Back to Case Studies

Mason Place Apartments

Created on 18-10-2023 | Updated on 11-12-2023

Mason Place Apartments is a 60-unit permanent supportive housing development in Fort Collins, a city in the state of Colorado, USA. The building was initially constructed in 1982 and functioned as a cinema until 1999. The development was converted into permanent supportive housing by Housing Catalyst, a public housing agency and real estate developer. This affordable and supportive housing community project was developed through a collaborative effort of multiple funders (National Equity Fund; Colorado Housing and Finance Authority; Colorado Division of Housing; city of Fort Collins; Column Financial; ANB Bank; Department of Housing and Urban Development; Department of Veterans Affairs), applying the principles of trauma-informed design. It is a three-story apartment building that provides affordable housing and supportive services to people with disabilities, homeless people, and military veterans who earn less than 30% of the median income in the area. The first floor includes apartments, staff offices, and common areas for residents and staff. The remaining apartments are located on the upper two levels.

Shopworks Architecture

Fort Collins, Colorado

Project (year)

Construction (year)

Housing type
60-unit permanent supportive housing development

Urban context

Construction system



Mason Place is a permanent supportive housing development in the city of Fort Collins, Colorado, US, developed by Housing Catalyst, that uses trauma-informed design to create a safe and supportive environment for residents. It is a home to individuals who may have been suffered both short and long-term periods of homelessness while ten units are reserved for veterans (Housing Catalyst, 2021; Kimura, 2021). For over five decades, Housing Catalyst has been a cornerstone of the Northern Colorado community, unwavering in its commitment to providing accessible and affordable housing solutions. Through innovative, sustainable, and community-centric approaches, Housing Catalyst has developed and managed over 1,000 affordable homes, becoming the largest property manager in the region (Housing Catalyst, 2021). Housing Catalyst plays a pivotal role in administering housing assistance programs, serving thousands of residents each year. With a steadfast focus on families with children, seniors, individuals with disabilities, and those experiencing homelessness, Housing Catalyst tirelessly strives to make homeownership a reality for all (Housing Catalyst, 2021).

To create Mason Place, Housing Catalyst gave a new purpose to an old movie theatre by designing it with trauma survivors in mind. This resulted in a building with a skylighted atrium, large windows in units and common spaces, live plants, and wooden skirting board to create a calming environment. Case managers (on-site service assistants provided by the Homeward Alliance) worked with residents to develop and implement individualized plans to address their unique needs. This included assistance with finding employment, accessing healthcare, and securing permanent housing. Case managers also provided support and encouragement for residents to develop the skills and helped them to gain confidence (Homeward Alliance, 2021). David Rout, executive director of Homeward Alliance, said:

 “When it comes to our community's ongoing effort to make homelessness rare, short-lived and non-recurring, developments like Mason Place are the gold standard. It will immediately provide dozens of our most vulnerable neighbors with a safe place to live and the supportive services they need to stay housed, healthy and happy” (Coloradoan, 2021).

Homeward Alliance, a non-profit organization that provides a continuum of care in Fort Collins, provided two case managers at Mason Place, who worked with individuals and families to develop plans to address their long-term needs, and to help residents with Activities of Daily Living (ADLs), such as using the bus system, proper personal hygiene, and cooking, as well as Instrumental Activities of Daily Living (IADLs), among them,  accessing treatment for mental health issues, applying for a job, and obtaining healthcare benefits. In addition to case management, Homeward Alliance also provided a variety of support services, including mental health services, substance abuse treatment, employment services, and other needed care.

Affordability aspects

The affordability of housing has been a long-standing priority for the city of Fort Collins. As highlighted in the city plan (City of Fort Collins, 2023), and also in the housing strategic plan (City of Fort Collins, 2021), housing affordability is a key element of community liveability. The Transit-Oriented Development (TOD) overlay zones, such as the College/Mason corridor to the South Transit Center are used to encourage higher-density development in areas that are well-served by public transit. These zones typically have additional land use code standards, such as higher density requirements, mixed-use requirements, and pedestrian-friendly design standards. One of the provisions of the TOD is the allowance of one additional story of building height if the project qualifies as an affordable housing development and is south of Prospect Road. This allows the developer to build more units in exchange for 10% of the units overall being affordable to households earning 80% of Area Median Income (AMI) or less. This provision is designed to increase the supply of affordable housing in TOD areas, which are typically located near public transit and other amenities. By allowing developers to build more units in exchange for providing affordable housing, TOD areas become more accessible to lower-income residents. In addition to increasing the supply of affordable housing, TOD can also help to achieve other sustainability goals. For example, encouraging people to live in those areas helps to reduce vehicle miles travelled and air pollution. Overall, the TOD provision is a win-win for both developers and communities. It allows developers to build more units in desirable locations, and it helps to provide inclusive and affordable for all residents (City of Fort Collins, 2021).

