Bureaucrats, community housing providers, developers, service providers and architects are scrambling to dramatically expand the pipeline of social housing projects in Victoria amid a chronic shortage of affordable housing.

State Government’s A $ 5.3 billion large housing construction is devoting unprecedented resources to a deep and persistent problem and the housing sector is rising to the challenge of putting shovels in the ground for new projects before the end of 2021.

It’s positive. But housing doesn’t just need to exist, it needs to be Well.

Whether to expand social and affordable housing in Victoria must be about ‘good’ housing. Photo: Expo: Vallastaden, Sweden (2017), photo by Dr Tom Alves

It must be integrated into services and work as well as educational opportunities, it must take care of occupants, it must create opportunities for connection and happiness, and it must be at the forefront of ethical sourcing and sustainability practices. .

The Big Housing Build aims to create 12,000 housing units in five years. It offers us a window of opportunity to implement a progressive social housing agenda and reframe housing priorities involving design and delivery into the future.

But successfully exploiting this opportunity to achieve optimal social outcomes will require the contribution of several actors in the housing field.

For example, while the Big Housing Build program is encouraging, governments must also continue to use policy levers that encourage continued investment in social housing development while stimulating innovation in design and planning.

In the United Kingdom, calls for tenders for new developments are now increasingly accompanied by requirements to create social value.

This is done through initiatives such as job creation or training opportunities for people from disadvantaged backgrounds, zero carbon programs, evidence of corporate volunteering programs and charitable giving, as well. than using local supply chains.

In Denmark, net zero emissions policies also stimulate innovation. Internationally, housing and homelessness services are increasingly measuring and improving the health, education, well-being and inclusion benefits of housing. safe and supportive programs for vulnerable people.

The government must encourage the design of social and affordable housing to be innovative and to integrate social value. Image: Shuttstock

Architects and city planners must actively work with developers to provide housing and neighborhoods that improve social outcomes.

Benefits through design

Best practices in design and construction can create immediate social value through, for example, natural ventilation, light, insulation and access to shared spaces.

Across Victoria, low-income households disproportionately live in homes that are dangerously hot in summer and freezing in winter. This is especially a problem for tenants and Victorians living in older social housing without adequate insulation, or passive heating or cooling design elements.

It is therefore positive that the Big Housing Build requires that dwellings meet specific ratings measured by tools such as the Nationwide House Energy Rating Scheme (NatHERS) and the Livable Housing Design Guidelines.

A continued commitment to building high quality housing could potentially allow social housing to have better efficiency ratings than those in the private market. This would be extremely beneficial for the financially disadvantaged people who depend on social housing, as it would also reduce their heating and air conditioning bills.

Ensuring that housing is accessible is important for everyone, but is particularly important in social housing. More than a third of all people living in social housing are over 55 (compared to 28 percent of the general population) and 35 percent of households in social housing include at least one person with a disability.

Social and affordable housing must be accessible to both the elderly and people with disabilities. Image: Getty Images

Through our research, we spoke to families living in social housing who had to transport children in wheelchairs upstairs when the elevators broke. Others said they were unable to properly wash disabled family members due to inadequate sanitation facilities.

It is therefore essential that new developments are designed to prioritize accessibility for older people and people with disabilities.

Location, location

The location of social housing is also important.

Seniors, in particular, appreciate well-lit, safe neighborhoods that encourage them outdoors to engage in the community, rather than feeling trapped in their homes. And access to services and amenities must be a priority.

Our Transforming Housing: Affordable Housing For All research initiative at the University of Melbourne has developed the Housing Access Assessment Tool (HART) that assesses the walkability and accessibility of plots of land in all of Greater Melbourne.

Based on proximity to doctors, pharmacies, public transport and green spaces, it is a tool that can help prevent disadvantages from worsening by locating social housing in underserved and poorly located areas. .

We must also be careful not to repeat the mistakes of the past by creating obvious visual or geographical divisions between social housing and private housing.

While mixed tenure communities that blend private, social and affordable housing often offer beneficial social outcomes, the pursuit of social mix should never justify the sale of public land for private purposes or the gentrification of suburbs at the expense of the provision of social housing.

The location of affordable and social housing must ensure access to services and a community environment. Image: Shutterstock

If done right, social housing in developments that integrate with private housing helps create community and opportunity, and socially benefits everyone.

Addressing the huge social housing shortage in Victoria is a unique opportunity to break with the past and ensure that we invest in social housing in a way that builds and strengthens all communities.

Local hero

There are wonderful examples around the world where social housing has created diverse and equitable communities, but there are also many local examples of innovative design and thinking.

A local example of an inclusive housing model in action is Common Equity Housing Limited’s Abbotsford development site in Melbourne. Its specially designed apartments for people with disabilities include additional floor space and touchpad technology for lighting. Located close to amenities, it also concerns public and private housing.

Another inspiring initiative is the emergence of Education-First Youth Homes across Australia. The model presents a unique partnership between TAFE, housing providers and youth support partners to house youth at risk of homelessness and help them become independent.

Nightingale is another local hero – its energy-rated 7.5-star apartments using shared spaces like communal rooftop laundry facilities to create community while reducing costs and emissions. Future projects will include part of social housing, delivered in partnership with community housing providers.


By incorporating design elements into social housing that reduce carbon emissions and environmental impact, we can extend the social value of public housing to the entire community.

Innovative housing developments designed with energy efficiencies to reduce emissions help everyone. Image: Getty Images.

The scale of the Big Housing Build and the certainty that the pipeline of projects brings to the Island’s construction industry is also an opportunity to encourage innovations in off-site material fabrication and new construction techniques. Assembly.

Another opportunity to encourage innovation is the state government’s Future Homes Competition initiative which aims to create a model for Melbourne’s apartment sector.

We are encouraged that, as part of the competition process, the prototype winning apartments from Future Homes will indeed be built. This shows that the government is committed to promoting the link between good design and good results.

It is also in the exceptional tradition of International Building Trade Fairs (IBA) where experimental innovations are encouraged and demonstrated by their implementation. Based on a century-old European practice, the IBA approach is an effective way to showcase innovation in design and construction to generate ideas and build coalitions for best practice in social housing.

In Victoria, the opportunity to re-think about creating social value in affordable housing is now.

The social value of affordable housing will be unveiled at Housing Assembly Symposium 2021: Symposium on the creation of social value housing held on November 3 and 4. An initiative of the Hallmark Affordable Housing Research Initiative (HRIAH), this online symposium includes three days of presentations, industry-focused workshops and panel discussions with world-renowned thinkers working to make housing that is good and feels good.

Banner: Commhaus by Lauren Ho, Madeleine Archer and Ben Thorp, University of Melbourne.

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