Social Housing Best Design

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Social Housing Guide to Design (originally commissioned for Housing NZ 2013)


New Zealand has a long and proud tradition in the provision of social housing.

Over time the philosophies underpinning New Zealand’s approach to Social Housing has changed and evolved to meet new economic realities and changing social goals.

Now New Zealand, along with the much of the OECD, is grappling with a housing market that has dramatically increased in price relative to incomes and the ongoing aftermath of a Global Financial Crisis with repercussions second only to the Great Depression of the 1930s – coincidentally one of the main drivers for the social housing policies in New Zealand in the last century.

In the 21st Century, New Zealand is facing a situation where its major city is anticipating unprecedented growth but where housing affordability is moving home ownership further beyond reach of large numbers of people. The cost of building in New Zealand is higher than in most of the OECD but while this is acknowledged, steps being taken to address the issue will take years to flow through to having any effect in the cost of housing in New Zealand

In the meantime, a renewed focus on social and affordable housing is underway, but with changes to the approach and a new awareness of the importance of the built environment on positive social and community outcomes.

Tenant demands for proximity to jobs, services and community amenities, restrictions on greenfields land opportunities yet still remaining affordable for lower income earners leads to the inevitability of higher density complexes. No longer can we afford to produce stand alone houses – they are too expensive to build and do not lead to satisfying sufficient numbers of HNZ clients’ needs.

It is with this in mind that Housing New Zealand has produced this document for architects/designers, third sector organisations and private developers wanting to contribute to developing new social housing stock to guide in the creation of good quality, well-designed dwellings that will contribute to positive social outcomes and community wellbeing. 

This is not a comprehensive how to guide.  Every building and community is different, and there is no one solution for all. It is our hope that this brief glimpse into the impact of design decisions will help you take charge of your projects, build confidence in your own expertise and point you in the direction of resources and organisations that can help you get the most out of your development.

What We Want (Where we’re going)

For People

Housing New Zealand firmly believes that the built environment can have a positive impact on communities, something that has largely been underestimated in social housing developments in New Zealand to date.

As a result, new designs coming to development with Housing New Zealand involvement will be evaluated partly on how the design of the complex meets these requirements.

We are looking for:

  1. Integration: relating to dwellings within the complex and surrounding neighbourhood
  2. Best practice urban and building design
  3. A ‘Non-Institutional’ feel
  4. Durability
  5. Flexibility

A primary objective in the design of a new project is in creating a ‘sense of place’, in the sense of fostering a feeling of authentic human attachment and belonging.

In creating a place people like living in and like calling home, we help ensure ongoing care for the dwelling and we engender a community spirit.

Andre Hodgkin design –

Elderly Housing Complex, Ladies Mile, Remuera, Auckland


Our objective is to create desirable developments that are well integrated into their neighborhoods.

Projects must be informed by best practice urban and architectural practice (scale, materials, setbacks, height, mass, etc.), provide an appropriate mix of building typologies and products (private, affordable and third sector partnerships, etc…)


Place-making: Housing developments must be ‘inclusive’ and integrated into their neighbourhoods. For this reason, it is important to:

  • Consider the relationship between the housing, the entrances and the streets (or laneways)
  • Use housing forms and landscaping to contribute to the development and the wider urban environment.
  • Avoid creating institutional buildings that can become stigmatised as ‘social’ or ‘public’ housing
  • Use a mix of building forms and landscaping and, where possible, mixed uses and mixed occupancies, to integrate developments with the wider community
  • Develop and implement efficient and effective site planning strategies and avoid conventional configurations planned around driveways
  • Ensure that building densities and heights deliver the appropriate result without compromising on the development’s quality
  • Provide all houses with private outdoor areas that are oriented appropriately and accessible directly from the living spaces
  • Provide best-practice solutions to typical site planning issues, such as those relating to solar and wind orientation, shading and topography that respond to the climate, particularly within the context of attached housing
  • Ensure effective site circulation and safety by separating specific driveways from safe playing areas and providing pedestrian-friendly access to houses. In addition, housing planning and configuration must encourage natural surveillance of the playing areas
  • Distinguish common and private spaces clearly, with clear ownership of visually shared spaces

Internal Cohesiveness:

HNZ believes moving to mixed tenure housing and mixed use is the best way to move forward for affordable housing developments.

Mixed tenure: definition
In the context of housing, tenure means ‘the conditions under which property is occupied’. Domestic properties – homes – may be owned outright or secured on a mortgage; or rented from the local authority, housing association, registered social landlord, from a private owner; or they may be subject to a shared ownership agreement. These are the principal forms of housing tenure, the keywords being owned and rented. In a mixed tenure development, owned and rented homes share the same locality as a matter of planning.

