Challenges for the development of affordable and sustainable housing
Sustainability and housing regulations complexity

The challenge is to simplify the complicated nature of the regulations that govern the field of housing and sustainability. This complex web of regulations has created a sense of unease among housing practitioners and developers, making them reluctant to fully embrace the overarching concept of sustainable housing. This multi-faceted challenge is mainly due to two key factors. First, there is a lack of clear and coherent explanations of the fundamental principles underlying sustainability regulations and their objectives. Second, the complicated nature of these regulations places an immense burden on local authorities, which are tasked with enforcing and carefully monitoring compliance with sustainability regulations in housing projects.

Design, planning and building Policy and financing

The misconception in the narrative of environmentally sustainable social housing

The misconception of what environmentally sustainable social housing is a critical challenge and manifests itself on two levels. The first is the broad debate on social housing, which encompasses housing as material, activity and environment and includes housing policy, social values and the welfare state, among many other issues. The second level is the perception of developing environmentally sustainable social housing, where the concept draws from various origins and is influenced by numerous other concepts and theories. Therefore, the challenge is to create a common understanding of sustainability that responds to the misconceptions of what sustainability means for social housing and bridges the gap between sustainability standards and the actual perceptions and practices of professionals involved in the development of sustainable housing.

Design, planning and building

Measuring environmental sustainability

Measuring environmental sustainability is critical to monitoring development progress towards meeting the desired agenda. However, the challenge is to develop a universal, accurate and well-established methodology for measuring environmental sustainability. This challenge is mainly due to several reasons. First, the environment consists of complicated systems and interconnected processes, making it difficult to isolate specific factors and measure their individual impacts. Second, environmental problems often extend over long periods of time, making it difficult to capture and assess the full extent of changes and their consequences. Third, collecting accurate and reliable data on environmental indicators can also be a daunting task, as it often requires extensive research, monitoring and analysis. Fourth, the different perspectives and values of stakeholders complicate the measurement process, as sustainability itself is a subjective concept that is interpreted differently.

Design, planning and building

Densification through reduced residential space

Densification through reduced residential space poses a challenge in designing sustainable and affordable housing projects. This challenge takes different forms. For instance, at the neighbourhood or building block level, housing providers may request architects to maximize the number of units on a single piece of land, turning the design process into a trade-off between adequate housing space and the number of units. Another form of densification is at the unit design level, which involves reducing internal and external spaces by sacrificing balconies and squeezing spaces. This often leads to an uneven distribution of daylight and lack of good views between units, which could potentially affect the long-term health of the population.

Several motives may drive densification, including the need to reduce initial construction costs and overcome the continuing rise in construction prices. This challenge raises the question of what size is acceptable to ensure the presence of appropriate spaces that allow for adaptation. For example, when the family situation changes, such as having a new child, space for study, working from home, and hosting a relative in emergency situations. However, doesn't densification reduce the amount of materials used in construction and, therefore, make the project more environmentally friendly from a resource efficiency perspective?

Design, planning and building

Emergence of technologies without the existence of a reliable supply chain for long-term maintenance

The emergence of new technologies, such as replacing gas boilers with heat pumps in England to promote sustainability, could be hindered by the lack of a reliable supply chain for long-term house maintenance. The adoption of such technologies has not been widespread. For instance, SYHA, a 50-year-old housing association in England, prioritizes relying on trustworthy providers who can ensure the longevity of house maintenance. The adoption process for a new technology that lacks a reliable provider for long-term support becomes complex, as every penny spent is a responsibility.

Design, planning and building Policy and financing

Housing associations’ rent is lower than the market price

The fact that housing associations’ rent is lower than the market price poses future financial risks and stress on affordable housing providers.  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 building quality housing, which 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 compared to the private sector. 

