym Pryce

8 Oct 2021, 8:42 a.m.
Meng Le Zhang, George Galster, David Manley and Gwilym Pryce



Almost 20 years ago, Glasgow residents living in rented social housing turned out to vote on whether or not to hand ownership of their council-owned homes to local housing organisations. As an incentive, residents were promised private-and-public investments to repair their homes if the transfer went ahead. At the end of a fierce political campaign culminating in April 2002, 58% of residents voted in favour of the transfer. Back then, Glasgow City council owned 80,000 homes which housed almost 25% of households in the city. Today the council owns no social housing at all.


Using a sample of the Scottish census, we measured the effect of the Stock Transfer on employment rates. By 2011 the Stock Transfer had induced greater employment rates for Glasgow residents as a whole. However, this was due to financial spending rather than improvement in housing. Most importantly, we found that the effects of the Stock Transfer were unevenly felt: women, those with less education, and those with children were far less likely to benefit from the intervention. Ironically, we find no evidence that residents in former council-owned housing showed any improvement in employment rates compared to our comparison group.


The Stock Transfer was a politically charged topic in Scotland. Regardless of what we found, we knew that someone will challenge them. Therefore, we sought to make the research design as robust as possible. We based the findings on a series of quasi-experiments. These were situations where people could have benefited from the stock transfer but did not for reasons unrelated to the Stock Transfer and their employment status. Like experiments, quasi-experiments allow us to look at causality instead of spurious correlations. The full story can be found in our article, but essentially we found that Glasgow's administrative borders were under-bounded. The actual city where people live and work is larger than Glasgow Council's area of jurisdiction (where the Stock Transfer took place). Therefore, we were able to use people residing in areas just outside Glasgow Council's border but still clearly within the city's urban area as our comparison group(s). Furthermore, additional information in the census and other data sources allowed us to demonstrate the robustness of our conclusions.


All the lessons of the Stock Transfer cannot be learned from one paper. Other papers have already pointed out the challenges and setbacks faced by the Stock Transfer. However, the Stock Transfer is neither the first nor the last housing regeneration scheme that seeks to improve local employment rates through large amounts of public and private spending. We caution voters, policy-makers and other parties that the trickle-down effects of such schemes may not actually reach the residents that are most in need of help.


Read the accompanying article on Urban Studies OnlineFirst here


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