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Affordable housing experience from the Netherlands

Posted on 05-06-2024

The two-month secondment to the Technische Universiteit in Delft (TU Delft) was an important step in my doctoral journey as I had a chance to interview leading professors and national experts in the field of affordable housing governance. Compared to my research findings on housing affordability in post-socialist countries struggling with the specific challenges of path dependency from the socialist period, the Netherlands is considered a good example of a rich tradition and a good practise example when it comes to organising affordable housing governance.   Historically, housing associations in the Netherlands originated in the 1850s as a response to the housing crisis of the time. They were originally founded as a philanthropic endeavour by wealthy citizens to provide affordable housing for their workers and prevent the diseases that were spreading at the time. Today, housing associations are private and not-for-profit real-estate companies that operate as third sector organisations and pursue a social agenda by providing affordable housing to those in need.   This long history and knowledge of organising affordable housing through housing associations has made the Netherlands a leading country in Europe when it comes to the proportion of affordable rental housing. What I have learnt is that this model cannot be “copied” to other countries, especially not to post-socialist countries where other solutions need to be sought.   I was impressed by the long tradition of the role of housing associations in the Dutch welfare system, but also by the intensity with which they campaign and fight for affordable housing. During my work at TU Delft, a demonstration against high housing prices took place in The Hague, with hundreds of people standing up and demanding more affordable housing. Although housing prices in Croatia are quite high, both for renting and buying, there have not yet been any protests and demands from citizens against the high prices.   The valuable experience and knowledge gained during the secondment will now be translated into a research paper. Together with prof. Haffner and p.rof van Bortel, we want to understand the position of Dutch housing associations in the new economic and regulatory environment, i.e. the abolition of the Landlord Levy, and find out how important they are for achieving the national goals of building and maintaining the social rental housing sector by 2030.  

Author: M.Horvat (ESR6)

Secondments

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Instances of commoning in New York; or else a toilet, a fridge, and a shelf

Posted on 14-05-2024

A few days ago, I had the privilege of presenting my study titled "Commoning for social sustainability: exploring the role of institutionally aided practices in the neighborhoods of Lisbon" at the Conference of Urban Affairs in New York. This small section of my PhD research co-authored with my supervisor Dr. Alexandra Paio, delved into pressing questions surrounding commoning processes in disadvantaged neighborhoods. Can these processes thrive through progressive institutional instruments? What is their nature and dynamics, and how do they eventually bolster social sustainability?   The session I presented in was nothing short of invigorating, filled with insightful questions and thought-provoking discussions. I'm especially grateful for the inclusive environment fostered with sign language and sound interpreters, ensuring accessibility for all present attendees. Likewise, the conference exceeded my expectations in its organisation and contextual richness. In approximately 250 sessions, thousands of international researchers and practitioners offered a wealth of knowledge on various manifestations of pressing issues in urban space and housing discourses, such as commodification, gentrification and displacement, activism and social infrastructure, top-down visions and progressive policies, in diverse contexts of the US, Latin America, Asia, the Global South and Europe. It was inspiring to witness the diverse perspectives and groundbreaking research shared by peers globally, while the highlight of my experience was connecting with old and new friends, with whom I look forward to staying connected and following their work in the field.   After the conference I spent (my fortune for) some extra days conducting research and visiting sites to gain firsthand experience of the particularities of the neighbourhoods of New York. I was especially lucky that my last days there coincided with the annual Jane Jacobs Walks Festival, during which I was able to participate in several guided tours on multiple neighbourhoods and streets.   I could write a book about the mixed feelings triggered by the contradictions of New York: the impressive but tourist-filled High Line contrasting with homeless people sleeping underneath it or in adjacent metro stations; the photogenic skyline contrasting with the terrifying populations of rats searching for food in exposed piles of restaurant garbage on the sidewalks at night; the great views from amazingly redeveloped waterfronts, which have caused displacement and gentrification in once working class and immigrant neighbourhoods; the ‘alternative vibe’ of neighbourhoods outside the Manhattan, such as Brooklyn, Harlem and the Bronx, contrasting with stories of people  long suffering from rent rises and displacement; and so on…   Notwithstanding these and many more contradictions, I tried to approach the city through the writings of fundamental scholars for my architectural background, such as Jane Jacobs, Whilliam Whyte and Fred Kent. Thus, linking back to my research interests I will devote the rest of this post on my search of instances of commoning in the city and among them, on three small elements: a toilet, a fridge and a shelf.   A toilet… ..or more specifically the toilet of the Bluestockings Cooperative, which is a “collectively-run activist center, community space and feminist bookstore that offers mutual aid, harm reduction support, non-judgemental resource research and a warming/cooling place that is radically inclusive of all genders, cultures, expansive sexualities and identities”.[1] Based on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, Bluestockings has been operating as a worker cooperative (meaning that it is owned and operated by its workers)  for over 21 years, focusing on mutualism, care and volunteering. Its very active and challenging operation aims at empowering marginalised groups, though community organisation, education and skills building, and providing free resources and a space where everyone is welcome.   Among all the cooperative’s significant contributions to the local communities, what makes its toilet noteworthy is a seemingly simple decision to make it open to all. As I witnessed during my short stay in the space, the toilet is a haven for homeless people and marginalised groups who can cover this fundamental need with dignity and respect. As I was told, this decision, although within the legal tenant’s rights of the cooperative, has sometimes caused conflicts with the landlord and parts of the surrounding middle-class neighbourhood. In a period where it is not uncommon to have to pay for accessing toilets in private stores and public stations, -a measure that aims to exclude the very same groups of users that Bluestockings welcomes-, I find it takes great courage to truly keep one’s door open while facing the implications and stereotypes of attracting marginalised people.   A fridge… .. that is placed outside the ‘Los Hermanitos Deli & Grocery’ in Brook Avenue in Bronx. The sign on the fridge invites passersby to take anything from inside it. As I was on my way to a guided tour, I didn’t have time stop and speak with the owners about it. However, although there is nothing novel about solidary offering of food to the ones in need in food pantries, food bags and soup kitchens, I found something particularly inviting in this case: its simplicity. The fridge is placed outside the store and is (according to the store’s opening information) accessible 24 hours a day, without anyone attending it or controlling it. This informality makes it particularly easy for people to stop by, open it and take what they need, without exposure, embarrassment, or stigmatisation. This simplicity can be especially emancipatory considering that poverty and food insecurity is increasingly becoming a next-door issue.   A shelf… … mounted on the fence of ‘La Plaza Cultural de Armando Perez Community Garden’[2], which was founded in 1976 by residents and green activists. The garden is located in Lower East Side, an area highly populated by long-standing and locally defended community gardens. The shelf, placed at the exterior side of the fence to make it accessible even when the garden is closed, operates as book-sharing platform. During my short stay in the garden, I was impressed by the number of people leaving and taking books: some seemingly came specifically to take or leave books; some borrowed a book to read during their stay in the garden and returned it before leaving, some took a book while passing by. Right before leaving, I was also astonished to watch a man returning from his grocery shopping (judging by the shopping bags he was carrying), leave a fresh shield meal on the shelf and walkaway.   I am sure that in a city of 780km2 there are plenty of such community-led initiatives, as there are in other cities around the world. In the three examples, it is worth noticing the spatial decisions that were intentionally or unintentionally made to accommodate these caring and sharing platforms and the implications they carry about their users: placing the fridge outside instead of inside the store allows for an anonymised and unstigmatized way to provide care, respecting the sense of pride of individuals in need; similarly, placing the shelf outside the garden, in a position that is highly visible to not only the garden users but also the passersby, allows for a greater number of users and a function of the shelf as a sharing platform independent of the schedule and operation of the garden; conversely, inviting people, and importantly marginalised groups, inside the cooperative’s space to safely use a toilet to treat their basic needs with dignity, creates a shelter of inclusion and protection. Closing, it is not in my intention to romanticise any of these initiatives, or present them as free from internal conflicts and controversies, nor promote them as a sufficient substitute for the lack of public service provision. In fact, these infrastructures may only treat symptoms rather than addressing the root problems of homelessness, food insecurity, addiction, illiteracy and poverty, which require institutional solutions. Yet, I cannot overlook how these humble and informal decisions embody moments of true solidarity, mutual support and sharing among communities to meet neighbours’ basic needs o with dignity and respect – and to this, I can only celebrate them.   ---------------- [1] https://www.bluestockings.com/about-us/about-us [2] https://www.opencity.com/laplazacultural/history/

