Affordable Housing

10 minute read

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Melbourne, Australia, is facing rapid population growth and a severe housing affordability crisis. Home purchase is among the least affordable in the world, and there is an acute shortage of low-cost rental housing. The Affordable Housing initiative was created to address these challenges. Challenges that can’t be solved by one discipline alone.

About

The challenge

In the last two decades, house price growth has driven dramatic increases in wealth inequality in Australia. More affluent households have benefited from increased property values. At the same time lower-income households have seen large increases in their rental and mortgage payments.

For low-income households, decrease in housing affordability can:

  • limit access to jobs and essential services
  • negatively impact on physical and mental health
  • increase the risk of homelessness.

The combined pressures of population growth, demographic change, sustainability imperatives and equity challenges are driving an urgent need to better understand and deliver affordable housing in Australia.

Our research capability

The initiative acknowledges the complexity of housing systems and their role in supporting or inhibiting sustainability, social justice and economic stability. This is why it brings together researchers from numerous disciplines, including:

  • architecture
  • urban planning
  • property economics
  • public health
  • geography
  • economics
  • sociology.

The initiative is also supported by an advisory group of industry experts and includes collaboration with:

  • government
  • not-for-profit
  • community stakeholders.

The initiative is creating new collaborative research into the supply of quality housing: its design, planning, affordability, accessibility and use. In the process it is developing an evidence base for solutions to contemporary housing issues.

And it is building on research already conducted as part of the Transforming Housing project.

Our approach

The initiative aims to make a positive contribution to social inclusion and equity by:

  • addressing changing demographic patterns
  • furthering sustainable approaches to urban development.

The initiative’s mix of evidence and diverse expertise is creating integrated solutions to:

  • problems of housing markets and social inequality
  • the quality and amenity of living environments
  • urban intensification and sustainability
  • the management of growth.

Research outcomes, including positive changes that could be made across the housing system, are shared through:

  • internationally established formats such as housing expos
  • publications, public events, workshops and research forums.

Research themes

Research conducted through the initiative is organised into the following themes.

Markets and policy

This research area examines the market and policy transformations necessary to increase the supply of affordable housing. Research activities include:

  • evaluating planning and policy levers and interventions and their impact on housing market dynamics and affordable housing supply
  • examining innovative ways to create an affordable housing industry, including governance, finance, development, delivery and partnership models
  • investigating social and economic returns on public investment in affordable housing supply.

These themes build on research conducted as part of the Transforming Housing project. One output of this project has been the Affordable Housing Calculator. It is an educational tool designed to model the likely impact of various incentives and affordable housing contributions on residential project feasibility.

A manual for the calculator is available. Contact  affordable-housing@unimelb.edu.au if you or your organisation are interested in learning more about this tool.

Theme leader: Dr Ilan Wiesel, School of Geography

Design innovation

Through prototyping and modelling, this theme explores innovation in:

  • architectural and site design
  • infrastructure
  • engineering
  • manufacturing
  • building technology.

Research activities include:

  • investigating the design of new models to address place-making and affordable housing problems
  • exploring prefabricated construction as a major source of potential cost reduction, energy efficiency and increased quality
  • testing public and stakeholder reception to innovative housing prototypes.

Theme leader: Professor Alan Pert, Architecture Building and Planning

Health

The health theme explores how affordable housing can improve an individual’s mental and physical health.

Research activities include:

  • identifying and articulating the benefits of affordable housing for health, education, welfare and sustainability
  • improving the quality of evidence on the relationship between housing and health
  • examining how unaffordable housing contributes to socio-economic and health inequalities
  • examining innovations in the supply of affordable housing to promote health and wellbeing.

Theme leader: Professor Rebecca Bentley, Melbourne School of Population and Global Health

Design precedents

This theme explores the history of:

  • relevant precedents in housing typologies and usage
  • patterns in urban and suburban development
  • precedents in planning and policy, evolution of theoretical approaches.

Research activities include:

  • identifying prior design approaches and models in a range of housing types with relevance to changing household patterns, increasing densities, and sustainability
  • examining how cultural and community values are invested in existing housing stock and residential neighbourhoods, and the implications of this for housing innovation
  • understanding the achievements and failures of previous attempts to address major demographic change through urban planning and design.

Current research

Theme leader: Professor Paul Walker, Architecture Building and Planning

Projects

Projects funded in 2020 include:

Housing temperature impact on health inequalities: using computer science and simulation modelling  

Living in cold housing leads to poorer health by promoting cardiovascular and respiratory diseases. Housing conditions and housing financial stress are linked to socioeconomic position. This means that housing temperature contributes to health inequalities.

