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Area: Policy and financing

A universal definition of social housing is difficult, as it is a country-specific and locally contextualised topic (Braga & Palvarini, 2013). This review of the concept focuses on social housing in the context of the UK from the late 1980s, which Malpass (2005) refers to as the phase of ‘restructuring the housing and welfare state’, to the early 2000s, known as the phase of the ‘new organisation of social housing’.

In response to previous demands for housing, such as those arising during the Industrial Revolution, and recognising the persistent need to address the substandard quality of housing provided by private landlords in the UK (Scanlon et al., 2015), the primary objective of social housing has historically been to enhance the overall health conditions of workers and low-income populations (Malpass, 2014; Scanlon et al., 2015). However, this philanthropic approach to social housing changed after the Second World War when it became a key instrument to address the housing demand crisis. Private initiatives, housing associations, cooperatives and local governments then became responsible for providing social housing (Carswell, 2012; Scanlon et al., 2015).

Social housing in the UK can be viewed from two perspectives: the legal and the academic (Granath Hansson & Lundgren, 2019). Along these two perspectives, social housing is often analysed based on four main criteria: the legal status of the landlord or provider, the tenancy system or tenure, the funding mechanism or subsidies, and the target group or beneficiaries (Braga & Palvarini, 2013; Carswell, 2012; Granath Hansson & Lundgren, 2019).

From a legal perspective, social housing maintained its original goals of affordability and accessibility during the restructuring period in the late 1980s. However, citing the economic crisis, the responsibility for developing social housing shifted from local authorities to non-municipal providers with highly regulated practices aligned with the managerialist approach of the welfare state (Granath Hansson & Lundgren, 2019; Malpass, 2005; Malpass & Victory, 2010). Despite the several housing policy reviews and government changes, current definitions of social housing have maintained the same approach as during the restructuring period. Section 68 of the Housing and Regeneration Act 2008, updated in 2017, defines social housing as low-cost accommodation provided to people whose rental or ownership needs are not met by the commercial market (HoC, 2008; 2017, pp. 50-51). The Regulator of Social Housing, formerly the Homes and Communities Agency, has adopted the earlier definition of social housing and clarified which organisations provide it across the UK. These organisations include local authorities, not-for-profit housing associations, cooperatives, and for-profit organisations (RSH, 2021). In contrast, the National Housing Federation emphasises the affordability of social housing regardless of the type of tenure or provider (NHF, 2021).

From an academic perspective, Malpass (2005) explains that during the restructuring phase, social housing was defined as a welfare-supported service – although it did have limitations, which meant that funding principles shifted from general subsidy to means-tested support for housing costs only, which later formed the basis for the Right to Buy Act introduced by the Thatcher government in the early 1980s (Malpass, 2005, 2008). The restructuring phase, however, came as a response to the housing 'bifurcation' process that began in the mid-1970s and accelerated sharply from the 1980s to 1990s (Kleinman et al., 1998; Malpass, 2005). During this phase, the role of social housing in the housing system was predominantly residual, with greater emphasis placed on market-based solutions, and social housing ownership concerned both local authorities and housing associations (Malpass & Victory, 2010). This mix has influenced the perception of social housing in the 'new organisation' phase as a framework that regulates public housing intervention for specific groups and focuses on enabling non-municipal providers (Malpass, 2005, 2008; Malpass & Victory, 2010). Currently, as Carswell (2012) explains, social housing plays an important role in nurturing a variety of initiatives aimed at providing ‘good-quality’ and ‘affordable’ housing for vulnerable and low-income groups (Carswell, 2012). Oyebanji (2014) sees social housing as any form of government-regulated housing provided by public institutions, including non-profit organisations (Oyebanji, 2014). Additionally, Bengtsson (2017) describes social housing as a system that aims to provide households with limited means, but only after their need has been confirmed through testing (Bengtsson, B, 2017 as cited in Granath Hansson & Lundgren, 2019).

To a great extent, social housing in the UK can be seen as a service system that is intricately linked to the welfare state and influenced by political, economic, and social components. Despite being somehow determined by common factors and actors,  the relationship between social housing and the welfare state can sometimes be complex and subject to fluctuations (Malpass, 2008). In this context, the government plays a vital role in shaping and implementing the mechanisms and practices of social housing.