Author: A.Pappa (ESR13)

Conferences

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Exploring the Panorama of Barcelona's Urban Commons and the Dynamic State Relationships

Posted on 22-01-2024

During the first days of 2012 the residents around Encarnació 62-64 in the neighbourhood of Grácia in Barcelona, gathered outside the -up until then- nuns’ convent due to the sound of excavators tearing down the entire 1900’s building in just 3 days. Apart from the building, the site preserved an 800 square meter garden with pergola, century-old palm trees and fruit trees, house of several bird species, such as parrots, blackbirds, doves, robins or sparrows. Word spread that the site had been sold to a real estate company with plans to construct a six-storey parking lot. The residents of the streets Encarnació, Sant Lluis and the Associació Veïnal Vila de Gràcia, formerly strangers to each other, were mobilised in a restless effort to prevent the development plans and preserve the space as a neighbourhood facility. Their various protests were reflected in the Salvem el Jardí (Save the Garden) campaign in which they collected 7,000 signatures requesting that the plot passes to public property, urging the City Council to eventually buy it in 2014. Since then, the Associació Salvem el Jardí, have restored the remnants of the garden and thanks to their voluntary work, they have gradually transformed it into an open-air civic centre managed by the neighbours, a space they named Jardí del Silenci.   (Testimony from Marta Montcada, member of Associació Salvem el Jardí, Interview conducted in November 2023)   Today, the community garden is a hidden oasis in the neighbourhood, allowing visitors to enjoy the sounds, smells and tastes of nature. The garden is cared for by the volunteers-members of the association, and is open to the neighbourhood, hosting along with the tens of agricultural projects that contain multiple plant species, numerous social activities such as cultural and agricultural workshops, events, talks, exhibitions, shows, sport classes and playground equipment.   This is only one of the fascinating stories I learnt during my secondment in Barcelona, where I conducted on-the-ground research on the rich tapestry of community managed neighbourhood spaces. These are spaces of local character that operate as urban commons, meaning that they are run by the local communities, local organisations or any form of social institution established for their management, according to the local needs.   Over the course of three months, I was on my feet to get even a glimpse on the rich diversity that define these spaces in terms of program and typology, historical context, ignition, property status and management model. I conducted site visits engaging in informal discussions and formal interviews with numerous actors – members of the initiatives, with the urge to understand what these spaces are, how do they operate in the neighbourhood, what their relation to the City is, as well as what greatest challenges they face are. I visited community gardens and parks, neighbourhood cultural centres (Ateneus and Casals del Barri), working cooperatives, self-managed educational spaces, housing cooperatives and a self-sustainable agroecological community.   Below I summarise a few observations that derive from this experience, focusing on one of the dominant debates in the urban commons discourse, the relationship between the state and urban commons initiatives[1]. This relationship plays a key role in the character, resources and sustenance of the initiatives over time, especially when they operate on public property. Before exploring the array of relations, it is important to provide some overview of the emergence of these initiatives in Barcelona, as it is formative of the trajectories of these relationships.   Historical Context   The emergence of community-managed spaces in Barcelona is deeply rooted in the historic fabric of the city, encmpassing social movements and cooperativism. Examples of land collectivisations, initially by anarchist unions, were established before the Civil War. They evolved historically into workers’ collectives that self-organised to deliver services of healthcare, culture, education and production among others. During the 70s, the provision of these services and resources by communities themselves was a fundamental substitute to the state and market provision.   On the other hand, after the first democratic government in 1978, and particularly after the 2008 economic crisis, Barcelona has faced the challenges of a global city, such as the privatisation of public services, gentrification and massive tourism, evictions and an increase in precarious labour conditions, among others. Thus, the development of community managed services and spaces today is also a strong reaction to the current commodification of the city (Lain, 2015).   These two aspects of collectivism in Barcelona, both as a historic yield and a today’s countermovement, have shaped instances of different ideological values, priorities and self-reflected positions within the existing system of state and market.   Commons-state relationship   Conflict Numerous examples illustrate a wholly conflicting relationship between the initiative and the City, primarily due to ideological matters. Such examples have often led to forced evictions, as seen in several cases of squats such as the social centre Can Vies in the neighbourhood of Sants, the original building of the social centre Banc Expropriat[2] which later reopened in a new location and the housing squat that pre-existed on the site of the Ca La Trava community gardens[3], both in the neighbourhood of Gràcia within two blocks’ distance.   Tolerance / indifference In other cases, while the state is by any means supportive to the initiative, it demonstrates tolerance, at least until conflicting interests of development emerge and a conflicting relationship occurs such as in the examples discussed earlier. Similar to the previous cases, the “commoners”[4] are equiped with activist values, aware that they might need to defend their existence if such conflicting plans are in place. This is the case of the current initiative of Ca La Trava[5] and Jardi L’Alzina in Gràcia[6]. [7]   Collaboration While the above cases demonstrate opposing relationship that is also strongly related to anarchist and anti-systemic collectives, Barcelona showcases several degrees of cooperation between the City and community managed spaces. Provision of space, funding and technical support by the municipality are among the most common collaborations supported by existing policies, such as the Patrimonio Ciudadano. A fundamental requirement is that the initiative demonstrates a local impact. This support is based on the ground of recognising the significant contribution of community-run initiatives in delivering democratised social services that respond to the specific and dynamic needs of each neighbourhood. The provision of spaces ranges from entire building complexes such as industrial sites, often of heritage value, run as cultural centres by federations of entities, such as the Can Batlló[8], and the Ateneu L’Harmonia[9]; to single buildings, managed as local points of reference for the neighbourhood life such as La Lleialtat Santsenca[10]; or parts of buildings co-hosted with other municipal facilities, such as Calabria 66[11]; and finally to open spaces, such as the case of Jardins d'Emma[12].   Autonomy Beyond the mentioned cases, there is a great number of initiatives in which the property of space and other resources belongs to the managing entity, be it an association, collective or local organisation. These cases, such as working cooperatives have the capacity to operate independently of the state. Due to limited resources or legal constrains, the collective action of these initiatives often prioritises their members over the public impact, yet in most cases expanding to open activities.   Closing Reflections and Acknowledgements My time in Barcelona’s shared neighborhood spaces exceeded any expectations I had before arrival. Beyond their physical importance, these spaces constitute a vital part of community life, woven by collective aspirations and creativity. They are testaments to the power of collaboration, sharing and transformative change.   Reflecting on my research visit, I carry with me not just data but stories, experiences, and a deeper understanding of the intricate dynamics that shape these vibrant spaces. More than a personal experience, it has been a collective journey with the invaluable input of several people, who enriched my research and personal growth.   To this, I would first like to thank my secondment supervisor prof. Nuria Marti for her restless support at every step of the way, from working hand in hand with me, to accompanying me on visits. Furthermore, I am heartfully grateful to the extensive list of members of the initiatives I had the chance to visit, who generously shared their space, time and stories. Finally, my stay in Barcelona wouldn’t have been the same without my fellow ESRs -Annette, Saskia and Zoe- who, whether in person or from afar, shared their knowledge, experience, and many enjoyable moments!   --------- Notes [1] For more information see Huron, A. (2017). Theorising the urban commons: New thoughts, tensions and paths forward. Urban Studies, 54(4), 1062–1069. [2] Banc Expropriat is a shared space in the neighbourhood that operates outside markets and hierarchies. It is a social centre that hosts free activities open to all, such as language classes, sport sessions, craft workshops, film screenings, play areas, computer access, as well as a free shop of donated clothes, among others. As a space  very well received by the local community, its eviction in May 2016 triggered the escalation of protests in the neighbourhood. More information on the history of Banc Expropriat and its current relocation can be found at https://bancexpropiatgracia.wordpress.com/ [3] Members of the social movement that occupied/lived in the squat, re-occupied the site of the demolished building and created community gardens. [4] People that manage the urban commons space. [5] More information at https://www.instagram.com/ca_la_trava/?hl=en [6] More information at https://www.salvemlalzina.org/ [7] This is also the case of Navarinou Park in Athens. [8] More information at https://canbatllo.org/ [9] More information at https://ateneuharmonia.cat/ [10] More information at https://lleialtat.cat/ [11] More information at https://calabria66.net/ [12] More information at http://jardinsdemma.org/   --------- References Lain, B. (2015). New Common Institutions in Barcelona : A Response to the Commodification of the City ? 2014(March), 19–20.