As the community continues to grow, a significant portion of the population is struggling to afford stable and healthy housing. Nearly 60% of renters and 20% of homeowners are cost-burdened (City of Fort Collins, 2021)., meaning they spend more than 30% of their income on housing. Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) and low-income households are disproportionately affected by this issue, with lower homeownership rates, lower income levels, and higher rates of poverty (City of Fort Collins, 2021). The city facilitates affordable housing to promote mixed-income neighbourhoods and reduce concentrations of poverty. In 2018 Housing Catalyst submitted a funding application to the Colorado Housing and Finance Authority's Low Income Housing Credit programme and the construction started in 2019. Currently, Mason Place provides affordable housing, in form of low-income apartments, and coordinated services to help people stabilize their lives and move forward.

Housing Catalyst works closely together with the National Equity Fund, which is a nonprofit organization that delivers new and innovative financial solutions to expand the creation and preservation of affordable housing. According to the Fund, everyone deserves a safe and affordable place to live. Their vision is that all individuals and families must have access to stable, safe, and affordable homes that provide a foundation for them to reach their full potential (National Equity Fund, 2022). Mason Place houses the disabled and homeless, including military veterans earning up to 30 percent of the area median income, or about $16,150 for a single person. 


Alignment with project research areas

Mason Place demonstrates the connection and interrelation of the three research areas of RE-DWELL.

Community participation

Housing Catalyst is committed to developing and nurturing community resilience through participatory planning and inclusive decision-making. They recognize that a vibrant community is one that values and amplifies the voices of its residents, and they have established clear policies and procedures to promote respectful behavior and address any conflicts that may arise. By fostering open communication and collaboration, Housing Catalyst seeks to create a community environment where people feel valued and empowered.

Design, planning and building

TID principles provide a thoughtful way to create spaces that cater to the needs of individuals who have experienced trauma. It also promotes social sustainability by creating communities that are safe, supportive, and empowering for everyone. When people feel safe and well-supported, they are more likely to thrive and contribute to their communities. Mason Place  incorporates features to create a pleasant and supportive environment for residents, such as a lobby, smoking balcony, lounges, exercise rooms, counselling spaces, and property management offices to facilitate community building; enclosed spaces where residents may feel vulnerable are equipped with windows and glass doors to provide a sense of safety and openness; clear sightlines and multiple exits are strategically placed to enhance safety and alleviate feelings of claustrophobia; natural light and ventilation create a calming and restorative environment; choice and control over personal space and privacy to ensure comfort and well-being; and opportunities for social connection and  community support.

All building staff, including maintenance and security workers, are trained in mental health first aid and trauma-informed care. Housing Catalyst is working with local agencies to provide strong support services for residents. It is also working with the project's investor to create a financial reserve for services and to size the debt so that it can cover higher operating costs.


Policy and financing

Mason Place benefitted from land use code provisions for affordable housing, including low-density mixed-use zone district density bonus and the height bonus in the transit-oriented development overlay zone. Affordable housing projects in the Low-density Mixed-use Neighbourhoods (LMN) are eligible for a density bonus. The maximum density in the LMN zone is typically 9 dwelling units per acre, but affordable housing projects can reach a density of 12 dwelling units per acre. Height bonus means the possibility to build one additional story of building height if 10% of total units are affordable to 80% AMI or less.

Priority processing, that is to say, expedited development review, is a relatively simple policy to implement, and it can have several positive benefits for communities. Affordable housing projects can be eligible for priority processing. In this case, priority processing was also an essential policy to reduce the time it takes for affordable housing projects to move through the development pipeline, which led to lower costs and faster delivery. It also made the project more attractive for developers to build affordable housing, as it reduced the risk and uncertainty associated with these projects, often facing tight budgets and timelines.