While the pre-restructuring phase focused on meeting the needs of the people by increasing subsidies and introducing the right to buy (Stamsø, 2010), the aim of the restructuring phase was to meet the needs of the market by promoting economic growth (privatisation, market-oriented policies and reducing the role of local authorities) (Stamsø, 2010; Malpass, 2005) . The new organisational phase, on the other hand, works to meet and balance the needs of all, with people, politics and the economy becoming more intertwined. Welfare reform legislation passed in 2010 aims to enable people to meet their needs, but through 'responsible' subsidies, leading to a new policy stance that has been described as 'neoliberal' thinking (Hickman et al., 2018). However, there are still no strict legal requirements for the organisation and development of social housing as an independent service system, and most of the barriers to development are closely related to the political orientation of the government, rapid changes in housing policy and challenges arising from providers' perceptions of existing housing policy structures (Stasiak et al., 2021).


Braga, M., & Palvarini, P. (2013, April 14). Social Housing in the EU.

Bengtsson, B. (2017). Socialbostäder och stigberoende : Varför har vi inte ’social housing’ i Sverige? In Den motspänstiga akademikern: Festskrift till Ingrid Sahlin. Retrieved from

Carswell, A. T. (2012). The Encyclopedia of Housing (2nd ed., p. 928).  SAGE Publications.

Granath Hansson, A., & Lundgren, B. (2019). Defining social housing: A discussion on the suitable criteria. Housing, Theory and Society, 36(2), 149-166.

HoC. (2008, September 2). Housing and Regeneration Act 2008. L

HoC. (2017, April 14). Housing and Regeneration Act 2008.

Kleinman, M., Matznetter, W., & Stephens, M. (Eds.) (1998). European integration and housing policy. London: Routledge.

Malpass, P. (2005). Housing and the welfare state: The development of housing policy in Britain: Palgrave Macmillan Basingstoke.

Malpass, P. (2008). Housing and the new welfare state: Wobbly pillar or cornerstone? Housing Studies, 23(1), 1-19.

Malpass, P. (2014). Histories of social housing: a comparative approach. In K. Scanlon, C. Whitehead & M. Fernández Arrigoitia (Eds.), Social housing in Europe, pp. 255-274. John Wiley & Sons.

Malpass, P., & Victory, C. (2010). The modernisation of social housing in England. International Journal of Housing Policy, 10(1), 3-18.

NHF. (2021, May 5). About social housing.

Oyebanji, A. O. (2014). Development of a framework for sustainable social housing provision (SSHP) in England (Doctoral dissertation, University of Central Lancashire).

RSH. (2021, April 10). Role and fundamental objectives - Social Housing.

Scanlon, K., Fernández Arrigoitia, M., & Whitehead, C. M. (2015). Social housing in Europe. European Policy Analysis(17), 1-12

Created on 17-06-2023 | Update on 20-06-2023

Related definitions


Author: C.Verrier (ESR)

Area: Policy and financing

Housing affordability pertains to the capacity of a given household to pay their rent or mortgage in relation to their financial means. Considering the criticism of the concept when viewed as a strict ratio rule between income and housing expenses (Hulchanski, 1995), it may be useful to focus on the relational nature of the concept and as a way to analyze the relationship between different processes. As Whitehead (2007, p. 30) contended, affordability is a composite of three main parameters: (1) housing cost, (2) household income and (3) direct state interventions (or third-actors) playing on the previous two factors, for instance by improving one’s capacity to pay through direct payments or by reducing housing costs through subsidized housing. Considering the current trend towards unaffordability in European cities (Dijkstra and Maseland, 2016, p. 96), the concept is particularly useful to understand the interplay of factors that both favour rising housing costs—through financialization (Aalbers, 2016), gentrification (Lees, Shin and López Morales, 2016), and entrepreneurial urban policies (Harvey, 1989)—with those that enable the stagnation of low- and middle-incomes, namely Neoliberal globalization (Jessop, 2002) the precarization of work and welfare policy reforms (Palier, 2010). The “hard reality” behind one’s home affordability can therefore be construed as the result of a complex interplay between large-scale processes such as those enumerated above, behind which lie the aggregated behaviours of a multitude of actors; from the small landlord to the large investment firm seeking to speculate in global real-estate markets, from the neighborhood association protecting tenants from evictions to national governments investing (or divesting) large sums of money into housing programs. The conceptual strength of affordability lies in its capacity to scrutinize a wide range of complexly interconnected phenomena, which ultimately affect greatly everyone’s quality of life.    