To investigate ways to prevent cold housing, the Population Interventions Unit at the Melbourne School of Population and Global Health has developed SHINE (Scalable Health Intervention Evaluation). This tool combines epidemiological models and economic simulations to measure the effects of different interventions. For each one, SHINE evaluates:

  • the health gains (in health adjusted life years)
  • potential savings for the health system

SHINE uses the results of a previous Hallmark project on housing interventions. The tool splits populations into groups – for example, by level of income – for analysis, while ensuring that all groups are representative of the population as a whole.

We will compare targeted and population-wide interventions, such as:

  • hypothetical ‘magic wand’ interventions that completely remove lower temperatures. This will help us to see the total potential health gains.
  • retrofitting houses with insulation, stopping drafts, and making other repairs
  • providing financial help for home heating.

We will consider the cost per unit health gain for groups with different socioeconomic positions. The rates of respiratory and cardiovascular disease are higher among people in lower socioeconomic groups. We expect that the health gains will be greater for these groups.

We will then compare the health and cost impacts of these interventions with those of other preventive interventions – such as tobacco tax and colorectal screening – using the Australia and New Zealand Health Intervention League Table (ANZ-HILT).

Research team: Dr Patrick Andersen, Professor Tony Blakely and Professor Rebecca Bentley (all Melbourne School of Population and Global Health), Dr Nic Geard (School of Computing and Information Systems) and Professor Alan Pert (Melbourne School of Design)

Fit for purpose:  Establishing regulatory clarity around housing for people with disabilities 

The policies that regulate housing conditions in Australia are complex. Some are national in scope, some are state-based, and others are at a local council level. People with disabilities have added rights under the UN Convention on the Rights of People with Disability and other national and state-based anti-discrimination legislation.

The National Disability Insurance Agency governs the provision of services to people supported by the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS), and who live in privately owned homes – either as homeowners or renters.

People with a disability need appropriate housing to move from group homes or residential facilities to the general community. Currently, state and federal governments expect the private sector to invest in and provide most of this new housing.

Three main areas of law cover housing for people with disabilities:

  • Construction codes designed to ensure that buildings are safe, healthy and fit for purpose
  • Legal rights for tenants, homeowners and people with disabilities
  • Government policy (enabled through the NDIS) around housing provision and requirements to access funding for disability.

We will examine issues in these areas that relate to housing investment in the disability sector. We will ask:

  • How do the legal responsibilities in these three areas support or inhibit investment in new dwellings?
  • Which responsibilities have legal precedence and so should be used to guide policies for housing people with disabilities?
  • How can we achieve consistency between the various Australian jurisdictions?
  • Can we make the governance around the disability housing sector clearer to allow effective investment from the private sector?

Research team: Dr Andrew Martel and Dr Vidal Paton-Cole (both Faculty of Architecture, Building and Planning), Phillip Greenham (Melbourne Law School), Owen Jourdain (SDA Alliance), Tony Rutherford (Mills Oakley)

Remodeling  Build-To-Rent housing to bridge the gap between social housing and private rental market    

There is not enough public and social housing. People who have been crowded out from the private rental market or who are under financial stress also lack housing options. The Victorian Housing Register has a waitlist of more than 50 000 people hoping to secure public housing. The proportion of people who are placed in social housing is also very low, at 10% per year.

Our research looks at housing options for low- and moderate-income earners. We aim to design architectural and financial solutions through the Build to Rent (BTR) model. BTR can bridge affordability gaps and serve as an intermediate solution between private rental and social housing.

We will analyse existing housing options and identify barriers to scaling up BTR models at a reduced cost. We will look at:

  • subsidised social BTR
  • private BTR
  • Build to Rent to Own (BTRTO).

We will research the levels of housing unaffordability for people who are:

  • low- and moderate-income earners
  • renting in social housing
  • entering the private rental market after leaving social housing.

Estimating the gap between market rent and household affordability is crucial to developing affordable BTR/BTRTO options.

We hope to develop a housing option between private and social housing that uses social equity and inclusion to:

  • improve housing accessibility for vulnerable households
  • reduce financial stress caused by housing unaffordability
  • prevent vulnerable households moving from private to social housing
  • decrease the burden on social housing by reducing entries and encouraging exit from social housing
  • encourage social renters to improve their job and income
  • enhance the personal and family wellbeing of social renters by speeding up exit decisions.