Brian Williams,


Mixed Tenure creates a mix of tenants who are renting and people who will be buying.

There are opportunities for tenants to lease and perhaps lease to buy, as funding programmes become available.

It is imperative that mixed tenure complexes are well balanced with a 70:30 ratio of owner to renter and must be marketed well as research indicates poor marketing can result in an out of balance ratio.

Land Use

Housing New Zealand is looking for developments that will have proposals that emphasise the effective use of land. Moving away from standalone houses to medium density complexes is essential to realise this.

Best practice guide -“architecture of higher densities”:

  1. Low density – key criteria (table) and technical solutions (use urban guide material) – appendix for access
  2. Medium density
  • Successful international precedents 50 – 100 per hectare
  • Densities of 1: 150 and 1:350 sq metres
  • Low and High rise solutions compromise open space. Medium density can deliver density and open space.

Cluster sites – right site, right scale; RAP plan and reduce effective land cost by optimising land use.

The Ministry for the Environment has a range of resource material here:

Financing for tenants

Affordable and social, mixed use  – logic of what makes this work – cheap to buy – deferring land value. (7 cool houses. Financial models around: Land utilisation – NSW document – better use of land – PFI – private finance initiative – with set outcomes



When people cannot afford a house but have income with which to pay rent, leasing can be a useful tool to achieve home ownership. Renters can make regular contributions to become owners over a determined time period. These payments have two components: the rent and an additional amount that will cover the total value of the house at a previously arranged term.

  • Help low and middle-income families purchase housing through a building society using a leasing system. The property transfers when the final payment is made.

‹ Housing Leasing, Chile



Many people cannot afford to purchase their own homes. Cooperatives allow individuals to pool resources and strengthen their ability to build and invest in housing. Usually a cooperative receives external financial assistance such as grants and subsidies. Typically, the cooperative entity and not the individuals involved hold title to the cooperative s property and enter into financing arrangements with creditors. In addition, lotteries and other mechanisms can be used to pool resources without forming a cooperative.

  • Form cooperatives to facilitate home ownership. All housing assets are commonly owned by the cooperative members. Members manage the housing democratically with elected boards and committees and share a common goal or vision. This allows for the pooling of resources to make the provision of affordable housing feasible.

‹ Cooperative Housing in Canada: A Model for Empowered Communities, Canada

‹ Regeneration of Hulme, an Inner City Area of Manchester, United Kingdom

‹ Renovation and Improvements in Cooperative Housing Society, Norway

  • Create a revolving fund to provide families with resources to obtain adequate housing in growing cities. These funds allow urban dwellers to gain access to land otherwise unobtainable to them. Revolving funds use a fixed sum of money that is distributed and repaid over time by different borrowers. A revolving loan fund can also provide funds for repairs or expansion.

‹ Habitat for Humanity, Malawi

‹ Peramiho Home Makers League, Tanzania

  • Facilitate financing through a lottery. Under this system a group of participants agrees to pool funds for a set period of time and donate a given amount of money at regular intervals. The number of intervals equals the number of savers. At each interval one member of the group wins the amount equivalent to the full sum of the savings for the period by random selection. All participants continue to pay into the scheme until the end. In this manner, all members collect from the lottery once.

‹ UCISV-VER, Housing Program for Peripheral Areas of Xalapa, Veracruz, Mexico

Cost Recovery

To fully fund the development of housing projects, government or non-government organizations

(NGOs) may collect rental or mortgage payments from participants. These payments may cover part or all of development costs and are typically charged based on participants’ ability to pay. Housing developers may also sell property on the private market to subsidize affordable units.

  • Build additional lots of houses and apartments for sale for profit and use the proceeds to subsidise affordable units.

‹ Shelter Upgrading, Morocco

‹ People s Participation Programme: Accessing Land and Shelter in Mumbai, India

  • Form an organization where participants contribute a certain percentage of their wages to cover a part of the housing costs.

‹ Workers Housing Association, Greece

  • Recover costs through resident contributions, self-construction and revolving funds.

‹ Xin Xing Housing Cooperatives of Beijing, People s Republic of China

‹ Settlement Upgrading Project (DUA/GTZ Project), Senegal

‹ Kasulu Habitat for Humanity Project, Tanzania


Access to credit is one of the most critical obstacles to acquiring housing.

Cases in this section describe low-interest rate financing, mortgage guarantees and other financial innovations that increase access to credit.

  • Lend using a tiered interest rate system to make housing finance available to low-income groups at subsidized rates of interest. Repayment periods may extend up to fifteen years.