Author: A.Pappa (ESR13)

Secondments

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Sustainable social housing: a myth, trend or an inescapable fait

Posted on 09-01-2024

The study of indirect connotations in metadata, especially those generated by artificial intelligence, is a curiosity catalyser. Therefore, I undertook a comparative analysis of the frequency with which key terms such as social housing, sustainability, affordable housing and housing renovation were queried in search engines worldwide between 1 November and 31 December 2023. This data set, known as a “trend” or “interest over time” is measured on a 100-point scale. During this period, sustainability scored an average of 70 points on trend, while social housing and housing renovation slightly recorded 1 point each and affordable housing by 3 points (see Figure 1). It is also worth noting that similar results appear when the time frame is extended to a full year or even five years. Interpreting this data with a degree of scepticism and caution, it appears that sustainability retains its prominent position as the dominant trend. Meanwhile, other vital issues that directly impact our society do not attract comparable interest.   Assuming the previous introduction has captivated your interest. Let me explain why this date and these terms. The date is related to my secondment to Housing Europe, where I gained in-depth experience working with dedicated professionals dealing with the various challenges in the housing sector. Meanwhile, the terms are critical objectives of the RE-DWELL project, which derive from its primary goal of creating a framework for affordable and sustainable housing across Europe. This confluence of dates and terms leads us to a compelling question: what if we were to summarise these terms into a single adjective for a genre of social housing? And then, what constitutes an environmentally sustainable social housing? The following sections, therefore, draw on the insights gained during the secondment to answer these questions and offer a nuanced perspective on the interplay between sustainability, social housing and regulatory frameworks.   What constitutes an environmentally sustainable social housing?   “It has affordable rent, but also affordable energy, that means heating, cooling, lighting and obviously the means of the family. One that is accessible, in term of meeting the individual requirements of occupants. Also one that is in reach of key services, employment, shopping, medical services […]. Access to nature, ensure that resident have access to fresh air, also consideration to acoustics and noise. […] But if we look at sustainability I suppose not from the perspective of occupants but the society, […] it needs to limit the production of energy  needed.” (S. Edwards, personal communication, November 2023).   A triad of connotations can be derived from this. First, affordability and social housing are so closely intertwined that discussion of the latter presupposes consideration of the former, especially when viewed from the perspective of the welfare state. Secondly, the definition from the perspective of the urban fabric goes beyond the material structure and encompasses the city's intangible services. This is directly related to economic aspects such as income, employment and trade. Thirdly, another critical element of sustainable social housing is the well-being of residents. Not just physical health but also mental health, as demonstrated during the last pandemic.   “There are two components for social housing […], below the market level [rent], and allocated through decision and rules taken by or agreed upon by local authorities [allocation]. The sustainability component is interesting […] as we consider it only as the environmental part, while doing so, we forget that sustainability is supposed to embrace the three component of environmental, social and economic. If we focus on the environmental aspects, the question […] is how we can manage to combine these three components, so we can built-renovate homes using the sources of the planet. Then […] how much we can build to meet the demands - the availability aspects. The third point is the affordability […], because everything has an impact on the ability to deliver homes at affordable price.” (J. Dijol, personal communication, November, 2023).   To this extent, I argue that environmentally sustainable social housing epitomises a multifaceted system deeply embedded within the fabric of welfare state services. It substantiates its sustainability through an intricate balance featuring economically viable and socially equitable attributes. This housing system articulates affordability in rental structures, facilitates access to natural environments, ensures proximity to pivotal services and infrastructure, implements judicious energy production and utilisation practices, underscores the imperative of decarbonisation, and intricately aligns with the tripartite foundations of sustainability—economic, social, and environmental. Significantly, this sustainable housing framework adeptly navigates societal demands while steadfastly adhering to the imperative of preserving the planet's finite resources. It looks at the new construction and considers issues such as sustainable renovation.   The Energy Performance of Buildings Directive: regulations to support or to hinder   Regulations are a vital tool in sustainable social housing provisions. It has the ability to standardise, optimise and organise the structure of the sector to deliver the intended goals. One notable example, is The Energy Performance of Buildings Directive (EPBD). The EPBD is a crucial instrument to drive sustainable housing development. While regulations are traditionally seen as catalysts for progress, this narrative contends that they can also pose substantial obstacles. To contextualise this contention, it is essential to recognise the intricate links between housing construction, renovation, affordability and energy efficiency. The EPBD, alongside other directives, is a cornerstone in pursuing sustainable housing by promoting a more energy-efficient built environment. However, a critical examination of the EPBD reveals pertinent critiques. Critics argue that the occasional vagueness and lack of clarity of some of the Directive's provisions can lead to inconsistent implementation and interpretation across member states.   Furthermore, concerns have been raised that the penalties for non-compliance with the Directive are insufficient, which could reduce the effectiveness of the Directive in motivating Member States to meet energy efficiency targets. The flexibility granted to Member States in implementing the EPBD requirements has led to regulatory variations that pose challenges for cross-border businesses and hinder a harmonised approach to energy efficiency. Stakeholders argue for a stronger emphasis on renovating existing buildings in the EPBD, as the current provisions may not provide sufficient incentives for Member States to prioritise energy performance improvements to existing buildings. Additionally, critics emphasise the potential social and economic impacts, including increased costs for building owners and tenants. Balancing the Directive's energy efficiency targets with affordability and feasibility considerations is a multi-faceted challenge that should be carefully considered in pursuing a sustainable housing policy.   The way forward   The creation of sustainable social housing is not a myth or a far-reaching goal. However, it is a fact that requires comprehensive regulations and extensive co-operation between policy makers, practitioners and the public. Such collaboration enables a more holistic understanding of the challenges and opportunities associated with sustainable social housing and ensures that different factors are considered in the decision-making process. This will help to align policy with the realities on the ground and ensure that regulations are both effective and feasible. It also promotes social acceptance and buy-in for sustainable initiatives. As societal needs, technologies, and environmental considerations evolve, ongoing collaboration is important to ensure that housing strategies can be adjusted and refined to meet changing circumstances.   While natural collaboration is an optimistic notion, proactive steps, such as large-scale projects, are essential. A notable example of such collaboration is The European Affordable Housing Consortium (SHAPE-EU) project, developed and coordinated by Housing Europe. SHAPE-EU aims to support affordable and social housing providers, public authorities and small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in developing effective renovation strategies and tools. This proactive approach recognises the challenges posed by the lack of policy measures, the realities of the market and the actual capacity for growth, and points a way forward in the search for sustainable and affordable housing solutions.   Acknowledgements The time I have spent at Housing Europe has provided me with invaluable insights into social housing development. More importantly, meeting and working with dedicated and professional colleagues was truly inspirational. I have received tremendous support from all the teams and must therefore thank everyone at Housing Europe, especially Alice Pittini, Sorcha Edwards, Julien Dijol and Joao Goncalves.  

