Cover Image
close this bookSupport Measures to Promote Rental Housing for Low-Income Groups (HABITAT, 1993, 132 p.)
View the documentA. The nature of owners, tenants and sharers
View the documentB. Preferences for owning, renting or sharing
View the documentC. The choice between different kinds of non-ownership
View the documentD. Who invests in rental housing?

A. The nature of owners, tenants and sharers

Work during the last 10 years in a number of third-world cities has discovered some basic similarities in the kinds of households that own, rent or share accommodation. The descriptions cannot be totally precise, however, because there are important differences between cities. In addition, there is usually considerable overlap between the characteristics of families in different kinds of tenure. As Gilbert (1993: 141) found in a comparative study of tenure in Caracas, Mexico City and Santiago de Chile:

“the basic finding must be that in none of the three cities can owners, tenants and sharers be separated into clear socio-economic groupings. There were too many similarities between owners and tenants, and even between tenants and landlords. Owners, tenants and sharers do not constitute homogenous groups and no single factor seems to determine whether households are tenants, sharers or owners.”

Nevertheless, the following patterns are common in third-world cities.

Tenant and sharer families tend to be younger than those of owners. Certainly, in Santafe BogotCaracas, Guadalajara, La Paz, Mexico City, Puebla and Santiago de Chile, tenants and sharers tend to be drawn from a younger age group than owners (Beijaard, 1992: 71; Gilbert and Ward, 1985; Gilbert and Varley, 1991; Camacho and Ter 1991). In Africa, a similar pattern has been found. In Blantyre and Lilongwe, whereas more than 90 per cent of owner-occupier heads of household are aged 30 or over, nearly 50 per cent of tenants are under 30 (Pennant, 1990: 194). In Kumasi, owners are older than renters and roomers (Tipple and Willis, 1989: 17) and tenants are younger than owners in Tanzania (Peil and Sada, 1984: 296). If the average age of tenants is generally younger than that of owners, it should also be remembered that many older households also live as tenants (Beijaard, 1986, Edwards, 1982; Rivas, 1977).

In Delhi, while tenants are generally younger than owners, less than 1 per cent of tenants are less than 25 years old (Wadhva, 1993: 52). The reason is that young people in India do not set up their own home but share accommodation with parents until they are older. Indeed, sharing is very common in Indian cities. In Delhi, 37 per cent of landlords provide free accommodation for kin (ibid.). In Benin, the age of tenants depends greatly upon the kind of accommodation. In the housing supplied by employers, the main beneficiaries are more senior employees so that virtually all tenants are over 35 years of age (Ozo, 1993: 36). Sharers tend to be the youngest age group with the majority in the 20-40-year age group, they are generally unmarried people or are households at an early stage of their life cycle (ibid., 36).

Tenant families tend to be smaller than owner households. In Santafe BogotCaracas, Guadalajara, Mexico City and Santiago de Chile, owners have larger households than non-owners (Gilbert and Ward, 1985; Gilbert and Varley, 1991; Gilbert, 1993). In Delhi, the average size of tenant households is also much smaller than that of owners: three compared with five (Wadhva, 1992: 98). In Malawi’s two main cities, owner households contain an average of 6.6 people whereas tenant households contain only 3.7 (Pennant, 1990: 194). Owner-occupier households are larger because owners tend to be older and consequently tend to have more children. In addition, in Latin America, Turkey, and in parts of East Africa self-help ownership is particularly attractive to households with large families. In West Africa, owner households are also much larger than those of tenants but for a different reason; the tendency for kin to arrive from the countryside and move in with their home-owning urban relations (Peil and Sada, 1984; Tipple and Willis, 1989).

Tenant families tend to be poorer than owner families. In Indonesia, Hoffman et al. (1989: 2.6) find that “over 75 per cent of renter households have incomes... less than the average household income.” In Santiago de Chile and Mexico City, the incomes of owner households are higher than those of non-owners (Gilbert, 1993) and in Quito “...occupant income increases from rented rooms, to shanties, to houses” (Klak and Hotzclaw, 1993: 270). Similarly, in Ahmedabad, NIUA (1989a: 21) find that

“86.4 per cent of households with incomes about Rs. 2500 had their own houses whereas only 54-56 per cent of households with incomes lower than Rs. 700 owned any house in the city” (NIUA, 1989a: 21).