‹ Innovative Housing Finance and Delivery Mechanisms, India

  • Reduce burden of housing loans by calculating interest on a quarterly basis rather than on a yearly basis. Since each installment is smaller, this spreads out repayments and the sum paid back.

‹ Innovative Housing Finance and Delivery Mechanisms, India

  • Provide mortgage financing and down payment assistance to allow low-income families to purchase a home by leverage and private donations. Most low-income families pay monthly rent equal to or in excess of what they would pay for a monthly mortgage payment. This program enables families to make down payments and pay closing costs on homes.

‹ Affordable Housing, Chattanooga, USA, United States


Overcoming challenges = mixed tenures and mixed use and right typology –

Development proposals should demonstrate:

  • how the design responds to its physical context, including the  character and  legibility of the  area  and  the  local pattern of building, public  space, landscape and  topography;
  • how the scheme relates to the  identified character of the  place  and  to the  local vision and  strategy or how bolder change is justified  in relation to a coherent set of ideas  for the  place  expressed in the  local vision and  strategy or agreed locally.

Development proposals should demonstrate:

  • How the scheme complements the local network of public spaces, including how it integrates with existing streets and paths;
  • how public spaces and  pedestrian routes are designed to be overlooked and  safe,  and extensive blank elevations onto the  public  realm  at ground floor have  been avoided;
  • for larger developments, how any new public  spaces including streets and  paths are designed on the  basis of an understanding of the  planned role and  character of these spaces within the  local movement network, and  how new spaces relate to the  local vision and  strategy for the  area.



Objective: Provide safe and healthy living environments that are flexible and adaptable. Work with innovative building and procurement practices 

The floor areas in Housing New Zealand buildings need to meet affordability pressures while remaining flexible enough to meet the needs of a wide range of (current and future) occupants.

These houses need to be efficient, use space effectively and meet the Corporation’s minimum and maximum size parameters [Link to Table – pop up window/downloadable PDF].

The ratio of circulation space to gross floor area is a good indicator of the efficacy of a building development plan.

The Corporation is committed to providing safe living environments – and to ensuring sustainable solutions that also address the issue of fuel poverty. Building designs need to maximise solar gain to minimise energy costs for the occupants, while providing warm, dry, ventilated and healthy internal environments. This means:

  • applying passive solar gain principles
  • using appropriate and cost-effective materials and insulation to increase the buildings’ thermal performance and minimise the need for additional heating
  • where possible, providing living rooms that have at least two external walls to maximise the potential for passive solar heating and natural ventilation
  • ensuring that rooms, especially bedrooms on the southern sides of buildings, are warm, dry and healthy with minimal requirements for additional heating.

The Corporation encourages innovative designs and/or construction methods that take advantage of economies of scale (such as standardised designs and prefabricated housing), as long as they result in a variety of houses that have the flexibility to meet current and future needs and are not ‘institutional’ in appearance.



x Is the building pleasing to look at?

x Do people feel comfortable, exhilarated, inspired by the space?


Quality of design and build of homes is cited over and again as crucial to success. As with any estate development, the spatial, environmental and infrastructure issues need to be be ironed out during the initial planning

Brian Williams,

optimize land use (density chart –), Land & occupation – choosing right typology for the site and location; land is a finite resource – we have land through a judicious investment of past resources and we have a duty to recognize the land as a finite resource so mixed use provides multiple positive outcomes around living spaces, sense of community and health and safety.

location – regional action plan (link) and asset management strategy (link) – project should align (if not generated by HNZ read to ensure your project fits)


The Built Environment

Well-constructed houses provide long-term benefits for both their occupants and the Corporation. Well designed, safe, secure, warm, dry, ventilated and healthy living environments help occupants maintain their health, wellbeing and building running costs.

Robust and resilient construction reduces the Corporation’s risks of damage and the ongoing costs of maintenance and repair.

Cladding and roofing systems must be durable, low-maintenance solutions that will not be compromised by the ingress of external moisture over time.

Where innovative systems are proposed, designers and/or developers should provide enough data to enable the Corporation to measure the risks and whole-of-life costs to the Corporation.

Designers are expected to take a low-risk approach to the design and specification of the building envelope.

Acceptable aggregate risk scores have generally been below 80 percent of the Corporation’s risk threshold (a risk score of less than 16 in Table 2 of the NZBC E2/AS1 Risk Matrix).