Author: M.Alsaeed (ESR5)

Secondments

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Improving housing affordability through taxes

Posted on 21-12-2023

Housing affordability has proven to be an increasingly detrimental problem for large sections of the European population. It increasingly affects not only low-income households, but also middle-income groups. In Western European countries, it has become an issue that is used to win elections and steer economic development. Housing is not a direct responsibility of the EU. Even though the housing market does not fall under the direct competence of the EU, it influences the supply of housing in the Member States indirectly through legal frameworks such as state aid, tax law and competition law. It is clear that the provision of housing should not be left entirely to the market, as the market creates an uneven distribution, and that some of the provision of housing should be better controlled, especially in the affordable housing segment. Rising house prices are mainly due to low interest rates and low housing supply compared to market demand. The Covid pandemic played a role in shifting housing preferences and also contributed to higher housing prices (Frayne et al., 2023). The most important efforts to cool rising house prices are policy measures that target the supply or demand side of the housing market. For example, taxes can be used to influence both sides of the housing market. An article by the World Economic Forum (2022) explains that land value tax, could help to reduce property prices as it could represent an equitable distribution of wealth within the community. In this case, the land tax would incentivise the development of the land, as the land is taxed anyway. If the owner develops the land, he receives a return. This in turn would increase the supply of housing and lower property prices. Land tax is aimed at the capital gains of owners and could also serve to dampen prices. Transaction taxes could also be applied to reduce speculative investment in the housing market, which would reduce the volatility of house prices. Taxes on building materials could be reduced to incentivise the construction of social housing or public rental housing. In countries with extremely high levels of home ownership, land and property are generally not taxed. Croatia, for example, promotes affordable home ownership largely through public support in the form of subsidised loans. However, there is a newly established housing allowance programme available for around 40 Croatian local authorities in 2023 (Central Office for Demography and Youth, 2023). The impact of this programme has yet to be assessed. In terms of taxation, there is no property or land tax in Croatia (Crowe, 2023). Taxation of holiday homes and income from renting for tourism purposes is very low and close to symbolic prices, considering that assets are grossed up. A holiday home, for example, is taxed at between €0.66 and € 1.99 per square metre. The transfer of real estate for private individuals is set at 3 per cent of the market value, with some exceptions that can be applied. If taxation such as the land value tax is introduced, it must be phased in gradually and take into account mortgaged households. The introduction of property taxation in Croatia could open up a new perspective and enable investment in securing affordable housing, especially in the social and public rental segment in large cities, where the housing price crisis is at its worst. However, the introduction of such tax in a country with super home- ownership is politically unpopular and it is unlikely to be introduced at a level where it could significantly influence rising prices.   Literature Central Office for Demography and Young. (2023). Pilot project public call- local self-government units for financial support aimed at co-financing costs housing for young families and young people in 2023 address: https://demografijaimladi.gov.hr/UserDocsImages//Dokumenti//PILOTP~1.PDF, accessed on 12.10.2023. Crowe. (2023). Wealth Management, Basics of property taxation in Croatia. Address: https://www.crowe.com/hr/en-us/-/media/crowe/firms/europe/hr/crowehorwathhr/files/property-taxation-in-croatia-2023.pdf?rev=d39592da9f834b129df1b63ae17cd090&hash=0C67133C5F7EF3B8C664A908AA82018C. accessed on 20.12.2012 Frayne, C., Martins, V., Szczypińska, A. & Vašíček, B. (2023) Housing Market Developments. Thematic Note to Support In-Depth Reviews.  Institutional paper 197, European economy World Economic Forum (2022). What is land value tax and could it fix the housing crisis? https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2022/03/land-value-tax-housing-crisis/

Author: M.Horvat (ESR6)

Reflections

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Navigating Two Realms: A Comparative Exploration of Community-Engaged Architectural Education in Spain and the UK

Posted on 04-12-2023

Embarking on two distinct secondments—one in the vibrant city of Valencia, Spain, from October to December 2022, and the other in heart of Sheffield, UK, from late September to late November 2023—provided me with a unique opportunity to delve into the realms of community-engaged architectural education. Each experience not only offered insights into the diverse approaches of two renowned institutions, the Polytechnic University of Valencia and the Sheffield School of Architecture, but also shed light on the nuances that exist when navigating language barriers and cultural disparities.   Spain: Bridging the Language Gap My first secondment in the Polytechnic University of Valencia presented an initial challenge: a language barrier that I had yet to conquer. My rather non-existent proficiency in Spanish restricted my direct engagement with students, but it did not hinder my ability to observe the innovative pedagogical methods employed by the institution. During my time in Valencia, I witnessed a series of exercises designed to cultivate creativity and empathy among students. These exercises pushed boundaries, encouraging students to think beyond conventional architectural norms. Despite the linguistic challenges, I was able to appreciate the universality of architectural exploration as a means of fostering innovation and expanding students' perspectives. One noteworthy initiative was the participatory design & build activity, "JugaPatraix." Collaborating with the local architectural practice FentEstudi, students engaged in creating small-scale, acupuncture interventions in the Patraix neighbourhood. Drawing inspiration from the unobstructed exploration of toddlers in urban surroundings, these interventions transformed the streets into playful landscapes. The project demonstrated that, with enthusiasm and a modest budget, transformative architectural endeavours can thrive, transcending language barriers.   UK: The Dynamics of Mentorship in Sheffield In Sheffield, my second secondment involved shadowing the "Live Projects" studio—a powerhouse within the Sheffield School of Architecture. Often referred to as the juggernaut of the Architecture School, Live Projects operates as a student-led studio that has built a reputation extending beyond city borders. A notable distinction was the choice of nomenclature; the term "mentor" took precedence over "tutor." This seemingly subtle shift in language encapsulated the essence of the Live Projects studio. Here, teaching staff assumed a guiding role, providing support when necessary, as opposed to the conventional tutorship that typically directs the entire process. This departure from the traditional model showcased a student-centric approach, emphasizing autonomy and self-direction.   Comparative Reflections Both experiences offered invaluable insights into the multifaceted world of community-engaged architectural education. Despite the contrasting contexts, a common thread emerged: the importance of fostering creativity, empathy, and innovation within architectural pedagogy. In Spain, the emphasis on unconventional exercises and participatory design highlighted the potential for transformative architectural interventions, even in the face of language barriers. The JugaPatraix project exemplified how collaborative efforts, driven by a shared passion, can reshape urban landscapes on a tight budget. On the other hand, the Live Projects studio in Sheffield showcased the power of student-led initiatives and the significance of mentorship over traditional tutoring. The dynamic, boundary-crossing reputation of Live Projects underscored the impact that a student-centric model can have, transcending institutional and national boundaries.   Conclusion In retrospect, these secondments were more than a mere exploration of architectural education—they were windows into the dynamic intersection of culture, language, and pedagogy. The experiences in Spain and the UK illuminated the universal capacity of architecture to transcend barriers and foster transformative change. As I reflect on these enriching experiences, I am immensely grateful for the insights gained, the lessons learned, and the enduring impact on my perspective as a participant both in the global discourse of architectural education and in the local context of the University of Cyprus. As I move on to the next phase of my fieldwork, all the questions I carry forward with me begin with the same two words: What if...?   Acknowledgements I would like to thank my co-supervisor, Carla Sentieri for making my stay at UPV as fruitful as possible, and Míriam Rodríguez and Fran Azorín Chico (members of FentEstudi) that allowed me to tag along, ask questions and observe their activities. Then, I would like to thank Karim Hadjri and Krzysztof Nawratek at Sheffield School of Architecture for facilitating all the paperwork as well as Carolyn Butterworth, Daniel Jary and Sam Brown for being more eager to help me out that I would have ever hoped for, Finally, a big thank you to my colleagues Aya Elghandour and Mahmoud Alsaeed for making my stay in Sheffield memorable within and beyond the confines of the Architecture School.