Created on 27-08-2021 | Update on 20-04-2023


Area: Design, planning and building

Environmental Retrofit Buildings are responsible for approximately 40% of energy consumption and 36% of carbon emissions in the EU (European Commission, 2021). Environmental retrofit, green retrofit or low carbon retrofits of existing homes ais to upgrade housing infrastructure, increase energy efficiency, reduce carbon emissions, tackle fuel poverty, and improve comfort, convenience and aesthetics (Karvonen, 2013). It is widely acknowledged that environmental retrofit should result in a reduction of carbon emissions by at least 60% in order to stabilise atmospheric carbon concentration and mitigate climate change (Fawcett, 2014; Johnston et al., 2005). Worldwide retrofit schemes such as RetrofitWorks, EnerPHit and the EU’s Renovation Wave, use varying metrics to define low carbon retrofit, but their universally adopted focus has been on end-point performance targets (Fawcett, 2014). This fabric-first approach to retrofit prioritises improvements to the building fabric through: increased thermal insulation and airtightness; improving the efficiency of systems such as heating, lighting and electrical appliances; and the installation of renewables such as photovoltaics (Institute for Sustainability & UCL Energy Institute, 2012). The whole-house systems approach to retrofit further considers the interaction between the occupant, the building site, climate, and other elements or components of a building (Institute for Sustainability & UCL Energy Institute, 2012). In this way, the building becomes an energy system with interdependent parts that strongly affect one another, and energy performance is considered a result of the whole system activity. Economic Retrofit From an economic perspective, retrofit costs are one-off expenses that negatively impact homeowners and landlords, but reduce energy costs for occupants over the long run. Investment in housing retrofit, ultimately a form of asset enhancing, produces an energy premium attached to the property. In the case of the rental market, retrofit expenses create a split incentive whereby the landlord incurs the costs but the energy savings are enjoyed by the tenant (Fuerst et al., 2020). The existence of energy premiums has been widely researched across various housing markets following Rosen’s hedonic pricing model. In the UK, the findings of Fuerst et al. (2015) showed the positive effect of energy efficiency over price among home-buyers, with a price increase of about 5% for dwellings rated A/B compared to those rated D. Cerin et al. (2014) offered similar results for Sweden. In the Netherlands, Brounen and Kok (2011), also identified a 3.7% premium for dwellings with A, B or C ratings using a similar technique. Property premiums offer landlords and owners the possibility to capitalise on their  retrofit investment through rent increases or the sale of the property. While property premiums are a way to reconcile          split incentives between landlord and renter, value increases pose questions about long-term affordability of retrofitted units, particularly, as real an expected energy savings post-retrofit have been challenging to reconcile (van den Brom et al., 2019). Social Retrofit A socio-technical approach to retrofit elaborates on the importance of the occupant. To meet the current needs of inhabitants, retrofit must be socially contextualized and comprehended as a result of cultural practices, collective evolution of know-how, regulations, institutionalized procedures, social norms, technologies and products (Bartiaux et al., 2014). This perspective argues that housing is not a technical construction that can be improved in an economically profitable manner without acknowledging that it’s an entity intertwined in people’s lives, in which social and personal meaning are embedded. Consequently, energy efficiency and carbon reduction cannot be seen as a merely technical issue. We should understand and consider the relationship that people have developed in their dwellings, through their everyday routines and habits and their long-term domestic activities (Tjørring & Gausset, 2018). Retrofit strategies and initiatives tend to adhere to a ‘rational choice’ consultation model that encourages individuals to reduce their energy consumption by focusing on the economic savings and environmental benefits through incentive programs, voluntary action and market mechanisms (Karvonen, 2013). This is often criticized as an insufficient and individualist approach, which fails to achieve more widespread systemic changes needed to address the environmental and social challenges of our times (Maller et al., 2012). However, it is important to acknowledge the housing stock as a cultural asset that is embedded in the fabric of everyday lifestyles, communities, and livelihoods (Ravetz, 2008). The rational choice perspective does not consider the different ways that occupants inhabit their homes, how they perceive their consumption, in what ways they interact with the built environment, for what reasons they want to retrofit their houses and which ways make more sense for them, concerning the local context. A community-based approach to domestic retrofit emphasizes the importance of a recursive learning process among experts and occupants to facilitate the co-evolution of the built environment and the communities (Karvonen, 2013). Involving the occupants in the retrofit process and understanding them as “carriers” of social norms, of established routines and know-how, new forms of intervention  can emerge that are experimental, flexible and customized to particular locales (Bartiaux et al., 2014). There is an understanding that reconfiguring socio-technical systems on a broad scale will require the participation of occupants to foment empowerment, ownership, and the collective control of the domestic retrofit (Moloney et al., 2010).