To ensure that household services meet the Corporation’s requirements for safety, efficiency and cost-effectiveness, developers and/or designers should:

  • provide fire safety measures that meet Housing New Zealand’s Fire Safety Policy (see 7.30)
  • provide energy-efficient and affordable water and space heating for occupants, and minimise the capital and maintenance costs associated with these services

Placemaking: the use of built form and site topology to create a defined space in which people want to inhabit.


Outdoor Spaces

Development proposals should  demonstrate that  they  comply  with the  local open space strategies, ensuring that  a review of surrounding open space is undertaken and  that opportunities to address a deficiency in provision by providing new public  open spaces are taken forward  in the  design process.

Where communal open space is provided, development proposals should demonstrate that the space:

  • is overlooked by surrounding development;
  • is accessible to wheelchair users and  other disabled people;
  • is designed to take advantage of direct sunlight;
  • has suitable management arrangements in place.

Best practice Case Study

Coin Street

Coin Street. Haworth Tompkins Architects. Photo by Philip Vile.

Residents’ action group brings a healthy balance

At London’s South Bank, residents successfully pulled together to make sure their locality served the community’s needs as well as being Europe’s largest centre for arts and media.

Despite the cultural benefits to the capital of the Festival of Britain in 1951 local people suffered in the aftermath due to the destruction of their local community and frustrations in losing control over their environment.

The architectural language of the new development was focused only towards the river bank and between the new cultural buildings, and away from the existing community. The area was bleak, with no riverside walk or green spaces. The demolishing of properties and a sudden lack of local facilities had caused dramatic population reduction. The area was deserted in the evenings after audiences had gone home.  Remaining community facilities began to close and the local economy suffered.

The leftover land was attracting proposals from office developers that would have destroyed the remnants of the existing community, so in 1977 the local residents formed Coin Street Action Group to campaign for seven years for their own vision. They wanted to transform derelict sites into affordable housing that would attract young families into the area and transform it into a sustainable community. They also wanted residents’ facilities, and to incorporate open and green spaces.

A blueprint was drawn up that consisted of seven sites; five as housing co-ops and two for public facilities and open spaces for the residents and general public. This blueprint is still being followed today. So far, four out of the five housing co-ops and a neighbourhood centre have been built, and open spaces and parks have been established.

Today this is a thriving area of London, offering social housing amongst some of the capital’s well-loved cultural buildings.

Coin Street CABE case study
Coin Street Community Builders


x Is it clear where people should go when they get to your building?

x Is movement within the building practical and easy to navigate (with and without signs)?

x How well do internal spaces connect or relate to each other? Can you see one space from another, or do you get great views?


sense of place and delineation (seating/meeting/greeting/playing)

; open space – private and public, , signatory to urban planning protocol (link – mfe), context (urban amenities)/, networks, mass and scale of buildings (Ladies Mile); Quality of space more important than quantity; Privacy (Somali woman in Hajib)



Physical and emotional

x Do people feel safe approaching and inside the building?

x Can the building be secured effectively when not in use?

x Can some distinct areas be locked down at certain times of the day or night?

catering for anti-social behavior –

cpted – crime prevention through environmental design

The seven qualities that characterise well designed, safer places are identified as:

  • safe movement and connections,
  • surveillance and sightlines,
  • clear and logical orientation,
  • activity mix,
  • a sense of ownership,
  • quality environments and
  • physical protection

Natural Surveillance

“See and be seen” is the overall goal when it comes to CPTED and natural surveillance. A person is less likely to commit a crime if they think someone will see them do it. Lighting and landscape play an important role in Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design.

Natural Access Control

Natural Access Control is more than a high block wall topped with barbed wire.

Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design or CPTED utilizes the use of walkways, fences, lighting, signage and landscape to clearly guide people and vehicles to and from the proper entrances.

The goal with this CPTED principle is not necessarily to keep intruders out, but to direct the flow of people while decreasing the opportunity for crime.


Territorial Reinforcement

Creating or extending a “sphere of influence” by utilizing physical designs such as pavement treatments, landscaping and signage that enable users of an area to develop a sense of proprietorship is the goal.

Public areas are clearly distinguished from private ones. Potential trespassers perceive this control and are thereby discouraged.


CPTED and the “Broken Window Theory” suggests that one “broken window” or nuisance, if allowed to exist, will lead to others and ultimately to the decline of an entire neighbourhood.

Neglected and poorly maintained properties are breeding grounds for criminal activity. A formal CPTED based maintenance plan will help you preserve your property value and make it a safer place.


carparking (security) – pepperpotting (preferable) or clustering are acceptable but needs to meet local council requirements and must be visible and accessible,

Shared Space, where pedestrians and vehicles use the same space, including where will kids play is a modern urban design movement that has been demonstrated to increase a sense of place and has positive safety outcomes where traffic volumes are low.