Research team: Dr Djordje Stojanovic, Dr Jyoti Shukla and Professor Piyush Tiwari (all Faculty of Architecture, Building and Planning), Erika Martino (Melbourne School of Population and Global Health) and Dr Yi-Ping Tseng (Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research)

Housing market dynamics and affordability in extractive resource-based communities: a comparative study of Australia and Chile 

Mining industries are fundamental to the Australian and Chilean economies. But they also expose them to commodity price cycles. The economic fortunes of resource-based regions are linked to housing market dynamics and housing affordability. However, we lack knowledge of these relationships. We also lack information on:

  • the economic link between housing and commodity price cycles in Australia and Chile
  • how housing market dynamics differ at the national, state and local levels
  • how the property sector responds to commodity cycles
  • the effectiveness of policy interventions related to mining boom and decline.

We lack accurate and comprehensive data on housing issues at federal, state and local levels. This makes policy interventions less effective. High housing prices in mining regions have:

  • discouraged permanent residents
  • reduced attachment to place and participation in community
  • squeezed out key workers
  • amplified the socioeconomic conditions of vulnerable groups
  • increased skills shortages for mining and supporting industries
  • made it harder for the regions to diversify their economy for a more resilient future.

Our team will address these gaps in knowledge. We will study housing market dynamics, affordability challenges and policy responses. We will focus on national, regional (Pilbara and Antofagasta) and local resource-based areas (Karratha and Antofagasta city) in Australia and Chile.

Research team: Dr Julie Miao (Architecture, Building and Planning), Dr Martin Arias-Loyola and Professor Miguel Atienza (both Universidad Católica del Norte, Chile), Dr José-Francisco Vergara-Perucich (Universidad de las Américas, Chile), Dr Ilan Wiesel (Geography), Professor Gavin Wood (RMIT University), Professor Rachel Ong ViforJ (Curtin University) and Professor Chris Leishmann (University of Adelaide)

The impact of COVID-19 on share households in Victoria: Vulnerability, precarity and resilience

We will investigate the experiences of renters living in share housing before and after COVID-19 shelter-in-place rules were introduced in Victoria. We will use the concepts of stressors and resilience to investigate how the pandemic affected renters. This includes effects on their financial and social circumstances and their health and wellbeing.

The project uses an online survey followed by in-depth interviews. We aim to understand:

  • the impacts of COVID on share households
  • the range of coping mechanisms and resources that people used to manage these stressors.

This work is particularly relevant in the context of previously unthinkable housing outcomes. They include rent freezes, mortgage holidays and the threat of mass mortgage defaults.

Research team: Dr Katrina Raynor (Faculty of Architecture, Building and Planning) and Dr Laura Panza (Faculty of Business and Economics)

2019 projects

Ongoing projects funded in 2019 include:

Is leaving public housing a reality? An exploration of housing challenges faced by Melbourne’s African migrants and refugees

Until recently, long-term housing conditions for African migrants and refugees have been unexplored. This project is investigating how African migrants arrive, adapt and integrate in Melbourne.

This population faces many challenges including unstable housing. They also experience racism, limited access to employment, and health and education inequalities. These stresses add to existing trauma and create barriers to the resettlement process.

The project is investigating whether these adverse conditions cause homelessness or force families into substandard housing.

The interdisciplinary research team worked is working with marginalised communities to shed light on their experiences and challenges. The team includes experts in:

  • communities and housing
  • built environment
  • refugee resettlement.

Research team: Dr Sandra Carrasco Mansilla. Professor Sun Sheng Han, Dr Majdi Faleh, Neeraj Dangol (Faculty of Architecture, Building and Planning), Dr Ashleigh Haw (Melbourne Social Equity Institute)

Collaborators: Haileluel Gebre-Selassie (Africa Think Tank), Professor Gonzalo Lizarralde, and Faten Kikano (University of Montreal).

Post WWII apartments: analysing medium density housing precedents for contemporary Melbourne

This project is exploring previous efforts to increase housing density in inner and middle suburban Melbourne.

The central question is how can we preserve Melbourne’s distinctive character while providing housing for a booming population?

This project brings together architects, architectural historians and social historians. Together, they’re analysing and photographing post-war medium-density housing, in particular, the classic ‘six-pack’ apartment block.

The output of this work will combine social and historical research and design analysis. It will assess the achievements and failures of attempts to increase density in inner and middle suburbs. Its aim is to influence and inform contemporary design and policy.

Research team: Professor Philip Goad, Professor Paul Walker, Catherine Townsend, Dr Amanda Achmadi (Faculty of Architecture, Building and Planning), and Professor Andrew May (School of Historical and Philosophical Studies, Faculty of Arts)

Collaborators: Dr Tom Alves (RMIT University), Stefan Preuss (Office of the Victorian Government Architect), John Gollings Photography.

