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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?

C. The choice between different kinds of non-ownership

The choice between owning and renting is not the only option facing households. As table 1 suggests, other kinds of option are available in some cities. In Delhi, Kumasi, Lima, and Santiago de Chile, sharing houses is very common, while in La Paz many households borrow homes from kin, and in Rabat many workers live in accommodation provided by the employer (Beijaard, 1992; Keles and Kano, 1987). Of these various options, sharing is by far the most common. In Delhi, for example, a recent survey by Wadhva (1993: 49) reveals that 37 per cent of households accommodate sharers.

Why do some households choose to rent and others to share? Unfortunately, rather little is known about the motivations of those who share. In some cities, of course, it is clear that many families are forced to share because of a lack of alternatives. In Santiago de Chile, where as many as one fifth of households were sharing in the 1980s, sharing is important because few families can afford to pay the high rents and cheap land is unavailable (Necochea, 1987; Gilbert, 1993). This lack of choice is reflected in the fact that sharers and allegados in Santiago de Chile are typically much poorer than tenants and owners. The allegado population seems to be the group most clearly forced into their current housing circumstances. In Delhi, too, the large numbers of sharers is explained in large part by the lack of alternatives. Households share accommodation because of the high level of rents and difficulties involved in building their own home (Wadhva, 1993: 49).

Yet not too much should be made of the issue of compulsion. For, if some sharers are forced into their present form of tenure, this does not mean that all are unhappy with it. Surveys in Mexico City, for example, suggest that many households who share accommodation are generally content to do so. While sharing is sometimes a tenure of last resort, chosen by those without the resources, 54 per cent of sharers say that there are no disadvantages to this form of tenure (Coulomb and Shez, 1991; Gilbert and Ward, 1985). They do not have to pay rent, they have access to the wide range of consumer durables belonging to their parents, and they have as much or more space than most tenants. Sharing also gives the household a better chance to save money. Their only real complaint is about their lack of independence. Perhaps as a result, sharing is not a short-term tenure, in Mexico City sharers average almost three years in the current home. Similarly, in Santiago de Chile, few who share wish to rent. Sharing is cheap whereas renting is expensive. Among the tenants there are some who would prefer to share were it possible.

If there are so many benefits why do more households not share accommodation? Clearly, in Mexico City some tenants do not wish to do so, 18 per cent saying that they value their independence and a similar proportion stating bluntly that they would not like to share. By far the most commonly cited reason for not sharing, however, is that it is simply not feasible; 28 per cent give this as their reason for not sharing and a further 20 per cent say that they do not have parents in the city (Coulomb and Shez, 1991).

Clearly, kinship ties are crucial in the decision to share, a factor underlined by the finding in Mexico City that every sharer is accommodated by a member of the family. Most sharers are the children (63 per cent), siblings (16 per cent) or parents (8 per cent) of the owners. Mexicans do not share accommodation with friends. The importance of kinship is even more clearly demonstrated in West Africa where sharing seems to have become almost as well-established in the cities as it is in the countryside (Korboe, 1992; Tipple and Willis, 1991; Peil and Sada, 1984). If relations own a home then the rest of family is entitled to stay with them. In West African cities, it seems as if “the very fact of even remote kinship has proved able to invoke free accommodation for the poor” (Korboe, 1992: 1159). In India, too, sharing is confined mainly to extended family groups (Wadhva, 1993). Grown-up children stay with their parents until they are quite old, particularly married sons who will inherit the house after their parents’ death. The next most common kind of sharer is newly arrived kin from outside the city.

Of course, whether all of the accommodating households are happy with sharing is less certain. Some undoubtedly welcome having their children “at home” but others no doubt regret the additional pressure on space. In West Africa, changing attitudes are beginning to increase tensions within extended families. Indeed, in Korboe’s (1992: 1162) survey of sharing families, 45 per cent of owners describe the extended family as parasitic. Much will depend no doubt on the circumstances of the hosts. If they have a large house or plot, they may be pleased to accommodate kin; if they have little room, their view may be more ambivalent. Clearly size of plot has some influence here (Chant and Ward, 1987). In Santafe Bogotwhere plots are relatively small, there certainly seems to be less sharing than in Mexico City where many plots are quite large (Gilbert and Ward, 1985). No doubt, too, the state of the house affects attitudes. In Kumasi, most sharers live in so-called “family homes” which “comprise some of the most neglected housing” (Korboe, 1992: 1168).

What is certain is that sharing can contribute substantially to easing, at least temporarily, a difficult housing situation. As Korboe (1992: 1169) puts it: the housing problem in urban Ghana would be

“decidedly more acute without the contribution which family-housing continues to make. Given the harsh economic climate, this form of housing is too important to be ignored by researchers and policy-makers.”