Design, planning and building

Community participation

Policy and financing

* This diagram is for illustrative purposes only based on the author’s interpretation of the above case study

Alignment with SDGs

Mason Place addresses the following Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs):

SDG 1. No poverty: End poverty in all its forms everywhere (Targets: 1.3; 1.4)

It prioritizes the needs of the poor and vulnerable and ensure that they have equal access to essential services. (Highly related)

SDG 3. Good health and well-being: Promote well-being for all at all ages (Target: 3.4)

Prioritizing the health and well-being of tenants is a key objective of the project.

SDG 4. Quality Education: Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all (Target: 4.3)

All tenants, regardless of their background or income, should have the same opportunity to live in affordable housing and attend high-quality schools.

SDG 6. Clean Water and Sanitation (Target: 6.1; 6.2) and 7. Affordable and clean energy: Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all. (Targets: 7.1; 7.2; 7.3 )

Mason Place was designed in accordance with SDGs 6 and 7, with a focus on water conservation, air sealing, and reducing thermal bridging.

SDG 8. Decent work and economic growth: Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all (Targets: 8.3; 8.5;)

A long-term goal is to help residents return to society and find permanent jobs. (Moderately related)

SDG 10. Reduced inequalities: Reduce inequality within and among countries (Targets: 10.2; 10.3; 10.4)

The goal of the project is to make sure that everyone, regardless of their age, gender, disability, race, ethnicity, origin, religion, or economic or other status, has the same opportunities to participate in society and succeed. (Highly related)

SDG 11. Sustainable cities and communities: Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable. (Targets: 11.1 ; 11.3 ; 11.5)

Mason Place provides a safe living environment for its tenants, and it can also contribute to the revitalization of the surrounding neighbourhood (hopeful urbanism). (Highly related)

SDG 13. Climate action: Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts. (Targets: 13.2 ; 13.3)

Mason Place is a community that is committed to climate-smart planning. This includes raising awareness of climate change and building capacity, both individually and institutionally. (Highly related)



Kimura D. (2021). Colorado Development Serves as a Model for Trauma-Informed Design. Affordable Housing Finance .

City of Fort Collins (2021). Housing strategic plan.

City of Fort Collins (2023). City Plan.

Coloradoan (2021).

Housing Catalyst (2021). Housing is the catalyst for building strong communities.

Homeward Alliance (2021). Mason Place.

National Equity Fund (2022). Developments.