Evaluation of the Safe Place Pilot Program

More than a third of the people accessing the Victorian homelessness system in 2015–16 cite intimate partner violence as the cause. So, there is a clear link between women’s homelessness and intimate partner violence. Meanwhile, there’s a shortage of emergency housing in Melbourne.

Safe Steps and its partners are piloting a program that uses vacant homes in Melbourne’s private real estate market to help fill this gap. This provides women with quality, affordable and safe emergency housing.

This project includes researchers in urban planning, housing economics, public health and geography. Working with Safe Steps and their partners, they’re creating a model for socially and economically sustainable emergency housing.

This project was also awarded an additional A$5000 from the Melbourne Disability Institute. The institute recognises that women with disability are a large part of the population group that needs to access safe housing.

Research team: Erika Martino, Professor Rebecca Bentley (Melbourne School of Population and Global Health), Dr Andrew Martel (Faculty of Architecture, Building and Planning), Ilan Wiesel (School of Geography).

Collaborators: Safe Place, Save the Children, Safe Steps.

Modelling the health impact of housing interventions in Australia: an indoor temperature pilot

In the past, it’s been difficult to compare the health impacts of housing interventions as there’s been limited data. So, policy decisions have been made with limited information.

This project has changed that. Soon, policymakers will be able to use a new simulation tool to understand the potential impact of housing interventions on health. Specifically, which measures produce the best health outcomes at the best price. This is also known as a cost-to-health-benefit ratio.

This sort of modelling is being piloted on the indoor temperature of housing. Researchers are assessing the health gains from improving indoor temperature, which has cost-of-living and health implications.

Previously, this sort of modelling has been applied in the context of tobacco control, nutrition and cancer screening.

Areas of expertise in this project include knowledge of simulation modelling, epidemiology, statistics, economics and housing.

Research team: Dr Ankur Singh, Professor Rebecca Bentley, (Centre for Health Equity, Melbourne School of Population and Global Health), Dr Julie Miao (Faculty of Architecture, Building and Planning), Dr Saber Dini, Professor Tony Blakely (Centre for Epidemiology and Biostatistics, Melbourne School of Population and Global Health)

Collaborators: Dr Lyrian Daniel, Professor Emma Baker (University of Adelaide), Dr Anja Mizdrak (University of Otago)

Is Neoliberalism driving a need for new skillsets for urban planners, developers and government stakeholders? A case study of Melbourne

New planning mechanisms were introduced by the Victorian Government in 2018. Their aim was to facilitate the supply of affordable housing. They allow authorities such as local councils to enter into voluntary agreements with landowners to deliver affordable housing as part of new developments.

The success of these voluntary affordable housing agreements will inevitably rely on negotiation. This project will investigate how developers, planners and government can reach a mutually beneficial outcome.

Through a social responsibility lens, the team is drawing on psychological theories to understand stakeholders’ capacity to negotiate.

The project is producing a framework to be developed further into action research to enhance negotiations of voluntary affordable housing agreements in Victoria.

Researchers within the project have expertise in property, urban planning, marketing and geography.

Research team: Dr Georgia Warren-Myers, Dr Katrina Raynor (Faculty of Architecture, Building and Planning), Professor Angela Paladino, Dr Madeline Judge (Marketing, Faculty of Business and Economics)

Collaborators: Dr Matthew Palm, University of Toronto

Research spotlight & resources

A home for the diaspora – from the Horn of Africa to Melbourne's public housing

Sandra Carrasco, Neeraj Dangol and Majdi Faleh

Read the stories of migrants and refugees from the Horn of Africa in Melbourne's public housing estates.

Understand how identity – including cultural values and religious practices – informs their lives. Learn how residents, families and communities have developed through determination and resilience, despite the challenges of forced migration due to war, poverty and unrest.

A book for policymakers, researchers, social workers, humanitarian, religious and non-profit organisations, and anyone interested in social justice, refugees' studies, migrants and integration, and social equity.

Download the book


The impact of COVID-19 on members of share houses in Victoria

Research from the Affordable Housing Hallmark has revealed the significant impact of COVID-19 on members of share houses in Victoria.

Key findings include:

  • Almost three quarters of survey respondents have lost their job or had their hours reduced
  • 50% report a reduction in their mental health
  • 50% say their financial situation has worsened since the start of COVID-19
  • Young people, visa-holders and people in casual employment have been particularly impacted
  • Access to supportive social networks and JobKeeper and JobSeeker payments are the most important resources supporting Victorians living in share houses.

