Social Housing is a form of rental housing that is designed to specifically cater to the problem of housing inequality and affordability. The pricing of these projects is not determined by the usual market forces of supply and demand, but by the economic capacities of the future occupants or users. The concept of social housing was introduced to remediate the current disparity that exists between the purchasing power and need for shelter, especially amongst groups from economically weaker sections and underprivileged communities. The model has exhibited varying degrees of success, but has become absolutely essential to correct the inequitable systems of the real estate and their functioning.
The ownership and maintenance of these projects usually resides with the state, or different non-profit organizations, or sometimes – a combination of both. The authorities are usually the ones tasked with rationing the prices of the products. However, designers, planners and architects have a unique role in establishing these projects. It is important to realize the special level of attention and detail that needs to be conferred unto these projects. Some things to remember while designing these projects are:
1. Site Selection
Not any and every location is optimum for the development of social housing projects. It is more beneficial to situate these projects where there is convenient access to local services and daily amenities such as the common employment venues, healthcare services, grocery ad ration needs, educational institutions and public transportation outlets. This decision helps the project become more economically viable for its occupants, in the long term. These decisions, however, are to be made in conjunction with larger-scale plans for the city, or nation.
It is important to consider the surrounding context when designing a site. Context includes both built and unbuilt spaces such as adjacent parks, green spaces and neighbourhood resources. It can also include more constraining elements such as the surrounding political and cultural climate. Taking all these elements into account during the early phases of the project will ensure that the project more effectively meets the needs of all stakeholders.
In the case of social housing it is important to consider different factors that affect the microclimate of the site. This leads to a further cost reduction by minimizing heat gain to the structure, that further reduces the expenditure on passive heat gain. Implementing best practice solutions, particularly those relating to solar and wind orientation can help achieve this goal.
While designing, be sure to provide effective site circulation and safety of occupants by designating specific driveways exclusively for vehicular movement in addition to providing pedestrian friendly access to the residence site as well as surrounding possible areas of interest. It is also encouraged to design these spaces to ensure visual connectivity and establish natural surveillance of the common areas, especially those designed for children or the elderly.
It is important to integrate the indoor and outdoor spaces in projects involving social or affordable housing. Since the area on site may be limited, as a result of cost reduction, it is essential to maximize the space that is available. It is encouraged to use a mix of building forms and landscaping. While designing it is important to develop large, grassy, open spaces, for proper ventilation, as well as diverse outdoor physical activities.
Pay attention to the way the environment makes its owners feel. Distinguish common and private spaces clearly, with clear ownership of visually shared spaces. This encourages feelings of belonging within the occupants, and makes them direct stakeholders in the maintenance of the space.
Abide by the local or national building code and its regulations about barrier free and universal architecture. Within the less privileged communities, there is another, even further excluded community of the differently abled. It is important to ensure that the social housing project caters to all sections of society. Specific considerations for accessibility are to be incorporated throughout the active design recommendations.
The act of living in a social housing project is currently shrouded by stigma within society. It is important that while designing, attention is given to the building expression. A building designed for social housing does not necessarily have to look like the current industry-standard social housing project. It is important to provide dignified living conditions.
In continuation to reducing the stigma surrounding social housing, it is important to simultaneously focus on the aesthetics of the building. People should feel comfortable, exhilarated and inspired by the space. The visual quality of these homes is as crucial to their success as other infrastructural aspects, such as spatial dynamics and environmental concerns.
Last, but obviously not the least – affordability should take precedence when compared to all other design considerations. A social housing project can only be termed as much when the project actually is within the stipulated budget of not just the builder or designer, but the end use, the occupant.