Related vocabulary

Housing Affordability

Social Housing

Social Sustainability

Area: Design, planning and building

Housing can be perceived as consisting of two inseparable components: the product and the process. The product refers to the building as a physical artefact, and the process encompasses the activities required to create and manage this artefact in the long term (Turner, 1972), as cited in (Brysch & Czischke, 2021). Affordability is understood as the capability to purchase and maintain something long-term while remaining convenient for the beneficiary's resources and needs (Bogdon & Can, 1997). Housing Affordability is commonly explained as the ratio between rent and household income (Hulchanski, 1995). However, Stone (2006, p.2) proposed a broader definition of housing affordability to associate it with households' social experience and financial stability as: "An expression of the social and material experiences of people, constituted as households, in relation to their individual housing situations", ….. "Affordability expresses the challenge each household faces in balancing the cost of its actual or potential housing, on the one hand, and its non-housing expenditures, on the other, within the constraints of its income." Housing costs signify initial and periodic payments such as rent or mortgages in the case of  homeowners, housing insurance, housing taxes, and so on. On the other hand, non-housing costs include utility charges resulting from household usage, such as energy and water, as well as schools, health, and transportation (AHC, 2019; Ezennia & Hoskara, 2019). Therefore, housing affordability needs to reflect the household's capability to balance current and future costs to afford a house while maintaining other basic expenses without experiencing any financial hardship (Ezennia & Hoskara, 2019). Two close terminologies to housing affordability are  “affordable housing” and “affordability of housing”. Affordable housing is frequently mentioned in government support schemes to refer to the housing crisis and associated financial hardship. In England, affordable housing is still concerned with its financial attainability, as stated in the UK Government's official glossaries: "Housing for sale or rent, for those whose needs are not met by the market (including housing that provides a subsidised route to home ownership and/or is for essential local workers)", while also complying with other themes that maintain the affordability of housing prices in terms of rent or homeownership (Department for Levelling Up Housing and Communities, 2019). The affordability of housing, on the other hand, refers to a broader focus on the affordability of the entire housing market, whereas housing affordability specifically refers to the ability of individuals or households to afford housing. In the literature, however, the term “affordability of housing” is frequently used interchangeably with “housing affordability,” despite their differences (Robinson et al., 2006). The "affordability of housing" concerns housing as a sector in a particular region, market or residential area. It can correlate affordability with population satisfaction, accommodation types and household compositions to alert local authorities of issues such as homelessness (Kneebone & Wilkins, 2016; Emma Mulliner et al., 2013; OECD, 2021). That is why the OECD defined it as "the capacity of a country to deliver good quality housing at an accessible price for all" (OECD, n.d.). Short-term and long-term affordability are two concepts for policymakers to perceive housing affordability holistically. Short-term affordability is "concerned with financial access to a dwelling based on out-of-pocket expenses", and long-term affordability is " about the costs attributed to housing consumption" (Haffner & Heylen, 2011, p.607). The costs of housing consumption, also known as user costs, do not pertain to the monthly utility bills paid by users, but rather to the cost associated with consuming the dwelling as a housing service  (Haffner & Heylen, 2011). “Housing quality” and “housing sustainability” are crucial aspects of housing affordability, broadening its scope beyond the narrow economic perspective within the housing sector. Housing affordability needs to consider "a standard for housing quality" and "a standard of reasonableness for the price of housing consumption in relation to income" (p. 609) (Haffner & Heylen, 2011). In addition, housing affordability requires an inclusive aggregation and a transdisciplinary perspective of sustainability concerning its economic, social, and environmental facets (Ezennia & Hoskara, 2019; Perera, 2017; Salama, 2011). Shared concerns extend across the domains of housing quality, sustainability, and affordability, exhibiting intricate interrelations among them that require