Created on 16-02-2022 | Update on 07-10-2022

Housing Governance

Author: T.Croon (ESR11), M.Horvat (ESR6)

Area: Policy and financing

The shift from ‘government’ to ‘governance’ has been debated since the early 1970s. Whilst state interventionism had been widely embraced within western societies during the post-war decades, governments gradually moved from exercising constitutional powers to acting as facilitators and cooperative partners (Rhodes, 1997). Over the course of a few decades, this resulted in governance as ‘interactive social-political forms of governing’ (Nag, 2018, p. 124).  Hira and Cohn (2003, p. 12), influenced by Keohane (2002), define governance as “the processes and institutions, both formal and informal, that guide and restrain the collective activities of a group”. Its decentralised and flexible nature could still include public actors but would also leave space for private and third-sector parties to provide services in hybrid and temporary institutional arrangements. To formulate one single definition of ‘housing governance’ as a particular mode of governance is however difficult due to its multilevel character. Housing could relate to either a family home, a housing association, or a complete local/national housing governance framework. On a household level, Wotschack (2005, p. 2) defines governance as managing “the daily time allocation of spouses by household rules and conflict handling strategies”. The work of Wijburg (2021) indicates that local/municipal governance entails a set of public interventions, strategies, policies and provisions used to provide local needs (e.g. housing supply). On the national level, Yan et al. (2021) define public rental housing (PRH) governance as “a structure of a wide range of government and non-governmental actors that act in all its phases of PRH provision from policy design to implementation and realisation”.[1] This specific definition on PRH combines the domestic definition of governance with Wijburg’s understanding of governance on the local level. Within the Chinese context, the national government provides policies and creates nationwide operational methods, whilst local governments implement and formulate the policies locally (Yan et al., 2021). Critics point out that a more decentralised governance structure complicates the public accountability of housing provision. Peters and Pierre (2006, p. 40) distinguish problems concerning the ‘isolation’ and ‘enforcement’ of accountability. The former refers to demarcation, as it is easier to measure the performance of a government housing agency directly responsible for new build and operations, than those from the private sector in an indirect role trying to stimulate and facilitate other actors and contracting out construction and operations (Shamsul Haque, 2000). The latter relates to the accountability deficit that arises when responsibility is transferred from democratically governed municipal agencies to actors without a representative institutional arrangement, and thus without control mechanisms for tenants or the wider population (Mullins, 2006). Throughout history, understanding of governing has evolved together with the role of government. The state plays a different role in capitalism, corporatism and socialism, which has varying effects on local and/or (inter)national levels. Whilst the above paragraphs describe housing governance within a democratic governance regime, transferring the conceptual debate to autocratic or hybrid regimes would pose difficulties. Thus, finding a unique definition of housing governance applicable in all spheres remains a challenge, and the specific context must be carefully considered. Important challenges remain, and as housing provision mechanisms evolve, further exploration of housing governance, especially on a municipal level, are likely to gain importance (Hoekstra, 2020). [1] “Housing provision is a physical process of creating and transferring a dwelling to its occupiers, its subsequent use and physical reproduction and at the same time, a social process dominated by the economic interests involved” ibid.

Created on 16-02-2022 | Update on 21-02-2022

Housing Regime

Author: A.Martin (ESR7), C.Verrier (ESR)

