The Financialization of Social Services: Implications for Planning Cities that Value Care Over Profit
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Financialization, often defined as the growing influence of the financial sector in everyday life, is exacerbating the affordability issues that plague many cities today. Drawing on theoretical concepts from ecological and feminist economics, this paper examines the ways in which social services are becoming financialized, with a particular focus on the provision of long-term care for seniors. Financialization has been studied by geography and urban planning scholars, who have focused primarily on its effects on housing; for example, through the expansion of private equity firms and real estate investment trusts into the rental market. The privatization of long-term care and its consequences have also been researched extensively, but primarily in fields related to health and nursing. Through a stakeholder analysis of Ontario’s long-term care sector, this paper bridges the two approaches and illuminates the ways in which real estate assets are integral to the dominance and expansion of financialized care providers. Three main findings are highlighted: 1) Many actors in the system are beholden to financial interests, motivating them to make decisions that are not in the best interests of elderly residents; 2) Investors in financialized providers value fungibility and scalability, which minimizes the local social and cultural context that contribute to personalized care; and 3) Government funding for long-term care is structured in a way that socializes risk while privatizing rewards in the hands of shareholders. This qualitative study is supplemented with a quantitative evaluation of COVID-19 death rates, finding that financialized long-term care homes fared worse than municipal, non-profit, and other for-profit homes. The paper concludes by outlining several strategies to limit the influence of financialized care providers and empower alternative ownership models.