examination. For instance, housing quality encompasses three levels of consideration: (1) the dwelling itself as a physically built environment, (2) the household attitudes and behaviours, and (3) the surroundings, encompassing the community, neighbourhood, region, nation, and extending to global circumstances (Keall et al., 2010). On the other hand, housing sustainability embraces the triad of economic, social, and environmental aspects. The shared problems among the three domains encompass critical aspects such as health and wellbeing, fuel poverty and costly long-term maintenance  proximity to workplaces and amenities, as well as the impact of climate. Health and wellbeing Inequalities in health and wellbeing pose a significant risk to social sustainability, mainly in conditions where affordable dwellings are of poor quality. In contrast, such conditions extend the affordability problem posing increased risks to poor households harming their health, wellbeing and productivity (Garnham et al., 2022; Hick et al., 2022; Leviten-Reid et al., 2020). An illustrative example emerged during the COVID-19 pandemic, where individuals residing in unsafe and poor-quality houses faced higher rates of virus transmission and mortality (Housing Europe, 2021; OECD, 2020). Hence, addressing housing affordability necessitates recognising it as a mutually dependent relationship between housing quality and individuals (Stone, 2006). Fuel poverty and costly long-term maintenance Affordable houses of poor quality pose risks of fuel poverty and costly long-term maintenance. This risk makes them economically unsustainable. For example, good quality entails the home being energy efficient to mitigate fuel poverty. However, it might become unaffordable to heat the dwelling after paying housing costs because of its poor quality (Stone et al., 2011). Thus, affordability needs to consider potential fluctuations in non-housing prices, such as energy bills (AHC, 2019; Smith, 2007). Poor quality also can emerge from decisions made during the design and construction stages. For example, housing providers may prioritise reducing construction costs by using low-quality and less expensive materials or equipment that may lead to costly recurring maintenance and running costs over time (Emekci, 2021). Proximity to work and amenities The proximity to workplaces and amenities influences housing quality and has an impact on economic and environmental sustainability. From a financial perspective, Disney (2006) defines affordable housing as "an adequate basic standard that provides reasonable access to work opportunities and community services, and that is available at a cost which does not cause substantial hardship to the occupants". Relocating to deprived areas far from work opportunities, essential amenities, and community services will not make housing affordable (Leviten-Reid et al., 2020). Commuting to a distant workplace also incurs environmental costs. Research shows that reduced commuting significantly decreases gas emissions (Sutton-Parker, 2021). Therefore, ensuring involves careful planning when selecting housing locations, considering their impact on economic and environmental sustainability (EK Mulliner & Maliene, 2012). Moreover, design practices can contribute by providing adaptability and flexibility, enabling dwellers to work from home and generate income (Shehayeb & Kellett, 2011). Climate change's mutual impact Climate change can pose risks to housing affordability and, conversely, housing affordability can impact climate change. A house cannot be considered "affordable" if its construction and operation result in adverse environmental impacts contributing to increased CO2 emissions or climate change (Haidar & Bahammam, 2021; Salama, 2011). For a house to be environmentally sustainable, it must be low-carbon, energy-efficient, water-efficient, and climate-resilient (Holmes et al., 2019). This entails adopting strategies such as incorporating eco-friendly materials, utilizing renewable energy sources, improving energy efficiency, and implementing sustainable water management systems (Petrović et al., 2021). However, implementing these measures requires funding initiatives to support the upfront costs, leading to long-term household savings (Holmes et al., 2019). Principio del formulario Furthermore,  when houses lack quality and climate resilience, they become unaffordable. Households bear high energy costs, especially during extreme weather conditions such as heatwaves or cold spells (Holmes et al., 2019). Issues like cold homes and fuel poverty in the UK contribute to excess winter deaths (Lee et al., 2022). In this context, climate change can adversely affect families, impacting their financial well-being and health, thereby exacerbating housing affordability challenges beyond mere rent-to-income ratios.    