Area: Policy and financing

The discussion on housing regimes dates back to e neo-institutional turn in policy research which occurred during the 1980s. This literature viewed institutions not so much as “formal” entities but more as the culmination of conflicting power relations, market dynamics, and ideology. The study of these dynamics could, in turn, be used to understand the variegated development of post-war welfare states, as exemplified by Esping-Andersen’s seminal Three worlds of welfare capitalism (1990). Kemeny defined the housing regime as “the social, political, and economic system of housing supply, distribution, and consumption, which determines the housing market opportunities of a certain period” (1981, p. 13). His framework follows the logic of the historical and institutional structure of society. Kemeny (2006) argues that, due to the central role of real estate in modern capitalism, housing systems follow similar paths, albeit with  different logics. Studying the emergence of regimes of a different nature between countries, he distinguished between unitary and dualized housing regimes, based on their rental-market systems, that is: (a) countries with an open private sector but with a firmly regulated public sector are characterized by a dual rental market; and (b) societies where the private and public sectors are strictly regulated have a unitary rental market. In dualist countries (primarily the Anglo-Saxon ones), homeownership is commonplace, while in countries with an integrated/unitary system (such as Germany, Netherlands, and Scandinavian countries) renting is a realistic and even competitive alternative to ownership. Kemeny highlighted that the dominance of homeownership is not organically developed but is socially and politically constructed. The above conceptualization of housing regime based on the functioning of rental market systems does not mirror the (Foucaultian) political and conflictual approach of Clapham, for whom a housing regime stands for a “set of discourses and social, economic and political practices that influence the provision, allocation, consumption [of housing] and housing outcomes in a given country” (2019, p. 24). He views policy as an arena where actors “negotiate and bargain” through discursive processes (Ruonavaara, 2020b). Clapham clearly distinguishes regime types from housing regimes. Regime types are useful for categorization since they can function as a baseline for comparative studies. However, “every housing regime is unique”(Ruonavaara, 2020b). Because of the complexity of the concept, Clapham (2019, p.17) proposes a three-stage analysis for housing policy (Figure 1). Ruonavaara (2020b) finds Clapham’s approach nuanced but too general and broad, which – according to him - makes it less applicable. On the other hand, Hegedüs (2020) considers Clapham’s (2002) housing pathway reasonable, as it describes housing provision forms as a result of interactions. In line with Clapham, he argues that “interventions within the housing system can only be understood in the context of interactions between different housing market actors” (Hegedüs, 2020, p. 569). Consequently, an analysis that only focuses on the rental sector would lead to narrowed interpretations with low explanatory power. More recently, Ruonavaara provided a new definition of housing regimes, which combines the elements of previous theories. He defined housing regime as a “set of fundamental principles according to which housing provision operates in some defined area (municipality, region, state) at a particular point in time” (2020a, p. 10). These principles are present in discourses, institutional arrangements, and political interventions. All actors have certain principles when operating in the system of housing provision at a given time and place. Housing regimes can be considered as the “principles of operation” (Ruonavaara, 2020a). In this sense, the housing regime concept faces challenges in its ability to represent an effective analytical tool for today’s housing systems. For Stephens (2020), it is necessary to rethink housing regime as a way to find middle-range theories given that current accounts of neoliberal convergence (Aalbers, 2016; Clapham, 2019) barely manage to explain the role of regime path-dependences in continuing to shape variegated housing outcomes.

Created on 24-02-2022 | Update on 08-03-2022

Asset-based Welfare

Author: M.Horvat (ESR6)

Area: Policy and financing

In Europe, increasingly longevity is driving the trend towards an ageing population . Furthermore, at a global level, average life expectancy has increased over the last fifty years from 58.6 years in 1970 to 72.7 years in 2019 (World Bank, 2021), and could reach 76,6 years by 2050 (Statista, 2021). In the literature reviewed, “older people“ are described as the population aged 65 and over (Harper et al., 2016; Johnson, 2015). A recent UK study (Harper et al., 2016) found that the average age of the UK population exceeds 40 years for the first time in history. The same study predicts the working age group of older people, which makes up the population aged 50-66, will increase from 26% in 2012 to 34% in 2050, an increase of 5.5 million people.   However, longevity is not usually accompanied by an understanding of the quality of living. The increase in the elderly population is overwhelming the health care system of the modern welfare state. The elderly are becoming more dependent on health services, while the support of younger generations is decreasing due to their increased occupational mobility and different lifestyles (Bađun & Krišto, 2021).   Asset-based welfare could be defined as a set of policies and measures that address and promote individual wealth accumulation over the course of our lives in order to reduce an individual's dependence on the pension system through the consumption of that asset (Lennartz & Ronald, 2016). There could be many forms of asset-based welfare, and it should be oriented toward the local context. For example, asset-based welfare is embedded in the housing market in Japan, Singapore and South Korea (Doling et al., 2013); (Oh & Yoon, 2019). Retirees in the US or the UK are more likely to finance a reverse mortgage, while retirees in post-socialist countries are more likely to enter into care exchange contracts or an intergenerational transfer.   In the post-socialist countries of Eastern Europe, most pensioners are homeowners who have high assets and low monthly income (Kunovac, 2020). For pensioners who became homeowners during their working years, there are a few ways to use their homes in order to secure a higher standard of living in retirement. There are two main scenarios for using your assets to increase the standard of living: one is to move out of the current home, either by downsizing or selling it; the other does not require moving and usually involves renting part of the home or entering into a financial transaction such as a reverse mortgage or insurance contract (Bađun & Krišto, 2021). Both scenarios represent asset-based welfare, as assets (rather than income) are used to increase well-being. In the past, asset-based welfare used to be practised in traditional rural communities when elderly people without successors contracted with their neighbours to provide for them in exchange for their family assets.   The European financial market for asset-based welfare is at an early stage of development and is only available to a limited extent in the UK, Spain, France and Germany (Bađun & Krišto, 2021). In other countries, there are different forms of transaction in play. For example, according to a survey carried out by the European Commission, 86% of the Croatians prefer to take care of their parents, rather than having their parents sell their property to increase their income (Bađun & Krišto, 2021).  Similar results could be found in other post-socialist countries with a high level of “familialism”, i.e., intergenerational living with strong family ties (Eggers et al., 2020; Sendi et al., 2019; Stephens et al., 2015) , and homeownership, where the idea of “consuming” the equity to pay for old-age care is unpopular. According to (Kerbler & Kolar, 2018), the Slovenian pensioner, even if starving, would rather not sell or mortgage their homes, while according to Sendi et al., (2019) pensioners in Slovenia “strongly reject all equity release products”.   A potential model of asset-based welfare that could be implemented in Croatia was presented in 2015 in the policy document “Social picture of the City of Zagreb” (CERANEO, 2016). This model would represent an innovation in social welfare by creating an institutional support for a contract through which the assets would be transferred to the city after the death of the person and in return the city would provide care for the elderly. This contract would ensure adequate care for the elderly and provide the city with a housing stock for public or social rental. In addition, this type of contract would be a viable alternative to the current practise of doing business under a "lifetime support contract" or a "support contract until death". In 2021, 1,300 such contracts were concluded, but in practice this is not well regulated (Annual report of the Ombudswoman of the Republic of Croatia, 2021). There have been cases of contracts between only one individual providing services to tens of benefactors. Many of these contracts end up contested by the surviving family in court, making this type of transaction risky (CERANEO, 2016).