Author: E.Roussou (ESR9)

Secondments, Reflections

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COP28: 'Trying to try' is simply not good enough

Posted on 01-12-2023

Over 28 years ago, the Conference of the Parties (COP) convened in Berlin, Germany, marking the commencement of an annual gathering that brings together global leaders, delegates, observers, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), industry representatives and members of indigenous peoples and local communities. The main purpose of these meetings is to assess the progress made in combating climate change and to negotiate the implementation of further measures.   Before we get into the details of this year's COP, it is important to take a brief look back at the last COPs. COP 25 in Madrid emphasised the resilience of the global climate process and the Paris Agreement despite setbacks. However, it also became clear that governments have not made sufficient commitments to combat and mitigate the consequences of climate change. At COP 26 in Glasgow, the Global Coal Phase-out Agreement was discussed, and the Global Methane Pledge was signed, with over 100 countries committing to a 30% reduction in methane emissions by 2030. At COP 27 in Sharm El Sheikh, it was agreed to set up a fund for loss and damage and to define the details for implementing the Santiago Network. In addition, food security was recognised as a critical issue for the first time.   "It's simply not good enough for us to be 'Trying to try'. […]Turn the badge around your necks into a badge of honour, and a life belt for the millions of people you are working for." Simon Stiell, UNFCCC Executive Secretary. Opening ceremony of COP28, 2023.   A few months ago, I was informed that I could attend this year's COP as an observer representing the University of Sheffield, so I take the opportunity to share what I have observed so far. COP28, hosted by the United Arab Emirates, began yesterday – 30 November 2023 – with a minute of silence to mourn the passing of Pete Betts, a British climate negotiator known as one of the architects of the Paris Agreement. And Saleemul Huq, a Bangladeshi-British scientist who was instrumental in tackling climate change and helping in setting up the Loss and Damage Fund. As at previous COPs, the Presidency's action plan focused on implementing the pillars of the Paris Agreement, which aim to accelerate the energy transition, improve climate finance, put nature, people, lives and livelihoods at the centre of climate action and underpin everything with full inclusiveness. Simon Stiell emphasised that while we are taking steps, these are more "baby steps", and the six-year window of opportunity is closing fast - the window of opportunity in which we will exhaust our planet's capacity to deal with our emissions. The window of opportunity in which we will break the 1.5-degree barrier. Jim Skea, Chair of the IPCC, on the other hand, explained that it is crucial to use science effectively to meet the challenges and to design climate action based on science, but without forgetting that science alone is no substitute for action.   The highlight of the first day was the operationalisation of the long-awaited Loss & Damage Fund, which aims to compensate vulnerable nations for the impacts of climate change. Numerous countries pledged financial resources to the fund, including the United Arab Emirates with USD 100 million, the United Kingdom with up to GBP 60 million, Japan with USD 10 million, the United States with USD 17.5 million for the new fund and a further USD 7 million for other loss and damage financial mechanisms. Finally, the European Union pledged 225 million euros, including the German contribution of 100 million US dollars.   Despite the initial positive momentum, the challenges of previous COPs remain. These include the lack of clear and ambitious targets, disparities in responsibility, and an absence of robust enforcement mechanisms. Overcoming these challenges will be crucial to ensure the future effectiveness of global climate efforts. Let us hope that this COP will be different and bring about real change, as we cannot afford to waste any more time.

Author: M.Alsaeed (ESR5)

Conferences, Reflections

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Do we truly need a framework?

Posted on 13-11-2023

Over the course of three days, the RE-DWELL network met again in Delft with the hope that this gathering would not be our last, as the RE-DWELL conference is set to take place in Barcelona on May 16-17, 2024. A heartfelt acknowledgement is extended to the TU-Delft team, particularly Marja Elsinga, Marietta Haffner, and Tijn Croon, for their remarkable efforts and impeccable organisation of such a workshop. The workshop was not marked as another academic meeting but also as a transdisciplinary meeting in which the ESRs, supervisors and representatives from partner organisations actively participated. The focal point of many debates, however, was the RE-DWELL framework and its structural components. This blog post, therefore, delves into the significance and applicability of frameworks in addressing challenges related to housing affordability and sustainability. What constitutes a framework and its function? The term "framework" embodies a broad concept that takes on varying meanings across different fields. From a linguistic perspective, it represents a system of rules, ideas, or beliefs used for planning or decision-making, akin to a supportive structure upon which decisions can be constructed. In the realm of architecture, a framework serves to establish common practices, a set of principles, and a detailed description of singular or multiple activities. These activities often revolve around addressing a design challenge, translating it into practical language, and utilising architectural elements to surmount the challenge. Notably, building standards, regulations, and policies can also be viewed as types of frameworks, as they share the overarching goal of establishing common practices and achieving specific outcomes. In contrast, within the realm of social science, a framework takes on a different connotation. It typically refers to a theoretical or conceptual structure that forms the bedrock for understanding and analysing complex social phenomena. This framework aids researchers in organising their thoughts, framing research questions, and interpreting findings. Social science frameworks manifest in various forms, often drawing from established theories or perspectives within the specific field under investigation. While this blog post merely scratches the surface of framework typologies, it is essential to recognise their diversity. Some noteworthy examples include the conceptual framework, which centres on the theoretical structure supporting the understanding of a research problem; the theoretical framework, comprising a set of concepts and propositions guiding research; and the programming framework, a pre-established set of rules and tools for building software applications. Deciphering the RE-DWELL Framework As of now, the precise nature of the RE-DWELL framework remains elusive. However, it can be asserted with confidence that it does not conform to a mere checklist, a tick-box approach, or resemble systems like BREEAM or LEED. Instead, the RE-DWELL framework operates with a simpler structure, aiming to unify language, create a common ground, and establish a transdisciplinary perspective on the interconnected fields of housing, sustainability, and affordability. Do we truly need a framework? In short, yes, absolutely, we need a framework. The absence of a formal and universal language that brings all stakeholders to the same table persists as a challenge rarely addressed. Establishing such a framework requires concerted efforts and collaboration among the ESRs, supervisors, and partners. Crucially, it necessitates dismantling the borders that each field has erected around its knowledge. This is with hopes of promoting simple and effective practices to achieve the desired affordable and sustainable housing in Europe. Finally, let us maintain optimism and look forward to meeting again in Barcelona!