In the case of Kumasi, Tipple and Willis (1989: 28) report that although some tenants are as affluent as most owners, “roomers - who are just a majority of households include many of the poorest and least advantaged.” In Delhi, Wadhva’s (1992: 98) survey of 200 households found that while 44 per cent of tenants had monthly incomes lower than Rs. 2500, only 7 per cent of landlords had incomes as low as this. In Cairo, sharers are concentrated among the lowest income groups (Serageldin, 1993: 27).

It is important to distinguish, however, between household incomes and per capita incomes. Because tenant families are much smaller, they often have higher per capita incomes. This is certainly the case in Caracas, Mexico City and Santiago de Chile (Gilbert, 1993). Sharers in Mexico City have lower household incomes than other tenure groups but are more affluent than many of the owners in per capita terms. A similar pattern is also true in Kumasi insofar as the extended family system gives owners large households and consequently reduces their per capita incomes (Tipple and Willis, 1989). Linked to this point is the fact that there are substantial groups of very poor families in most third-world cities who move into owner-occupation because they cannot afford to rent. This is particularly likely where the invasion of land is permitted as in Caracas, Mexico City and Jakarta (Hoffman et al. 1989; Coulomb and Shez, 1991; Camacho and Ter 1991). In Caracas and Mexico City, both household and per capita incomes of poor owner families living in invasion settlements are far below those of most tenants (Gilbert, 1993).

There are also some third-world cities where rich households rent in preference to owning. In Cairo, Abt Associates (1982: 125) report that “ownership status, despite being preferred by households, is not positively related to income.” In India and Nigeria, where employers provide housing, the tenants are usually high-income professionals. In addition, certain more affluent Indians rent accommodation, preferring to invest their capital in expanding their business (Wadhva, 1992: 98).

Home owners tend to have lived longer in the city. This finding confirms early thinking on residential behaviour in Latin American cities which emphasised the relationship between tenure and migrant status (Turner, 1967; 1968). The bridgeheader/consolidator model, devised more than two decades ago, still has a certain validity. Migrants still follow the transition from renting to ownership. There is a pattern of movement from more central areas outwards towards the periphery. Poor households are able to build and consolidate homes, at least when they can create an investment surplus. But, now that cityward migration has been underway for so many years, more and more people have been born in the city. As the cities have become larger the housing alternatives become more varied and complex to describe (Brown and Conway, 1980; Gilbert and Varley, 1991; Gilbert and Ward, 1982; van Lindert, 1991).

As a result, interesting variations in this pattern appear. In several Mexican cities, for example, self-help settlements contain a much higher incidence of migrant owner-occupiers (Coulomb and Shez, 1992; Gilbert and Varley, 1991). By contrast, tenants, especially in the central city, are much more likely to be natives. It seems that native Mexicans use their family networks to improve their housing situation. Sharer families, for example, tend to be natives of the city or to have family in the city; non-sharers have no-one with whom they can share. Other natives use their contact systems and sometimes higher incomes to buy better quality plots or homes in the periphery. Given fewer alternatives migrants are often obliged to move into lower-quality owner-occupation.

In West Africa, further variations occur as a result of the tendency for many migrants living in the city to buy property “at home” in the countryside (O’Connor, 1983; Peil and Sada, 1984). In Nigeria, migrants are more likely to rent than urban natives, and partly for this reason, but also because migrants are poorer than natives, they are more represented in the rooming houses (Ozo, 1993).

Female-headed households are more likely to be tenants or sharers than owners. Research in Guadalajara, Mexico City, Querro, and Puebla has discovered that there is a higher incidence of female-headed households among tenants (Chant and Ward, 1987; Gilbert, 1993). A similar finding is true in West Africa (Barnes, 1982; Ozo, 1993; Peil and Sada, 1984).

There are several reasons for this tendency. First, women are often excluded from official housing programmes offering owner-occupation (Klak and Hey, 1992; Moser and Peake, 1987). Secondly, female-headed households tend to be poorer and, since poorer households frequently rent, women tend to be tenants. Thirdly, women tend to lack the kinds of skills required in self-help construction. As Moser (1987: 28) points out: “frequently they lack both skills and time to self-build but are often required to do so in the absence of funds for professional labour”. Unless they have grown-up sons they are less likely to opt for owner-occupation, although of course many wives are deserted by their husbands once the family have moved into a self-help settlement. As Fal Curutchet (1991: 37) describe experience in a Brazilian sites-and-services project: “women-headed households share similar aspirations to other beneficiaries of the programme but, due to their particular situation, they are among the least able to develop their homes.”