Housing is a basic human right and one of the most fundamental human needs. This need can absorb a significant proportion of household income, and affect food choices, healthcare needs and educational prospects. “Housing not only affects the well-being of individuals, but also shapes the quality of the built environment,” says PLANAFFHO project coordinator Sónia Alves, currently a research fellow at the Institute of Social Sciences, University of Lisbon, Portugal. “In many countries, excessive housing costs are a barrier to the supply of lower income workers and are increasing the prevalence of poor housing conditions, related to overcrowding, insecurity of tenure, and in some cases homelessness.” Decision makers can try to mitigate housing inequality through the careful regulation of land use to promote more desirable outcomes and a more efficient use of resources. The degree to which governments can influence planning and housing varies greatly however, depending on national and even local contexts.
Comparing housing policy
“Comparing the formulation and implementation of policies is critical,” comments Alves. “This can be a source of policy-learning and help to generate feedback to inform future rounds of policy-making.” More specifically, comparative research across borders can help decision makers to identify some common challenges faced by cities, such as housing affordability, and identify trends in policy design. This was the objective of the PLANAFFHO project, coordinated by the Cambridge Centre for Housing and Planning Research, University of Cambridge, United Kingdom. This research was undertaken with the support of the Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions programme. Three capital cities – Copenhagen, Lisbon and London – were selected as test cases. These cities were chosen in part because of differences in welfare state provision, social housing and administrative structures in each of their respective countries. At the same time, all three cities exhibit similar trends in terms of intensifying demand-side pressures, rising property prices and declining affordability across the housing market. “My aim was to investigate how planning systems are able to incorporate affordable housing and a mix of housing tenures within new developments,” explains Alves. “For example, have planning authorities encouraged developers to reserve a proportion of affordable homes within market-driven developments?”
From policy to practice
Official documents were analysed, and interviews conducted with policy-makers, local practitioners, stakeholders and consultants. Visits were made to planning departments and non-profit housing associations in the three cities. “Between January and July 2019, I conducted 62 interviews in Copenhagen, Lisbon and London,” Alves points out. From this analysis and fieldwork, the project has sought to make a meaningful contribution to housing and land use planning research. Alves’s work has helped to articulate the extent to which planning policy and practices can influence the volume, type, location and affordability of new housing, for the creation of more inclusive cities. The research has also confirmed trends in policy design, with some ideas more universally popular than others. The right to buy for example has travelled much faster than more progressive ideas related to inclusionary housing tools. “This project was about providing practical knowledge on how housing is delivered through the planning system,” emphasises Alves. “The project will hopefully help to foster new cross-disciplinary and international dialogue between researchers and practitioners.” The University of Cambridge has published Alves’s final report entitled ‘Planning for Affordable Housing A comparative analysis of Portugal, England and Denmark’. This contains key findings as well as insights into how policy approaches can best be translated into practice in other countries.
PLANAFFHO, housing, London, Lisbon, Copenhagen, homelessness, tenure, planning, land use, affordability, welfare