Design, planning and building Policy and financing

Unlocking Social Value in housing: Addressing ambiguity and establishing a common assessment approach for housing actors

Social value in the built environment: A gradual implementation of the Act characterised by ambiguity on key aspects and a common approach to assess it:

This challenge is about the gradual implementation of the Social Value Act in the context of housing. While the Act represents a significant step towards promoting social value in the built environment, it faces one obstacle - the lack of consensus on how to define and comprehensively assess social value. This ambiguity hampers the full potential of the regulatory framework.

In order for SV to be promoted and legal measures to be effectively implemented within the sector, it is imperative to establish common ground between the diverse actors involved. This challenge calls for a transdisciplinary lens (Godemann, 2008). Such an approach can pave the way for a people-centred conceptualisation of social value. This perspective holds promise, especially for housing providers striving to articulate the numerous programs and activities they undertake. Long-term impacts and those that address more intangible dimensions of well-being often remain excluded from current methods of monetisation and metrics used to gauge value, yet they undeniably generate value for communities.

It is important to note that while this challenge focuses primarily on the legislation of one particular country (the UK), the broader discussion on the holistic assessment of social value in housing is not limited to a single context. Social value principles have gradually found their way into policy frameworks in other Anglo-Saxon countries and are also gaining ground in several Western European countries. Therefore, the insights derived from this research can offer valuable guidance for policy-making and decision-making in other contexts with similar housing challenges.


Design, planning and building Policy and financing

Post-occupancy evaluation (POE) is not a commonplace practice in housing: Addressing the absence of people-centred POE approaches

The challenge at hand is the need for a more robust and comprehensive approach to evidencing and quantifying the social value (SV) generated by housing providers and designers. Existing SV assessment methods, such as Cost-Benefit Analysis (CBA), Social Return on Investment (SROI), Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) and National TOMs, though valuable, currently provide only a partial view of the multi-faceted picture.
The prevailing focus of these assessments is often on the short-term added value resulting from procurement or construction processes. However, what is often overlooked are the wider and medium to long-term impacts of housing schemes. These encompass elements related to design, spatial configuration, and community management, that are harder to gauge and typically demand longer engagement with communities and residents. It is important to emphasise that the design and spatial layout of housing schemes, as well as the way places are managed, can profoundly affect the overall liveability of a place. These factors have direct consequences on people's quality of life and the long-term value generated by the housing providers. Regrettably, current assessments of social value in the housing sector often fail to take this important data into account.

However, housing providers, developers and architectural firms can benefit from enquiring what makes a good design from the inhabitants’ perspective. A systematic and rigorous POE combined with periodic user experience surveys can be very beneficial by improving relationships with and among tenants and providing a more accurate and comprehensive assessment of the quality of the housing stock, which serves as a catalyst for timely improvements and adjustments. Thus, implementing POE throughout the life cycle of housing can not only help to balance the scale between the social, economic and environmental aspects of buildings, but also reinvigorate the role of research; enabling continuous learning, adaptation and innovation, ensuring that housing programmes are responsive to evolving societal needs.

Challenging conventional assessments: Embracing medium and long-Term, qualitative dimensions in social value and POE of housing schemes

The challenge in the context of housing is the prevalent methodological approach in both SV assessments and Post-Occupancy Evaluation (POE). Typically, these assessments revolve around short- and medium-term outcomes and disproportionately rely on quantitative data and financial metrics, omitting valuable qualitative dimensions. This methodological narrowness has significant implications for the social assessment of regeneration projects and housing initiatives.

Despite the apparent recent interest of UK government departments in promoting the adoption of POE in the housing sector, it is surprising and contradictory that, for example, in a recent report commissioned by Homes England (Homes England & AMION, 2023), the government’s housing and regeneration agency, to assess the SV of housing-led regeneration on communities, there is not a single mention of POE as a tool that can contribute to the assessment. Instead, as is the case with mainstream methods to measure SV, hedonic pricing methodologies are the sole approach used to calculate the effects of regeneration. While financial proxies, cost-benefit analysis CBA and key performance indicators (KPIs) can be powerful tools to demonstrate the value created, they cannot be the sole means of assessing and demonstrating outcomes, particularly when it comes to the multifaceted concept of SV. Yet, the influence of a report issued by this government agency is substantial and, above all, an example of how much the social assessment of regeneration is neglected in the public agenda and, as a consequence, has far-reaching consequences for the private sector.

