Tensions between affordability and sustainability and the implications for vulnerable groups

Faculty of Architecture and the Built Environment, Delft University of Technology, Netherlands

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Prof. dr. ir. Marja Elsinga, chair Housing Institutions and Governance


Dr. Adrienne Csizmady, Centre for Social Sciences, Academy of Sciences, Budapest, Hungary

Dr. Joris Hoekstra, Faculty of Architecture and the Built Environment, Delft University of Technology, Netherlands


Clarion, United kingdom

Housing Europe, Brussels, Belgium

European Federation for Living, Amsterdam, Netherlands

Research project

Given the current housing affordability and sustainability challenges that Europe is facing, it is of vital importance that housing becomes both more affordable and environmentally sustainable. Unfortunately, there often is a tension between affordability and sustainability ambitions, in newly built housing but also in the existing housing stock. Newly built highly sustainable housing is usually more expensive than housing that is developed through conventional building techniques. In the existing rental housing stock, investments in sustainability measures may give rise to higher rental prices which in turn can create affordability problems for tenants, even though energy costs tend to go down as a result of these measures. In the home ownership sector, housing affordability considerations often prevent investments in sustainability enhancing renovations. After all, such investments require high upfront payments and it may take a long time before the invested money is earned back.

The research to be carried out in this project will unravel the ways in which affordability and sustainability are potentially in conflict. This will be done by mapping and comparing the affordability and sustainability dimensions of housing policies and projects across Europe. Furthermore, best practices (case studies) demonstrating how to overcome this conflict will be identified. These practices can take various forms and shapes, ranging from the provision of innovative affordable and sustainable housing models (e.g. tiny housing) to specific new financing arrangements (e.g. green mortgages). Specific attention will be paid to sustainable and affordable housing solutions for vulnerable groups (by income, gender, cultural background or health condition), since these people are most in need of affordable housing. Ultimately, the case study analysis should result in a set of more general policy recommendations.

The research will be based on a range of different research methods such as policy analysis, case study research, focus groups with professional stakeholders and interviews with vulnerable groups. The case studies are expected to come from various European countries. The planned secondments are intended to deepen the case studies.

->To conduct an individual research project, interlinked with the other ESRs projects, focusing on:
  • An international comparative statistical analysis of the potential tensions between affordability and sustainability indicators at both the macro (countries and regions) and the micro (individual households) level
  • A case study analysis of good practices (policies, projects) that have the potential to overcome the tensions between housing affordability and environmental sustainability, and that specifically focus on vulnerable groups
  • The formulation of a policy and research agenda with regard to sustainable and affordable housing for vulnerable groups
->To participate in the network-wide activities (workshops, summer schools, conferences)
->To carry out the training required by the PhD programme of the host university.

As part of the individual research project, ESRs will carry out two secondments, each of 2 to 3 months, in the partner organisations.

ESRs are expected to have completed a doctoral thesis that can be defended at the host institution within or shortly thereafter the project lifetime.

Host university

Since its foundation 110 years ago, the Faculty of Architecture and the Built Environment has built up a solid international reputation for training architects, urban planners and designers, as well as for its research portfolio and coaching of PhD candidates. With around 2,600 students and 500 staff members, and around 230 full-time employees devoted to academic positions, our institution is one of the most prestigious architecture and the built environment faculties globally as demonstrated by our number 2 position in the global QS-ranking 2020. Traditionally, the faculty has prioritised high-quality training in design and research in the field of the built environment. Over 40 chairs embrace a wide range of academic areas in design, process and technology, which together cover the entire field of the built environment. The faculty has a budget of around €38 million, of which approximately €7 million is sourced indirectly and from contracts with third parties.

The chairs Housing Institutions & Governance and Housing Management have a track record in participating and (co)leading EC funded projects such as: UPLIFT Intergenerational inequalities and housing for vulnerable young people : (H2020SC6-TRANSFORMATIONS-2019, 2020-22), Housing 4.0 Energy Applying new digital techniques for small affordable near zero energy housing, (Interreg NEW, 2018-21), CHARM Circular Housing Asset Renovation & Management (Interreg NWE, 2018-21), RE-InVEST: Rebuilding an inclusive, value-based Europe of solidarity and trust through social investments (H2020-EURO-SOCIETY-2014, 2016-19).


Prof. dr. ir. Marja Elsinga (

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