Read the report


Response to the City of Melbourne’s draft Affordable Housing Strategy

We commend the City of Melbourne on their efforts to provide clarity around affordable housing negotiations and share their view that State-level movement towards mandatory inclusionary zoning is a far more effective affordable housing strategy. Yet local councils should not be complacent.

We call on City of Melbourne (and all councils) to be ambitious in pushing for affordable housing in all medium to large developments.

Read the response


Why staying home during a pandemic can increase risk for some

As coronavirus infections began to rise in Australia, the government ordered people to stay home. “If you can stay at home, you must stay at home” has become the motto for good citizenship, and our primary weapon against a cureless pandemic. But, over less than two months, the experience of staying home exposed the inadequacy of housing for many people. Housing features such as tenure, density and design have become key factors determining people’s ability to:

  • stay home
  • work or study from home
  • isolate from other members of the household if necessary
  • more generally, protect themselves and others from the risk of contracting coronavirus.

Housing inequalities have always compounded and reflected inequalities in health, wellbeing, and productivity. The imperative to stay home during COVID-19 has amplified these effects. Alongside individual characteristics such as poor health, low income, age, and gender, housing related issues are significant factors affecting people's vulnerability and varied experiences of the pandemic.

The way that people are housed matters more than ever. And the consequences for people’s health, mental health and economic security are greater than they have been in most of our lifetimes.

We are looking at the ways housing has cushioned or amplified experiences of vulnerability or resilience during COVID19.

Read the discussion paper


Affordable Housing Calculator

This educational tool designed to model the likely impact of various incentives and affordable housing contributions on residential project feasibility.

View the calculator manual (PDF)

Contact affordable-housing@unimelb.edu.au if you or your organisation are interested in learning more about this tool.

Access the calculator


Housing Access Rating Tool (HART)

HART is a 20 point tool that scores Greater Melbourne and Geelong for access to key social services, amenities and public transport. It ian help decision makers identify locations for future affordable and social housing. The map also highlights government-owned land with the potential to support affordable housing across Greater Melbourne.

Learn more about the methodology, sites and opportunities (PDF)

Access HART


Housing PhD Network

The Housing PhD Network is a place for PhD students from any disciplines to get together and talk housing. Planned activities for 2021 include a monthly online reading group and small seminars from fellow graduate researchers.

The network is driven by PhD students and supported by the Affordable Housing Hallmark Research Initiative.

Email us to join

Watch: Affordable Housing Hallmark Seminars 2020

Showcasing a range of perspectives, each seminar focuses on one of our seed-funded research projects, with discussion led by University researchers.

Take a deep dive into topics such as housing for people with disabilities, how housing affects health and the housing challenges faced by Melbourne’s African migrants.


View all sessions

Session 01 – Expanding crisis accommodation for victim-survivors of family violence

People

Steering Committee

Professor Alan Pert

Faculty of Architecture Building and Planning
Initiative Chair and Lens Leader, Design Innovation

Academic Convenor

Dr Kate Raynor

Project Coordinator

Holly Jones

affordable-housing@unimelb.edu.au

News and events

Funding

The initiative will continue to fund interdisciplinary research projects in 2020. The funds will be awarded from a pool of A$70 000 and will aim to generate new knowledge, insights, teams, impact and ideas relating to affordable housing.

The Seed Funding Program is designed to encourage cross-faculty collaboration. Funds of up to A$15 000 may be allocated per research project.

Applications for 2020 have closed.

We will contact applicants in mid-June to let them know whether they have been selected to progress to the next stage. If your EOI is selected, you will need to complete a detailed application form and prepare a 5 minute project pitch to be delivered in July. We will also work with you to create a one-page summary of your proposed project, to be shared with industry partners.

If you’re outside of the University and would like to get involved with the initiative or if you have a general enquiry, contact Project Coordinator, Holly Jones at affordable-housing@unimelb.edu.au

Connect

For more information about the Affordable Housing Hallmark Research Initiative, email Holly Jones at affordable-housing@unimelb.edu.au

If you have questions or comments about the Hallmark Research Initiatives program, email hallmark-initiatives@unimelb.edu.au

Housing PhD Network

The Housing PhD Network is a place for PhD students from any disciplines to get together and talk housing. Planned activities for 2021 include a monthly online reading group and small seminars from fellow graduate researchers.

The network is driven by PhD students and supported by the Affordable Housing Hallmark Research Initiative.

To join the network, email affordable-housing@unimelb.edu.au