Author: M.Alsaeed (ESR5)

Workshops, Reflections

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Financial viability, frameworks, prisons and mummified corpses

Posted on 06-11-2023

At INCASOL, I focused on the financial viability housing projects. Interestingly, these assessments are conducted by architects. I have deeply enjoyed working with architects that master valuation techniques, as well as intervening in architectural contests all of that while providing affordable housing. For all the criticism civil servants receive in Spain, INCASOL is efficiently run by truly dedicated professionals. This has changed my mind. Before, I used to think naively that architects’ main focus was building, buildings that is.   Talking about buildings, among the most fascinating buildings in Barcelona is La Modelo, an old prison with a panopticon. The panopticon is a fascinating design by philosopher Jeremy Bentham, conceived to observe prisoners without being observed. Funnily enough, Benthan’s mummified corpse is preserved at University College London.  If you’re interested in reading more, Surveir et Punir by Foucault is a classic. As I contemplated the panopticon, I couldn’t help but wonder: where else has the work of an architect been used to oppress? One is in fact not short of examples. For instance, Le Corbusier’s orthopaedic architecture intended to produce obedient citizens (I guess this kinda chimes with his connections to totalitarian regimes of all sign). Nowadays, most architectural delusion just stops at the glorification of outdated standards. Any first-year undergrad will make a model of whatever Aalto, Mies or Wright design they’ve recently encountered. They sometimes go even further and justify it by quoting an obscure philosopher. However, as some take this orthopaedic drive further, it becomes a demiurgic obsession. A project for the organisation of the universe. In Platonic philosophy, the demiurge is the artisan-god, charged with the task of ordering the world.   Nevertheless, there’s a particular point of encounter in the professional world between the architect and the economist. As much as it would not make justice to architects to reduce them to a modernist pipedream, maybe we shouldn’t reduce social sciences to small preset containers? Does research need an organising framework or should we throw out orthopaedics? Do frameworks necessarily constrain or can we use them to connect? Is Le Corbusier alive and well under the guise of holistic transdisciplinarity?

Author: A.Fernandez (ESR12)

Secondments

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Architecture enables, not dictates ways of life. Good design doesn’t have to come with a hefty price tag

