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Jens Kaae Fisker, jefi@sam.sdu.dk, Danish Centre for Rural Research, University of Southern Denmark
Annette Aagaard Thuesen, Danish Centre for Rural Research, University of Southern Denmark
Egon Noe, Danish Centre for Rural Research, University of Southern Denmark

Topic: Rural redlining: spatial injustice in the Danish housing market

Keywords: housing; redlining; rural; spatial justice; mortgage lending; Denmark


Over the past two decades changes in mortgage lending practice have effectively ‘redlined’ (McCann, 2009: 626) large swaths of the Danish countryside. Potential house buyers are being rejected based entirely on the location of the place in which they wish to reside. Given that affected areas are already challenged by outmigration and the loss of both public and private services, the new situation risks exacerbating already existing patterns of uneven development in ways that are detrimental to the continued viability of local communities as places of settlement. Arguably, it also engenders a substantial curtailment of the rights of citizens to decide where to live. With an outset in theories of spatial justice (e.g. Soja, 2010) our aim in this paper is to explore how this situation came into being and to trace its implications, firstly, in patterns of uneven development and, secondly, in housing market exclusion of ordinary citizens. Our data material includes (1) quantitative data on the spatial distribution of housing mortgages in Denmark, (2) a sample of mortgage lender decisions in rural areas, (3) documents substantiating state intervention and state-driven discourse on rural housing markets, and (4) interviews with (would-be) house buyers affected by rural redlining. Our findings suggest that rural redlining emerged as a result of both state interventions to regulate the mortgage market and various procedural changes among mortgage lenders. Among the latter, the proliferation of algorithms and data-driven approaches to lending decisions are seen to be particularly important, contributing to the production of software-sorted geographies (Graham, 2005). In terms of state interventions, the global financial crisis stands out as a key catalyst prompting the state to double back on previous rounds of deregulation by placing new requirements on lender practice. Simultaneously, state actors have contributed to a discourse in which house-buying is increasingly portrayed as an investment decision rather than as a life choice. In combination with recurrent stories about deteriorating rural housing markets this may have further aggravated the situation through self-disciplining behaviour among potential rural house buyers.

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