Created on 03-06-2022 | Update on 03-12-2023

Indoor Thermal Comfort

Author: S.Furman (ESR2)

Area: Design, planning and building

Improving indoor thermal comfort is a widely agreed motivate for housing retrofit (Femenías et al., 2018; Outcault et al., 2022; Sojkova et al., 2019; Zahiri & Elsharkawy, 2018). Low carbon retrofit of existing social housing tends to be driven by cost, the use of eco-friendly products, and energy savings (Sojkova et al., 2019). Energy savings are particularly important in colder climates where households require larger energy loads for space heating and thermal comfort and are therefore at greater risk of fuel (energy) poverty (Sojkova et al., 2019; Zahiri & Elsharkawy, 2018). Femenías et al.’s (2018) extensive literature review on property owners’ attitudes to energy efficiency argues that renovations are typically motivated by other needs, referred to by Outcault et al (2022) as ‘non-energy impacts’ (NEIs). While lists of NEIs are inconsistent in the literature, categories related to “weatherization retrofit” (Outcault et al., 2022, p.3) refer to comfort, modernity, health, safety, education, and better indoor air quality (Amann, 2006; Bergman & Foxon, 2020; Broers et al., 2022; Outcault et al., 2022). In poorly maintained social housing, however, the desire to improve indoor air quality and thermal comfort will have an impact on energy consumption. Occupants will, for example, use extra heating to feel comfortable in a damp, mouldy, or cold home. (Zahiri & Elsharkawy, 2018).   There are three main technical improvements to low carbon retrofit: (1) enhancing the building fabrics thermal properties; (2) improving systems efficiency; and (3) renewable energy integration (Institute for Sustainability & UCL Energy Institute, 2012). In order for the Passivehaus Institut’s EnerPHit Retrofit Plan to meet Passivhaus standards for indoor air quality, homes must achieve high levels of air tightness complemented by a mechanical ventilation system including heat recovery (MVHR). Specifically, “airtightness of a building must achieve an air change per hour rate of less than 0.6 at 50 Pa of pressure (n50), and have ventilation provided by either a balanced mechanical heat recovery ventilation or demand-controlled ventilation systems” (McCarron et al., 2019, p.297). This airtightness concept is revered for saving energy, avoiding structural damage, and contributing to thermal comfort (Bastian et al., 2022) while requiring no natural ventilation such as open windows. Mechanical HVAC units alter indoor air temperature, air movement, ventilation, noise levels, and humidity (Outcault et al., 2022). But despite known benefits to physical health and clean air, this may not lead to optimum user-comfort. This is because social housing residents have unique housing needs that differ from homeowners (Sunikka-Blank et al., 2018) and cannot be predicted without resident engagement, as residents are experts in the way they live and use their homes (Boess, 2022; Gianfrate et al., 2017; Walker et al., 2014).   Post Occupancy Evaluation after retrofit has found that social housing residents are often unfamiliar with mechanical systems and their sustainable benefits, especially when retrofit occurs without resident input (Garnier et al., 2020). This can lead to misuse, overheating, the prebound effect, and the rebound effect where affordable energy bills lead to excessive heating—at times 25-26°C (Zoonnekindt, 2019)—contributing to performance gaps as high as five times the predicted energy consumption (Traynor, 2019). Other households considered mechanical systems to be bulky, ugly, and noisy, prompting removal, lack of use, and at times emotional distress (Lowe et al., 2018). DREEAM’s Berlin pilot site found one household blocking mechanical ventilation with tissue paper because they considered the air too cold and residents “haven’t been informed about the positive impact of a well working ventilation on their health and on the energy efficiency of the heating in their apartment” (Zoonnekindt, 2019). DREEAM continued the project with Green Neighbours (Zoonnekindt, 2019), an innovative engagement program co-designed with and for residents to better inform mechanical systems usage. However, literature shows (Boess, 2022; Gianfrate et al., 2017; Walker et al., 2014) that informing residents on how to use mechanical systems is unlikely to change use-habits or adequately combat performance gaps. In order to change residents’ energy behaviours, resident stakeholders should be integrated in retrofit decision-making.