Posted on 02-11-2023

This is the story of two housing schemes that depict the spirit of their times in terms of habitation tenets. Their walls and the spaces between the buildings indicate two different, perhaps even opposing, understandings of the relationship between the city and the dwelling and, by extension, between the citizen and the inhabitant. Both stand in Amsterdam, a global city with exorbitant real estate prices and a housing market that struggles, to say the least, to cope with the demand. Yet, both are embedded in diametrically different local contexts. Their scale is antonymous, and so is the sense of containment they transmit to the passerby, in this case, embodied by the author of this post. Conveniently for the purposes of this reflection, both have also been praised, at their respective times, for their architectural qualities. Both were worthy of being considered for the prestigious Mies van der Rohe award; one was shortlisted in 1988, and the renovation of a block of the other took the honour in 2017. However, it is prudent to admit that this might be the comparison of three housing projects, not two. The first is a CIAM-inspired mass housing-led development that offered the solution to the provision of new housing units and increased the footprint of the city in the sixties; the second is a low-rise, high-density, neighbourhood-scale housing scheme of the late 1980s that turned to the street and shared spaces as the foci of human interaction; and the ‘third’ is a 2016 built manifesto for renovating as an alternative to the wrecking ball.   The turbulent story of the Bijlmer Housing provision is a major societal need and therefore it has always been a major driving force in the development of cities, innovation of building technologies and improvement of people’s quality of life. The outstanding need for providing mass housing that many countries in Europe faced in the second half of the XX century was only a surmountable challenge thanks to breakthroughs in building techniques and new paradigms in the way city planners and architects approached the project of bringing about solutions to the housing shortage. The Bijlmermeer neighbourhood, in south-east Amsterdam, exemplifies this zeitgeist in design, planning and building that was prolifically replicated in many cities around the world. When it comes to modernism, in architecture one word immediately comes to mind: functionalism. As its name suggests, its main feature was the division of functions. There should be a place for living, working, studying, shopping, socialising, connecting with nature, and so forth. All these activities were mediated by the automobile, the great ally of Le Corbusier’s machine for living in,  and to a lesser extent, public transportation. The result was a series of nodes of activity that connected by avenues and highways would leave enough space for nature. A greenery that for the modernists was more about visual enjoyment, an oasis thought to be contemplated from the living room of one of the housing units on a high storey of a uniform-looking housing block, reflecting the victory of man over nature, than to be incorporated into the city to accessed directly and casually at ground level.   Some of these influences can be witnessed in the spatial configuration of the Bijlmer, as it is known colloquially. The characteristic heaviness of the volumes, surrounded by the now green areas and small bodies of water, is emphasised by the height and length of the blocks and the modular façades created by the use of precast concrete panels, state-of-the-art technology at the time, and by the deck access, featured by the once glorified streets in the sky. However, the project never reached the expectations or matched the grandeur with which it had been conceived. The utopian dream rapidly turned into a nightmare, the area was not desirable anymore, and the housing corporations that managed the complex at the time were struggling to fill empty units that did not cease to increase due to the constant tenant turnover. A long-lasting process of renewal and redevelopment of the neighbourhood led by the local government aimed at unleashing the promised paradise that never materialised began and some blocks started to be demolished and replaced with lower-rise housing. As though the scenario was not bleak enough, an unfortunate and catastrophic event took by surprise the Bijlmer residents on an October night in 1992, a plane crashed into one of the blocks, causing the deadliest aviation accident in the Netherlands with at least 43 casualties.   Good design doesn’t have to be expensive Built in 1987, Haarlemmer Houttuinen Housing was designed by Herman Hertzberger. This housing complex epitomises a paradigm shift that became apparent in the residential built environment in the late seventies and eighties. The large volumes of the Ville Radieuse laid the foundation for a countermovement in design and city-making that returned to relationships between functions and space that are more aligned with the organic development and mix of uses of the mediaeval urban layout. The street becomes the urban living room, a space for socialising that had to be reclaimed from the fast pace of the automobile. Hertzberger incorporates the notion of human scale as a prime consideration in the arrangement of volumes that are noticeably smaller in scale, and malleable at the discretion of the user. It is rather a matter of enabling the users the opportunity to shape their own living environment through possible spatial configurations. The Diagoon housing in Delft (1967-1970) is a preceding experiment that undoubtedly influenced the architect’s approach to this project, which is set in the centre of Amsterdam in a more constrained urban context, with a busy street and an elevated railway on one side acting as a boundary, and the rest of the city with its characteristic lower building profile and tightly packed streets on the other. This dual nature of the site is articulated in two types of façades with distinctive characters, the north is more self-contained, with no balconies or direct access to the blocks in response to the heavily transited road. By contrast, the collective and social side of the complex is placed on the south façade, within the urban block and in a street that has been deliberately safeguarded from vehicles, except for the ones of the residents. This narrow street creates a façade and an urban front that is a world away from the hustle and bustle of its counterpart. Different layers are woven by the use of seemingly ordinary elements of the building. The stairwells that lead to the units on the first storey of the blocks, for example, become a place in itself in conjunction with the pillars that support the balconies that oversee the ground floor terraces, urban furniture and the ubiquitous bike racks that residents have decorated with flowerpots that in some cases have flourished to become urban gardens. Most of the accesses and social spaces of the dwellings are connected to some extent with this shared space and the transition between the public and the private is underpinned by the architectural elements that seamlessly set territorial boundaries. Everyone is a few steps from the ground level so the connection with the street is always present. This is accompanied by the surrounding immediate context composed of housing blocks that have opted to follow a similar approach and pocket parks with playgrounds for children complementing the general neighbourly feeling of a place that is located right in the city centre.   Kleiburg, a second chance for the Bijlmer In 2016, Kleiburg, one of the surviving blocks in the Bijlmermeer, was to suffer the same fate as other parts of the massive estate designed by Siegfried Nassuth in the 1960s, namely to be bulldozed and redeveloped. Due to the scale of the project and probably after years of underinvestment and lack of maintenance, it was very expensive for the housing corporation that managed it to retrofit it. This modernist brainchild was about to fall victim to the same approach to placemaking that its architects defended decades before: creating a tabula rasa.   A campaign was launched to save the block and a competition was announced to find out what could be done with the building. In the end, a consortium was selected for its innovative and, above all, affordable approach to retrofitting it. The bigger interventions were focused on correcting flaws in the original structure through purposeful design interventions aimed at reviving the integration of the volume into its surroundings. As highlighted earlier, how a building lands at the ground level and the spaces created by this interaction can have a profound impact on the activities and events that the space between the buildings afford to its inhabitants. In the case of the Kleiburg, a series of poorly conceived underpasses and the use of the ground floor were deemed the culprits. These areas that passed from being envisioned as spaces of congregation and social encounters, to only being used for storage purposes had cut the building off from its context and increased the sense of isolation, anonymity and lack of human scale; that have been linked with perceived or actual higher criminality, anti-social behaviour, and vandalism. Today, the storage rooms have been relocated to the upper levels, closer to the units they are allocated to, and the ground floor lives through infill units that were added in addition to the newly revamped underpasses more clearly announced by a double height and integrated into the pedestrian and cycle paths that criss-cross the site. Elevators have been located in central circulation points and the interior distribution to the flats has been updated to work more efficiently. The interiors of the dwellings have followed a DIY approach reducing the upfront costs that new residents had to cover in favour of a greater agency in deciding for finishes and fittings. Residents can plan according to their budget reducing waste and avoiding extra costs. It is important to note that not the entire Biljmermeer followed this approach, the rest of the blocks are still social housing and are managed by a housing corporation.   The experience of traversing both projects is clearly different. While walking through Haarlemmer Houttuinen, there is a strong sense of place, the pedestrian street is welcoming and it is evident that the residents are in control of their environment, and that they look after it, which in turn explains why it feels alive. A fact that is supported by the sense of containment and positive space that the ensemble creates. The woonerf or living street, a quintessential Dutch way of understanding and experiencing public space, is very much present here. In the case of the Bijlmer, the feeling is almost the opposite. The area is less densely built-up and the blocks look more like a large cruise ship; one perhaps reminiscent of the S.S. Patris, on which the fourth CIAM between Athens and Marseille was held in 1933, where the Athens Charter was discussed and outlined, later to be published by Le Corbusier. Something has changed, however, the blocks still stand, but more like a tree, like those that now thrive nearby, with stronger roots connecting them to the ground and the neighbouring cityscape. In both schemes, the edges and transitions between the public and private spheres have been laboriously crafted to enable a set of relationships that put the experience of the space from the human scale standpoint at the forefront. In 2017, the renovation of the Kleiburg won the Mies van der Rohe Award, a recognition that good architecture does not have to be prohibitively expensive and that there is huge potential to be unpacked in many buildings that sit empty or are being left to rotten.   Further reading ArchDaily. (2017, March 2). DeFlat / NL architects + XVW architectuur. ArchDaily. https://www.archdaily.com/806243/deflat-nl-architects-plus-xvw-architectuur   Fundació Mies van der Rohe. (n.d.). Haarlemmer Houttuinen Housing. Eumiesaward. https://www.miesarch.com/work/1507   Fundació Mies van der Rohe. (n.d.-a). DeFlat Kleiburg. Eumiesaward. https://miesarch.com/work/3509   Himelfarb, E. (2018, November 13). How Bijlmer transformed from Amsterdam’s no-go zone to the city’s most exciting ’hood. The Independent. https://www.independent.co.uk/travel/europe/netherlands/amsterdam/bijlmer-amsterdam-neighbourhood-a8630071.html   Olsson, L., & Loerakker, J. (2013, April 26). Revisioning Amsterdam Bijlmermeer. Failed Architecture. https://failedarchitecture.com/the-story-behind-the-failure-revisioning-amsterdam-bijlmermeer/   Wassenberg, F. (2013). Large housing estates: Ideas, Rise, Fall and Recovery: The Bijlmermeer and beyond. IOS Press. https://doi.org/10.4233/uuid:667bb070-f469-442b-8d72-54c61f61d884              

Author: L.Ricaurte (ESR15)

Secondments, Reflections

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A Transdisciplinary Peek Behind Secondment Scenes & Common Challenges to Housing Associations in England