A POE, which directs assessment towards the inhabitant, represents a tool that can significantly enhance the SV landscape. If POE is recognised as a valuable tool to assess SV, it could be included as an integral part of the procurement of any new housing project from its planning stage. If we counterbalance the social side of sustainability with the other two, giving equal heed in the estimation of housing outcomes, we will be making sure that no one is left behind, a must in the levelling up agenda that aims to bridge inequalities in the UK. This can contribute to preventing regeneration projects from advancing at the expense of vulnerable communities. As has been evidenced, housing-led regeneration and major urban renewal projects across Europe, in some cases have disastrous consequences for the livelihood of certain minority groups.

Design, planning and building Community participation Policy and financing

Long-term engagement of actors in municipality-citizens collaboration towards sustainable neighbourhood development

There is a proliferation of experiments exploring collaborative knowledge building and innovation in urban governance. Processes aiming to meaningfully involve all relevant stakeholders, are especially found in Urban Living Labs (ULL) established as platforms for using the approach of co-creation. However, it is quickly becoming apparent how difficult it can be to ensure the long-term engagement of the relevant actors. This observation is confirmed by the existing literature in the realm of participatory planning which states that one of the main challenges in establishing collaborative arrangements between a local authority and community stakeholders is to ensure their commitment to the process.

From first-hand experiences, while promoting and running ULL workshops, pre-existing institutional arrangements are found to largely determine the ways in which both municipal and community actors perceive the benefits of collaboration and what the expected outcomes might be. In other words, existing mechanisms which have created barriers to collaboration in the past, negatively affect the level of trust between these actors. This has unavoidable implications in the power imbalances that reappear in efforts to encourage community engagement in neighbourhood planning and regeneration. The establishment of an ongoing relationship with the municipality is expected to be one of the potential antidotes to the above challenge, solidifying the long-term engagement of community representatives and respectively, establishing improved accountability of the local authority who hold responsibility regarding housing and social infrastructure at the local level.

Design, planning and building Community participation

Misrecognition and/or nonidentification of at-risk end-users of domestic energy services

The transition towards a low-carbon society is anticipated to have significant effects, leading to substantial price volatility in domestic energy services. This situation bears particular implications for the most disadvantaged households, often living in inefficient dwellings heated by the fuels that will be subjected to higher taxes to discourage fossil fuel usage. Concurrently, there seems to be consensus that ensures equitable outcomes throughout this transition, highlighting the principle of 'leaving no one behind'. However, the scholarly debate on how to best identify households at greatest risk of energy poverty remains ongoing and the interim findings have sometimes been inadequately communicated to broader audiences and government policymakers. When specific vulnerabilities of households are not recognised and the most vulnerable households are not properly identified by institutions with the most substantial impact on transition outcomes, achieving a 'just transition' is highly challenging. The effectiveness and fairness of the transition therefore heavily relies on accurately discerning and addressing the needs of at-risk households in the context of a rapidly changing energy landscape.

Community participation Policy and financing

Lack of (knowledge on) targeted policy instruments to alleviate energy poverty

Across Europe, government response to the energy crisis has been largely untargeted. This is problematic, because of its inefficiency, unsustainability, inequity, and imprudence. It has incurred substantial costs, lowered incentives for energy saving among higher earners, redistributed regressively, and caused inflationary pressures. The pervasiveness of this untargeted approach can be attributed to the challenges governments face with outdated welfare systems, making the realisation of 'just transition' principles more difficult. A more targeted approach, while crucial, demands a higher level of administrative capacity and is politically more challenging to sell compared to a policy that benefits everyone broadly. However, an increasingly shared viewpoint advocates that the climate transition and its broader societal transformation necessitate government intervention to ensure equitable outcomes. Recent developments, such as the EU’s announcement of a Social Climate Fund, underscore this need, aiming to support the most vulnerable 'energy poor' households through targeted renovation subsidy schemes, retrofitting of social housing, and direct financial assistance. Nonetheless, many Member States lack sufficient experience and knowledge about effective policy instruments for implementation, emphasising the necessity for further research and experimentation in this domain.