Created on 20-09-2022 | Update on 01-12-2023

Housing Affordability

Author: A.Elghandour (ESR4), K.Hadjri (Supervisor)

Area: Design, planning and building

Housing can be perceived as consisting of two inseparable components: the product and the process. The product refers to the building as a physical artefact, and the process encompasses the activities required to create and manage this artefact in the long term (Turner, 1972), as cited in (Brysch & Czischke, 2021). Affordability is understood as the capability to purchase and maintain something long-term while remaining convenient for the beneficiary's resources and needs (Bogdon & Can, 1997). Housing Affordability is commonly explained as the ratio between rent and household income (Hulchanski, 1995). However, Stone (2006, p.2) proposed a broader definition of housing affordability to associate it with households' social experience and financial stability as: "An expression of the social and material experiences of people, constituted as households, in relation to their individual housing situations", ….. "Affordability expresses the challenge each household faces in balancing the cost of its actual or potential housing, on the one hand, and its non-housing expenditures, on the other, within the constraints of its income." Housing costs signify initial and periodic payments such as rent or mortgages in the case of  homeowners, housing insurance, housing taxes, and so on. On the other hand, non-housing costs include utility charges resulting from household usage, such as energy and water, as well as schools, health, and transportation (AHC, 2019; Ezennia & Hoskara, 2019). Therefore, housing affordability needs to reflect the household's capability to balance current and future costs to afford a house while maintaining other basic expenses without experiencing any financial hardship (Ezennia & Hoskara, 2019). Two close terminologies to housing affordability are  “affordable housing” and “affordability of housing”. Affordable housing is frequently mentioned in government support schemes to refer to the housing crisis and associated financial hardship. In England, affordable housing is still concerned with its financial attainability, as stated in the UK Government's official glossaries: "Housing for sale or rent, for those whose needs are not met by the market (including housing that provides a subsidised route to home ownership and/or is for essential local workers)", while also complying with other themes that maintain the affordability of housing prices in terms of rent or homeownership (Department for Levelling Up Housing and Communities, 2019). The affordability of housing, on the other hand, refers to a broader focus on the affordability of the entire housing market, whereas housing affordability specifically refers to the ability of individuals or households to afford housing. In the literature, however, the term “affordability of housing” is frequently used interchangeably with “housing affordability,” despite their differences (Robinson et al., 2006). The "affordability of housing" concerns housing as a sector in a particular region, market or residential area. It can correlate affordability with population satisfaction, accommodation types and household compositions to alert local authorities of issues such as homelessness (Kneebone & Wilkins, 2016; Emma Mulliner et al., 2013; OECD, 2021). That is why the OECD defined it as "the capacity of a country to deliver good quality housing at an accessible price for all" (OECD, n.d.). Short-term and long-term affordability are two concepts for policymakers to perceive housing affordability holistically. Short-term affordability is "concerned with financial access to a dwelling based on out-of-pocket expenses", and long-term affordability is " about the costs attributed to housing consumption" (Haffner & Heylen, 2011, p.607). The costs of housing consumption, also known as user costs, do not pertain to the monthly utility bills paid by users, but rather to the cost associated with consuming the dwelling as a housing service  (Haffner & Heylen, 2011). “Housing quality” and “housing sustainability” are crucial aspects of housing affordability, broadening its scope beyond the narrow economic perspective within the housing sector. Housing affordability needs to consider "a standard for housing quality" and "a standard of reasonableness for the price of housing consumption in relation to income" (p. 609) (Haffner & Heylen, 2011). In addition, housing affordability requires an inclusive aggregation and a transdisciplinary perspective of sustainability concerning its economic, social, and environmental facets (Ezennia & Hoskara, 2019; Perera, 2017; Salama, 2011). Shared concerns extend across the domains of housing quality, sustainability, and affordability, exhibiting intricate interrelations among them that require examination. For instance, housing quality encompasses three levels of consideration: (1) the dwelling itself as a physically built environment, (2) the household attitudes and behaviours, and (3) the surroundings, encompassing the community, neighbourhood, region, nation, and extending to global circumstances (Keall et al., 2010). On the other hand, housing sustainability embraces the triad of economic, social, and environmental aspects. The shared problems among the three domains encompass critical aspects such as health and wellbeing, fuel poverty and costly long-term maintenance  proximity to workplaces and amenities, as well as the impact of climate. Health and wellbeing Inequalities in health and wellbeing pose a significant risk to social sustainability, mainly in conditions where affordable dwellings are of poor quality. In contrast, such conditions extend the affordability problem posing increased risks to poor households harming their health, wellbeing and productivity (Garnham et al., 2022; Hick et al., 2022; Leviten-Reid et al., 2020). An illustrative example emerged during the COVID-19 pandemic, where individuals residing in unsafe and poor-quality houses faced higher rates of virus transmission and mortality (Housing Europe, 2021; OECD, 2020). Hence, addressing housing affordability necessitates recognising it as a mutually dependent relationship between housing quality and individuals (Stone, 2006). Fuel poverty and costly long-term maintenance Affordable houses of poor quality pose risks of fuel poverty and costly long-term maintenance. This risk makes them economically unsustainable. For example, good quality entails the home being energy efficient to mitigate fuel poverty. However, it might become unaffordable to heat the dwelling after paying housing costs because of its poor quality (Stone et al., 2011). Thus, affordability needs to consider potential fluctuations in non-housing prices, such as energy bills (AHC, 2019; Smith, 2007). Poor quality also can emerge from decisions made during the design and construction stages. For example, housing providers may prioritise reducing construction costs by using low-quality and less expensive materials or equipment that may lead to costly recurring maintenance and running costs over time (Emekci, 2021). Proximity to work and amenities The proximity to workplaces and amenities influences housing quality and has an impact on economic and environmental sustainability. From a financial perspective, Disney (2006) defines affordable housing as "an adequate basic standard that provides reasonable access to work opportunities and community services, and that is available at a cost which does not cause substantial hardship to the occupants". Relocating to deprived areas far from work opportunities, essential amenities, and community services will not make housing affordable (Leviten-Reid et al., 2020). Commuting to a distant workplace also incurs environmental costs. Research shows that reduced commuting significantly decreases gas emissions (Sutton-Parker, 2021). Therefore, ensuring involves careful planning when selecting housing locations, considering their impact on economic and environmental sustainability (EK Mulliner & Maliene, 2012). Moreover, design practices can contribute by providing adaptability and flexibility, enabling dwellers to work from home and generate income (Shehayeb & Kellett, 2011). Climate change's mutual impact Climate change can pose risks to housing affordability and, conversely, housing affordability can impact climate change. A house cannot be considered "affordable" if its construction and operation result in adverse environmental impacts contributing to increased CO2 emissions or climate change (Haidar & Bahammam, 2021; Salama, 2011). For a house to be environmentally sustainable, it must be low-carbon, energy-efficient, water-efficient, and climate-resilient (Holmes et al., 2019). This entails adopting strategies such as incorporating eco-friendly materials, utilizing renewable energy sources, improving energy efficiency, and implementing sustainable water management systems (Petrović et al., 2021). However, implementing these measures requires funding initiatives to support the upfront costs, leading to long-term household savings (Holmes et al., 2019). Principio del formulario Furthermore,  when houses lack quality and climate resilience, they become unaffordable. Households bear high energy costs, especially during extreme weather conditions such as heatwaves or cold spells (Holmes et al., 2019). Issues like cold homes and fuel poverty in the UK contribute to excess winter deaths (Lee et al., 2022). In this context, climate change can adversely affect families, impacting their financial well-being and health, thereby exacerbating housing affordability challenges beyond mere rent-to-income ratios.    

Created on 17-10-2023 | Update on 18-10-2023


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Alsaeed, M., & Hadjri, K. (2022, August). Environmental sustainability of future social housing. In New Housing Researchers Colloquium (NHRC) at the European Network for Housing Research (ENHR) Conference 2022, Barcelona, Spain.

Posted on 30-08-2022



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