Posted on 22-10-2023

Written by Aya Elghandour Reviewed by Natalie Newman     The Housing Crisis, Cost of Living Crisis, and Climate Change Crisis are undoubtedly critical concerns of the general public. The three crises are interrelated. Please take a moment and think, how many disciplines are involved in those crises? Do you think investigating solutions by first understanding the complexity of any housing-related crisis, can stem from a mono-lens? Needless to say, end-users rights might get lost in ongoing debates. For instance: Hello! Do you see as critical in this debate the future of residents' health and wellbeing living in affordable housing properties?     That is why I joined the South Yorkshire Housing Association (SYHA) for a secondment!   Transdisciplinarity in research has been widely recommended to tackle complex situations influenced by various stakeholders. It is all about mutual learning and exchanging knowledge between disciplines and actors to understand complex issues and produce new knowledge comprehensively. This is what I have been doing for the last three months in the South Yorkshire Housing Association (SYHA) while joining the Development and Asset Management team! As an architect-researcher and prior to joining SYHA, my perception was limited to housing associations and architects as key decision-makers whose decisions have the greatest impact on the house quality and as a result the health and wellbeing of future residents. However, being at SYHA's headquarters expanded my horizons and gave me new perspectives on the various factors and stakeholders influencing those decisions. This broader perspective now guides my current research.     Behind the Scenes of how did it all start!   Six years ago, Miranda Plowden SYHA's Business Development Director planted the seed for my research project in collaboration with my supervisor, Professor Karim Hadjri. She emphasized that Life Cycle Costing (LCC) should be one of the critical pillars guiding SYHA's partnership with RE-DWELL. That's why I have spent three months in SYHA to understand their workflow, decision-making process, who are the key stakeholders in the design stages and what initial costs of construction and future costs of maintenance they are responsible for.   During the secondment, I conducted two learning sessions to initiate discussions with the team and gauge their receptiveness to adopting new approaches in constructing and operating houses over their life cycle that could contribute to residents' health and wellbeing. For instance, using sustainable materials with thermal and acoustic insulation properties in construction. Additionally, I showcased an example from the British Council of Dudley, where Internet of Things (IoT) devices were installed in council houses to monitor indoor temperature, humidity, and air quality for residents' awareness. The team shared past incidents where residents had turned off similar devices due to concerns about their lighting. These discussions proved to be highly informative and shed light on aspects that I had not previously considered in my research.     Scene of Life Cycle Costing in SYHA   Life Cycle Cost (LCC) is all about estimating the costs of something over its entire lifespan. For SYHA, their commitment and ambition to LCC covers the entire life of a house.   Currently, SYHA's LCC approach gives a high-level overview, making initial assumptions about construction and future repair costs before seeking planning permissions for housing projects. However, it hasn't fully integrated expenses like estimated energy and water bills that future residents will incur, which is a common practice in existing literature.   My research aims to develop an LCC framework that prioritizes the health and financial wellbeing of households during the design stages of new houses. SYHA's involvement spans from architects' procurement, land selection, and design briefs to evaluating design proposals, obtaining planning permissions, hiring contractors, overseeing construction for quality assurance, and finally, renting out the house or selling it for shared ownership. They also manage and maintain the properties while learning from past challenges to make better future decisions.   SYHA is open to innovative approaches, such as constructing two homes using Modern Methods of Construction (MMC) like the WikiHouse project. This helps them assess whether these methods can reduce construction time, lower maintenance costs, and deliver better quality for end-users.   While the use of LCC isn't common in affordable housing provision, it's a top priority for SYHA. They rely on LCC to understand the long-term financial implications of their decisions.     The Sneak peek on common challenges of housing associations   From day one and from SYHA's reputation, their care for residents' health and wellbeing can be seen in their adoption to people-first approach. The approach is adopted in designing their housing schemes to provide a beautiful, safe, and affordable place to call home. This approach leads to some challenges for housing associations in England to keep high standards with lower than market rent.   My secondment observations and discussions, as well as the ongoing interview conversations revealed some of the challenges facing the provision of an affordable and healthy house, for instance:   The emergence of technologies without the existence of a reliable supply chain for long-term house maintenance. For instance, with SYHA's 50-year presence in the British market, they prioritize relying on trustworthy providers who can ensure the longevity of house maintenance. If a new technology is considered sustainable and beneficial for residents but is not widely adopted in the UK or lacks a reliable provider for long-term support, the adoption process becomes a complex decision as every penny carries a responsibility.   The continuous rise in construction costs after they have secured funding, for a certain price to deliver a certain quality. This hinders them from accomplishing the full quality they are aiming for.   The fact that housing associations' rent is lower than the market price poses future financial risks and stress on affordable housing providers. Let's see SYHA's initial feasibility study  for a new housing scheme that aims to offer units with affordable rent. The process involves several key steps:   Step 1. Identify what type of  housing to build and its specific location.   Step 2. Research and determine the average market price for similar properties in this location.   Step 3. Set the affordable rent at 80% of the market rent.   Step 4. Assess the affordable rent by asking: Would it exceed 33% of the household income?   Step 5. As an ethical provider, If the rent exceeds the 33% threshold, a decision has to be made either to reduce the rent, or not prioritize homes in that location and reconsider the whole project or recognize that a higher rent is the only way these type of homes would be built in a given location.     Housing associations need a certain level of rent to be able to build good homes in the first place and to maintain them to a high standard. In the context of affordable rents, it becomes more challenging to balance. They need to set rents at a level that allows them to construct and maintain quality homes while keeping them affordable for residents over time. This involves choosing suitable locations and constructing quality housing, which already can lead to higher land and construction expenses. Moreover, affordable rents make it take longer for housing associations to recover their construction costs through rental income, especially when compared to the private sector!     Housing associations are currently the primary providers of affordable homes in England! So, it can be seen that the quality, sustainability, energy-efficiency, and location of an affordable house is so far up to housing providers decisions and the robustness of the national building regulations and support!     So what support housing associations need to provide more affordable houses that is healthy, sustainable, and energy-efficient on the long-term? Land price discount maybe to start with? What else would you add to the list?     Some awesome links! https://www.wikihouse.cc/featured-projects/south-yorkshire-housing-association https://ashden.org/news/social-housing-is-key-to-climate-action/ Miranda Plowden's Blog on the Wikihouse: https://www.mirandaplowden.com/projects/wikihouse-sheffield-2018-could-offsite-construction-be-the-solution-to-the-uks-housing-crisis    

Author: A.Elghandour (ESR4)

Secondments, Reflections

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Collaboration transcending the secondment

Posted on 17-10-2023

In the course of my doctoral research journey, the European Federation for Living (EFL) emerged as an extremely valuable secondment partner. This collaboration has been instrumental in shaping my research and fostering a mutually beneficial relationship, which I am eager to share in this blog post.   Building a network in social housing   EFL has been as an important platform for professionals in the European social housing sector for quite some time. It caters to those keen on staying updated with innovations in policy, finance, and construction, while building an international network. About a year before my official secondment began in July 2022, I had the privilege of being invited to present at their summer school in Bochum, Germany. The fact that the event was particularly tailored for younger professionals in the sector allowed me to blend in very easily. The constructive feedback I received on my early-stage work during this event proved invaluable in understanding how to practically apply the academic literature I had been exploring in my first year, and the connections I made during those days have remained a valuable part of my network.   Facilitating my focus group study   One significant aspect of my collaboration with EFL was the establishment of a focus group study involving social housing professionals from England, France, and the Netherlands. These in-depth discussions, spanning several hours, allowed us to gather crucial insights into their the sector's efforts to address energy poverty. Specifically, we delved into their perceptions of targeted approaches for the future. While I was already familiar with individuals at Ymere in the Netherlands and Clarion in England, it was through EFL's chair Ben Pluijmers' introductions that I was able to connect with key figures at Peabody (England), Havensteder (Netherlands), Paris Habitat, and Polylogis (both France), who played a pivotal role in this study.   Sharing insights and disseminating results   The collaboration with EFL presented various other opportunities to share my findings with a broader audience. I had the opportunity to present preliminary findings at two webinars hosted by EFL’s 'Social' topic group, graciously invited by Anita Blessing and John Stevens. Building on this, I shared valuable insights during EFL's Spring Conference in Paris in May 2023.   The pinnacle of this dissemination effort comes in the form of a comprehensive 20-page whitepaper that synthesises key learnings from our focus groups, focusing on energy poverty alleviation in the social housing sector. Collaborating closely with EFL and co-authors Joris Hoekstra and Ute Dubois, this whitepaper has been a collective endeavour. It is now scheduled for printing and will be shared with those interested at EFL’s upcoming Autumn Conference in Belfast, Northern Ireland, in early November. I am eagerly anticipating this event, and I am grateful to have been invited by EFL’s director, Joost Nieuwenhuijzen. In other words, stay tuned for updates on this page or join us during EFL's conference, because this collaboration is far from over!   Click here for a draft programme of EFL's Autumn Conference that takes place from 8-10 November in Belfast.

Author: T.Croon (ESR11)

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