The principle of shared space (many users sharing one area) means there is ample opportunity to incorporate CPTED principles into the design but careful consideration should be given to the following:

  • Encouraging activities for different times of the day to increase surveillance opportunities
  • The street layout and placement of street furniture and landscaping to avoid hiding places
  • Ongoing maintenance to ensure a quality environment.

Excellent guidelines for Shared Space can be found at the Institute of Professional Engineers NZ website here –  [this will be inserted as a link in the website]


Example of a ‘liveable street’ street design (Boffa Miskell)

This street design keeps vehicles to low speeds, separates pedestrians from cars, provides good lighting, and disposes of rainwater runoff to the rain garden.

Resources and Energy Use

Energy, water, waste management etc

x Have materials or systems been selected and used to lower the use of water, energy and other resources?

x How effectively does the building use or even store energy? Does it create any energy?

x Is the building insulated effectively?

x Are there good waste management and recycling systems?

Sustainable building philosophies to be applied where practicable – these medium density house development for the Hastings City Council will be Homestar 6-star rated on completion

  • wherever possible, cluster services and use ‘smart’ services to reduce the costs of installing them (and mitigate the risks of longer runs that have a higher chance of failure and a greater potential for heat loss).
  • provide water-management solutions such as low-pressure systems and fittings and/or systems that distribute water effectively by clustering services and/or use manifolds or maniflows. (Where the Corporation covers water tariff charges for tenants, this amounts to a significant expense. Designers and/or developers need to provide potential water-conservation devices and design strategies that can minimise these costs.)
  • enable stormwater ‘recycling and reuse’ where benefits can be demonstrated for the occupier and/or the Corporation.

Health and Welfare

healthy buildings = healthy people, choice of materials and Energy efficiency: passive solar design/passive ventilation (see technical details for more information)

HNZC retains its housing stock for a long time and therefore has an emphasis on sustainability, energy, efficiency and robustness of construction.  HNZC requirements may exceed the New Zealand Building Code, and standards such as NZS 3604 Timber framed construction, which demonstrate minimum standards only.

The Architecture Design Guide concentrates on design principles. For specific solutions refer to the HNZC Housing Specifications, the NZ Building Code, and relevant NZ Standards.

Internal dampness in a house can have significant impacts on the occupants’ health and wellbeing, and on the Corporation through high maintenance and repair costs and potential reputational damage.

It is important to build adequate, fit-for-purpose houses that provide warm, dry, healthy living environments and have minimal ongoing maintenance requirements. This includes ensuring effective passive ventilation, complemented with appropriate mechanical ventilation systems in wet areas such as bathrooms, kitchens and laundries. The designs for these wet area rooms also need robust materials and detailing to minimise the likelihood of future moisture damage. Use surfaces that can be easily wiped, cleaned and maintained.

A number of risks were considered in selecting the appropriate products. These included:

  • unreported leaks: particleboard flooring and cracked shower trays can fail and create secondary failures, such as damage to the subfloor and foundations. Similar risks also affect the long-term performance of joinery items such as kitchen and bathroom cabinetry
  • damage: damaged joinery items such as internal doors and kitchen and bathroom cabinetry need to be repaired on site. When specifying these items, consider the long-term whole-of-life costs and the potential for damage to internal wall linings. Specify robust materials that are easy to repair when damaged
  • accidents and injuries: this risk can be managed by installing safety devices such as lockable bathroom cabinets and auto-latching catches
  • everyday wear and tear: this risk can be managed by, for example, using procured door handles and clotheslines that minimise costs to the Corporation.
  • Redecoration costs typically make up the largest proportion of the Corporation’s operating and maintenance expenditure on social housing. Designers are encouraged to look for innovative and inventive solutions to reduce these costs. It is important to ensure that new materials are fit for purpose and durable (for impact and moisture damage etc).

In addition, the Corporation welcomes innovative and alternative solutions that address these risks and have proven benefits for the Corporation.


 – different people, cultures, demand patterns overtime (lifetime design – Lifemark), Durability

Management & maintenance

X the building easy to manage (e.g. are the spaces right for your needs, is there adequate storage, is the internal climate easily controlled and changed?)

x Is the building easy to maintain (e.g. easy to clean, handling the wear and tear of daily use)?


: durability, quality of materials, type, typology, orientation/ solar design, footprint, configuration,

  • Overarching – creative green lean – HOPE!


  • size (how small) – floor size and [link for pdf of detail]
  • interior – minimize wasted space

[LINK here for evaluation criteria]

Cost is critical

Additional Resources

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