Created on 17-10-2023

Author: A.Elghandour (ESR4), K.Hadjri (Supervisor)


Area: Policy and financing

A universal definition of social housing is difficult, as it is a country-specific and locally contextualised topic (Braga & Palvarini, 2013). This review of the concept focuses on social housing in the context of the UK from the late 1980s, which Malpass (2005) refers to as the phase of ‘restructuring the housing and welfare state’, to the early 2000s, known as the phase of the ‘new organisation of social housing’. In response to previous demands for housing, such as those arising during the Industrial Revolution, and recognising the persistent need to address the substandard quality of housing provided by private landlords in the UK (Scanlon et al., 2015), the primary objective of social housing has historically been to enhance the overall health conditions of workers and low-income populations (Malpass, 2014; Scanlon et al., 2015). However, this philanthropic approach to social housing changed after the Second World War when it became a key instrument to address the housing demand crisis. Private initiatives, housing associations, cooperatives and local governments then became responsible for providing social housing (Carswell, 2012; Scanlon et al., 2015). Social housing in the UK can be viewed from two perspectives: the legal and the academic (Granath Hansson & Lundgren, 2019). Along these two perspectives, social housing is often analysed based on four main criteria: the legal status of the landlord or provider, the tenancy system or tenure, the funding mechanism or subsidies, and the target group or beneficiaries (Braga & Palvarini, 2013; Carswell, 2012; Granath Hansson & Lundgren, 2019). From a legal perspective, social housing maintained its original goals of affordability and accessibility during the restructuring period in the late 1980s. However, citing the economic crisis, the responsibility for developing social housing shifted from local authorities to non-municipal providers with highly regulated practices aligned with the managerialist approach of the welfare state (Granath Hansson & Lundgren, 2019; Malpass, 2005; Malpass & Victory, 2010). Despite the several housing policy reviews and government changes, current definitions of social housing have maintained the same approach as during the restructuring period. Section 68 of the Housing and Regeneration Act 2008, updated in 2017, defines social housing as low-cost accommodation provided to people whose rental or ownership needs are not met by the commercial market (HoC, 2008; 2017, pp. 50-51). The Regulator of Social Housing, formerly the Homes and Communities Agency, has adopted the earlier definition of social housing and clarified which organisations provide it across the UK. These organisations include local authorities, not-for-profit housing associations, cooperatives, and for-profit organisations (RSH, 2021). In contrast, the National Housing Federation emphasises the affordability of social housing regardless of the type of tenure or provider (NHF, 2021). From an academic perspective, Malpass (2005) explains that during the restructuring phase, social housing was defined as a welfare-supported service – although it did have limitations, which meant that funding principles shifted from general subsidy to means-tested support for housing costs only, which later formed the basis for the Right to Buy Act introduced by the Thatcher government in the early 1980s (Malpass, 2005, 2008). The restructuring phase, however, came as a response to the housing 'bifurcation' process that began in the mid-1970s and accelerated sharply from the 1980s to 1990s (Kleinman et al., 1998; Malpass, 2005). During this phase, the role of social housing in the housing system was predominantly residual, with greater emphasis placed on market-based solutions, and social housing ownership concerned both local authorities and housing associations (Malpass & Victory, 2010). This mix has influenced the perception of social housing in the 'new organisation' phase as a framework that regulates public housing intervention for specific groups and focuses on enabling non-municipal providers (Malpass, 2005, 2008; Malpass & Victory, 2010). Currently, as Carswell (2012) explains, social housing plays an important role in nurturing a variety of initiatives aimed at providing ‘good-quality’ and ‘affordable’ housing for vulnerable and low-income groups (Carswell, 2012). Oyebanji (2014) sees social housing as any form of government-regulated housing provided by public institutions, including non-profit organisations (Oyebanji, 2014). Additionally, Bengtsson (2017) describes social housing as a system that aims to provide households with limited means, but only after their need has been confirmed through testing (Bengtsson, B, 2017 as cited in Granath Hansson & Lundgren, 2019). To a great extent, social housing in the UK can be seen as a service system that is intricately linked to the welfare state and influenced by political, economic, and social components. Despite being somehow determined by common factors and actors,  the relationship between social housing and the welfare state can sometimes be complex and subject to fluctuations (Malpass, 2008). In this context, the government plays a vital role in shaping and implementing the mechanisms and practices of social housing. While the pre-restructuring phase focused on meeting the needs of the people by increasing subsidies and introducing the right to buy (Stamsø, 2010), the aim of the restructuring phase was to meet the needs of the market by promoting economic growth (privatisation, market-oriented policies and reducing the role of local authorities) (Stamsø, 2010; Malpass, 2005) . The new organisational phase, on the other hand, works to meet and balance the needs of all, with people, politics and the economy becoming more intertwined. Welfare reform legislation passed in 2010 aims to enable people to meet their needs, but through 'responsible' subsidies, leading to a new policy stance that has been described as 'neoliberal' thinking (Hickman et al., 2018). However, there are still no strict legal requirements for the organisation and development of social housing as an independent service system, and most of the barriers to development are closely related to the political orientation of the government, rapid changes in housing policy and challenges arising from providers' perceptions of existing housing policy structures (Stasiak et al., 2021).

Created on 17-06-2023

Author: M.Alsaeed (ESR5), K.Hadjri (Supervisor)