Policy and financing



Housing developers

Housing authorities

Environmental agencies


National government

Local government

Social housing provider

Public banks

Architects and designers



Construction companies


Local communities

Non-profit organisations

Urban planners

Community builders

Local associations

Sustainability experts

Policy makers

Civil society organisations


Public institutions

Local authorities



Housing Companies


Systems thinking

Interdisciplinary collaboration

Knowledge co-creation

Sustainability assessment systems

Microdata collection

Empirical validation

Policy reform

Capacity building

Comparative policy analysis

Stakeholder consultation

Data standarisation

Participatory action research



Participant observation

Dissemination workshop


Transdisciplinary approach

Financial sustainability

Social entrepreneurship


Shared definitions

Sustainability assessment systems

Indicator development

Household surveying

Social cost-benefit analysis

Randomised controlled trial (RCT)

Focus group

Building Information Modeling (BIM)

Material Passports

Manufacturing partnerships

Collaborative workflows

Digital fabrication technologies

Early manufacturer engagement

Transdisciplinary collaboration



Spatial analysis



Standardised protocol

Place-based research

Housing for all

Social enterpreneurship

Take-up and replication

Capacity building


Building regulations

Sustainability perception

Social housing perception

Building sustainability

Environmental sustainability

Energy poverty

Building retrofitting

Construction standards

Community engagement

Social sustainability

Housing policy

Housing finance

Social housing













Building product


Improve the information flow from design, and operation in housing

New tools to evaluate housing innovation

Manual for decision-making processes

Increasing the supply of rental housing by involving private developers

Design new forms of democratic practices in planning

Fostering more industrialized/off-site approach to construction

Decarbonization strategy

Alternative form of housing provision

Guidelines for changing housing governance

Increasingly heterogeneous society

Implementing policies of co-governance

Policies can contribute to advancing sustainability in housing provision

Scaling-up capacity

Regulation of financial markets

Policies and incentives to address the lack of housing

Mass Scaling-up capacity

Sustainable Construction Regulation & Policy

Sustainable Warmth strategy (UK)

Heat and Buildings Strategy (UK)

Social Housing Decarbonisation Fund (UK)


Improve the information flow from design, and operation in housing

Reducing the carbon footprint and promoting biodiversity

New tools to tailormade housing solutions

New tools to evaluate housing innovation

New tools to evaluate housing innovation

Manual for decision-making processes

Design new forms of democratic practices in planning

Fostering more industrialized/off-site approach to construction

Decarbonization strategy

Alternative form of housing provision

Guidelines for changing housing governance

Educate the public about the benefits of industrialized housing construction

Regulation of financial markets

Open Source library of LCC details

Authority giving planning permission to think of health of people & health of planet

Procurement of contractors

Citizen engagement

Organisational buy in


Improve the information flow from design, and operation in housing

Active participation of residents and communities

Reducing the carbon footprint and promoting biodiversity

Manual for decision-making processes

Design new forms of democratic practices in planning

Fostering more industrialized/off-site approach to construction

Real connection between theory and practice

Alternative form of housing provision

Guidelines for changing housing governance

Increasingly heterogeneous society

Increasingly heterogeneous society

Value the impact of placemaking on people ́s self-image and quality of life

Increase the number of homes without compromising on quality

Implementing policies of co-governance

Policies can contribute to advancing sustainability in housing provision

Finding common ground

Policies and incentives to address the lack of housing

Funders- Grants and Loans

Consortia (to aggregate delivery pipeline)

Landlords / home owners

Public-community collaboration