Housing quality as environmental inequality: the case of Wallonia, Belgium

Abstract

First in the USA and then in many other countries, scholarship on environmental inequality has sought to shed light on the unequal environmental conditions borne by poor people and ethnic minorities, and to challenge public policies and their unjust impacts on those target groups. Housing quality, especially the indoor characteristics of homes, offers an innovative perspective in this field of research. In previous research on environmental inequality in the Walloon context, housing quality has been proven to be a major determinant of quality of life and environmental well-being. This paper analyses housing quality through a twofold approach: indoor characteristics on the one hand, and outdoor subjective and objective externalities on the other. It reveals the disparities between the most deprived and the wealthiest segments of the population. The evidence for this study is based on a housing quality survey carried out in 2012 and 2013 on 6018 households in Wallonia (Belgium). The key findings are that poor people are found to live in housing of lower quality, in densely populated neighbourhoods and those with mixed use, with compensating amenities provided at the local level. Moreover, consistent with environmental inequality scholarship, deprived households are found to bear the burden of environmental degradation outside the home. People live in areas with poorer air quality, but are found to benefit from greater access to green spaces. The results of the survey reveal an interesting point concerning the environmental inequality literature; the interior features of housing are found to differ more widely between deprived and wealthier people than the surrounding environment does.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Belgium is a federal state that has three administrative regions: Flanders, the northern, most populated and richest region of the territory; Wallonia, the southern region, and Brussels-Capital, which comprises the Brussels Central Business District and eighteen surrounding urban municipalities.

  2. 2.

    An extremely poor household has an annual taxable income below €10,000.

  3. 3.

    There are 1.52 million households in Wallonia. The reference person for the survey is usually the head of the household or his/her partner.

  4. 4.

    Centre for Sustainable Housing Studies (CEHD) 2012–2013 Survey on Housing Quality in Wallonia.

  5. 5.

    The equivalized income, “OECD modified scale,” assigns a value of 1 to the household head, 0.5 to each additional adult member and of 0.3 to each child (OECD).

  6. 6.

    This includes kitchen, living room(s), bedroom(s), bathroom(s) and toilet(s).

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Lejeune, Z., Xhignesse, G., Kryvobokov, M. et al. Housing quality as environmental inequality: the case of Wallonia, Belgium. J Hous and the Built Environ 31, 495–512 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10901-015-9470-5

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Keywords

  • Environmental inequality
  • Housing conditions
  • Spatial discrepancies
  • Wallonia, Belgium