Area: Community participation

From the three pillars of sustainable development, economic, environmental and social, the latter  involving social equity and the sustainability of communities, has  been especially neglected. Ongoing problems caused by conflicting economic, environmental and social goals with regard to the processes of urbanisation continue. underpinning economic growth that contradict principles of environmental and social justice (Boström, 2012; Cuthill, 2010; Winston, 2009). Research on sustainable development highlights the need for further investigation of social sustainability (Murphy, 2012; Vallance et al., 2011). Social sustainability has been interpreted as an umbrella term encompassing many other related concepts; “social equity and justice, social capital, social cohesion, social exclusion, environmental justice, quality of life, and urban liveability” (Shirazi & Keivani, 2019, p. 4). A vast number of studies have been dedicated to defining social sustainability by developing theoretical frameworks and indicators particularly relevant to urban development and housing discourse (Cuthill, 2010; Dempsey et al., 2011; Murphy, 2012; Woodcraft, 2012). However, with a lack of consensus on the way of utilising these frameworks in a practical way, especially when applied to planning, social sustainability has remained difficult to evaluate or measure. Consequently, planning experts, housing providers and inhabitants alike understand social sustainability as a normative concept, according to established social norms, and less as an opportunity to critically examine existing institutions. Vallance et al (2011) provide three categories to analyse social sustainability, development, bridge and maintenance sustainability: (a) social development improves conditions of poverty and inequity, from the provision of basic needs to the redistribution of power to influence existing development paradigms; (b) the conditions necessary to bridge social with ecological sustainability, overcoming currently disconnected social and ecological concerns; and (c) the social practices, cultural preferences as well as the environments which are maintained over time. Maintenance social sustainability particularly deals with how people interpret what is to be maintained and includes “new housing developments, the layout of streets, open spaces, residential densities, the location of services, an awareness of habitual movements in place, and how they connect with housing cultures, preferences, practices and values, particularly those for low-density, suburban lifestyles” (Vallance et al., 2011, p. 345). Therefore, the notion of maintenance is especially important in defining social sustainability by directly investigating the established institutions, or “sets of norms” that constitute the social practices and rules, that in turn, affect responsibilities for planning urban spaces. A conceptual framework that appears frequently in social sustainability literature is that of Dempsey et al. (2011)⁠ following Bramley et al. (2009), defining social sustainability according to the variables of social equity and sustainability of community and their relationship to urban form, significantly at the local scale of the neighbourhood. In terms of the built environment, social equity (used interchangeably with social justice) is understood as the accessibility and equal opportunities to frequently used services, facilities, decent and affordable housing, and good public transport. In this description of local, as opposed to regional services, proximity and accessibility are important. Equitable access to such local services effectively connects housing to key aspects of everyday life and to the wider urban infrastructures that support it. Sustainability of community is associated with the abilities of society to develop networks of collective organisation and action and is dependent on social interaction. The associated term social capital has also been used extensively to describe social norms and networks that can be witnessed particularly at the community level to facilitate collective action (Woolcock, 2001, p. 70). They might include a diversity of issues such as resident interaction, reciprocity, cooperation and trust expressed by common exchanges between residents, civic engagement, lower crime rates and other positive neighbourhood qualities that are dependent on sharing a commitment to place (Foster, 2006; Putnam, 1995; Temkin & Rohe, 1998). In fact, “the heightened sense of ownership and belonging to a locale” is considered to encourage the development of social relations (Hamiduddin & Adelfio, 2019, p. 188). However, the gap between theoretical discussions about social sustainability and their practical application has continued. For example, the emphasis of social sustainability as a target outcome rather than as a process has been prioritised in technocratic approaches to planning new housing developments and to measuring their success by factors which are tangible and easier to count and audit. Private housing developers that deal with urban regeneration make bold claims to social sustainability yet profound questions are raised regarding the effects of gentrification (Dixon, 2019). Accordingly, the attempted methods of public participation as planning tools for integrating the ‘social’ have been found to be less effective - their potential being undercut due to the reality that decision-making power has remained at the top (Eizenberg & Jabareen, 2017). Therefore, social sustainability is not a fixed concept, it is contingent on the interdependence of the procedural aspects (how to achieve social sustainability) and substantive aspects (what are the outcomes of social sustainability goals) (Boström, 2012). From this point of view, social sustainability reveals its process-oriented nature and the need to establish processes of practicing social sustainability that begin with the participation of citizens in decision-making processes in producing equitable (i.e. socially sustainable) development. As a dimension of sustainable development that is harder to quantify than the economic or environmental aspects, the operationalisation of social sustainability goals into spatial, actionable principles has remained a burgeoning area of research. In such research, methods for enhancing citizen participation are a particularly important concern in order to engage and empower people with “non-expert” knowledge to collaborate with academic researchers.

Created on 03-06-2022

Author: A.Panagidis (ESR8)


Related publications

Martin, A. (2023, December). Housing and Healing: The role of trauma informed design in the supportive housing sector. In Transformative Change in the Contested Fields of Care and Housing in Europe, Linz, Austria.

