Good Affordable Housing

A practical research project by Sputnik, 15 housing associations, subsidized by the ministry of the interior.

In 2013 the national policy regarding social housing shifted considerably. According to the new policy, the rent for social houses should be less subsidized and more fit to the income of the tenant. It should become affordable for both tenant and landlord. This inevitably will lead to the demand for smaller, more compact houses.

In The Netherlands, the housing associations together own an enormous housing stock of 2.7 million houses. Up to 2008, due to ever rising market value of real estate, on paper their assets were huge and would only grow. It lead to the believe that building bigger houses, would in the long run create more value. The gap between the actual rent collected for a house in the exploitation years and the initial investment to build it, would be covered by the added value when the house was eventually sold. Housing associations were building houses for the free market as if they were commercial developers. However where a commercial developer gets judged on the results of a project, a housing association could always sell off some stock houses to compensate loss on some less profitable development. All was good and tenants with low income, lived happily in a good home. Then the crisis hit the housing market in 2008. House prices dropped and suddenly, even on paper, the future didn’t look so bright anymore. Suddenly the market appeared to be not current enough. Experts told that not enough houses were offered in the free market at middle class rents of € 700 – € 1.000,- per month and as a result too few people moved up from social housing to the free market to rent or buy. Shortage was one reason, another was that the houses offered in social housing were as good or better at € 700,-/month than you could expect on the free market for €900,-/month or more. So why move?

protest on rents and waiting lists

Social housing associations primarily built up their stock of single family houses with a maximum social rent. In the process the tenants that could not afford that rent were either offered a new high rent house with a subsidy or a low rent house that was often old and had bad insulation. But in 2013 the game changed. The government introduced a new policy. Housing associations were obliged to pay a so called landlord-tax and offer houses to tenants with a rent that fits their income, without subsidy. Now it became evident that in the future housing associations will need to focus on their main target group: people with low income and provide houses fitting that income. Many housing associations started to rethink their strategy. Together with 15 of them we started a practical research to re-establish the qualitative base for affordable housing.

We started with an inquiry among the tenants of the participating housing associations. Almost 1500 tenants answered the questions we asked them about their needs and the minimum requirements for their home. Together with the housing associations, from the results of the inquiry, we defined the brief or functional program for social housing for 1- and 2-person households and families.

participating housing associations
inquiry examples

Next we proposed some generic room layouts with the furniture needed to make the room functional according to the inquiry results. We built these rooms in real life with furniture and movable walls. Workshops were organized at TU Delft Faculty of Architecture and at housing association Domesta in Emmen, where students and workers at the participating housing associations and their tenants were invited to test whether the assumptions in the generic room layouts were right, or that they needed to be adjusted. The results of the workshops were collected by use of an mobile device app(lication).

1:1 workshop at TU Delft Faculty of Architecture

Based on the gathered data, we produced compact housing types for each of the specific target groups of the participating housing associations. Some turned out to be generic, some were tailor made.

We collected all the results and the typology of compact houses in a report and made it available for download on our website. Since then it was downloaded over 300 times. Now that many housing associations are starting up developments of compact houses, we are often involved in feasibility studies for specific locations and programs. We use the base types we drew for the Good Affordable Housing study as building stones for volume studies. It saves a lot of time, and we guarantee that within any volume we propose, the dwellings will actually fit.

Goed Wonen in een Betaalbare Woning
(Good Affordable Housing pdf download link (in Dutch))