Posted on 17-07-2024




Icon clashing-vulnerabilities

Clashing Vulnerabilities

Posted on 13-02-2023

Clashing vulnerabilities   The globalization era resulted in the fragmentation of class structures, and regional and social inequalities grew. As a result, upward mobility is declining in most countries in Europe. More and more people are at risk of downward mobility, but they are classified as “not poor enough” to receive help and are pushed back of the queue for benefits, including housing.   Housing affordability is a primary driver of precarity, affecting both upward and downward mobility. A growing number of middle-income people have difficulty affording adequate housing in Europe, facing safety concerns, as they can only access unhealthy, low-quality, energy-inefficient, or overcrowded housing options. Their situation has become fragile partly because of the liberalized labor market, and partly because the system abandoned them as an outcome of the cuts in the welfare state. Meanwhile, the number of evicted and homeless people is also rising.   ”Clashing vulnerabilities” between marginalized people and increasingly downwardly mobile people should be managed, even though risks are being distributed differently, and it is hard to estimate how structural and individual factors influence the probability of becoming downwardly mobile.   I had my first secondment at BMSZKI (Budapest Methodological Centre of Social Policy and its Institutions). BMSZKI is the largest homeless service provider in the capital, also it is one of the largest social service providers in the country and the Central European region. They are making a great effort to ensure the highest quality of services for vulnerable people who turn to them for help, also they developed the methodology of needs assessment for homeless people and established a special professional network to solve issues (e.g: related to housing, health care, addiction). BMSZKI differentiates the profiles of their services based on the needs of homeless people and these services are adapted to the demands that arose.   This secondment demonstrated how “social practices” as a framework can serve transdisciplinarity. There is a certain knowledge that we cannot get from books or lectures. Personal experiences of the working people at particular institutes, or organizations are essential parts of the learning process. During my stay, I learned about the theory and practice of social work, and I had the possibility to have site visits, meeting with the leaders of different programs (FET, No Slum), and homes (Temporary home for families, K22). I had the chance to have individual and multi-person consultations to shape my understanding and the direction of my research.   I benefited from the fruitful discussions about how important it is to open services both for homeless and at risk people. To open the system from the bottom and the top. On the one hand, social/housing policy should lower the number of people who are homeless (living literally on the streets), and on the other hand, it should provide people in general with more opportunities to get a safe, affordable home. A policy that focuses only on the most serious problems or restricts itself to the poorest residents is clearly not sustainable. The question remains: How to find harmony between these two interrelated goals? They are non-contradictory public purposes, but they compete with each other in terms of resources and administrative capacities. There lies the challenge.   I would like to conclude this post with a book recommendation and a quote.   Book recommendation: Tell Them Who I Am: The Lives of Homeless Women by Elliot Liebow The author of this ethnographic research spent time with homeless women in the late eighties (after being diagnosed with cancer). Liebow tells us that these women were not homeless because they had mental health issues or addiction problems. (There are many women who are mentally or physically ill or who are having family issues or addiction problems who have homes.) They are homeless because they cannot afford a home, even when they have several jobs at the same time.   Quote about homelessness from Sharon Stone (from her speech presented at the Compass Community Services, Spring Forward 2009 luncheon, San Francisco, April 23, 2009), who is the co-founder of Planet Hope ( ):   “I think so many people don’t really know what it is to be homeless, or how people get there. Many people hear the word “homeless” and they think of that guy cast in a movie who is kind of skinny and skanky and stinky and stands outside a bar begging. That’s not homelessness. That’s an idea. Homelessness is what happens when you’re one paycheck away from losing your home. When you have tried everything you’ve got. Everything. When you’ve leveraged everything, sold everything, sold your lawn furniture, sold your couch, taken your grandmother’s engagement ring to the pawn shop, given away your clothes, haven’t eaten, live on a dozen eggs for a week, fed your kids but you don’t eat, slept in your car, they’ve taken your car, you’ve lived in a pup tent, and now you don’t have that. Homelessness is when your government job is gone. Homelessness is when you’re a professor, and they don’t need you anymore at the school. Homelessness is when your dental group is cutting down and they don’t need that many dentists anymore. Homelessness is educated people. Homelessness is when you’re a wife, and your husband wants a younger one. Or a different one. And not you and those noisy kids… And when children — good children, not drug users — but good normal children just like yours are in the street, innocent, pure, lovely, beautiful children just like mine and yours are in the street for two weeks, 14 days, and they have nowhere to live, and not a mother who is a tiger, who stands over them and gets them to school and keeps her head together, or something happens to that parent — in 14 days they are prostitutes to live, because that’s the only way they can eat. And that is a governmental statistic. This is homelessness.”

Author: A.Martin (ESR7)



Relational graph

icon case study Case Study
icon case study Concept
icon case study Publication
icon case study Blogposts