Can Self-Build Housing Improve Social Sustainability within Low-Income Groups?

By Obremski, Helena; Carter, Claudia | The Town Planning Review, March 1, 2019 | Go to article overview

Can Self-Build Housing Improve Social Sustainability within Low-Income Groups?


Obremski, Helena, Carter, Claudia, The Town Planning Review


Introduction

A lack of affordable housing is a significant international concern,1 leaving economically deprived individuals and communities at a significant disadvantage when seeking accommodation and presenting a major policy issue in many developing and developed nations (e.g. Sullivan and Ward, 2012; Soliman, 2012; Blanco and Leon, 2017). Over the past decades, a turn towards decentralization has encouraged local governments and communities to take responsibility for housing provision, juxtaposed with attempts to recover from the economic recession and associated spending cuts (Carter, 1997; Bramley, 2016; Garcia and Haddock, 2016).

The lack of low-cost housing and funding and the effects of decentralisation have led to increased rates of self-mobilisation of socially vulnerable groups (Blanco and Leon, 2017) and the development of self-help housing (Bredenoord and Van Lindert, 2010). In developing countries, self-build tends to be poor-quality informal housing and is often the only means of obtaining shelter for low-income communities (Landman and Napier, 2009; Sullivan and Ward, 2012). Communities in developed nations have also turned to self-build housing; however, research indicates that government incentives to drive such schemes are focused on the middle classes (Bredenoord and Van Lindert, 2010), although (informal) self-build by low/no-income individuals or communities also exists. There have been attempts in America and Egypt to formalise informal settlements and provide more sustainable, low-cost housing solutions, but with limited success (Sullivan and Ward, 2012; Soliman, 2012).

In the UK, the National Self Building Association (NaSBA) propose that self-build housing could provide more affordable and shared-equity homes (NaSBA, 2011). Government figures indicate that the self-build market currently represents between 7 and 10 per cent of completions (Wilson, 2017), with an undefined percentage of this being low-cost. Available government-derived figures (e.g. DCLG, 2011) indicate that the UK remains far behind the rest of the world in terms of delivery of selfbuild housing with around 10 per cent self-build compared with 30-80 per cent in several European countries, Australia, New Zealand, the USA and Canada; even though definitions for self-build vary and the data for the UK are obtained by inference rather than directly measured. This paper adopted the definition by the UK Housing and Planning Act 2016 (DCLG, 2016, 6), which defines self-build housing as the 'building or completion by - (a) individuals, (b) associations of individuals, or (c) persons working with or for individuals or associations of individuals, of houses to be occupied as homes by those individuals'.

In the context of affordable housing, self-build homes may carry more benefits than just providing accommodation for low-income groups. Of interest here is assessing their role in increasing social sustainability, and especially creating or enhancing sustainable communities. The section below ('Context and "therotical framework"') therefore reviews recent publications that shed light on the contribution of self-build in creating sustainable communities and relevant factors, with particular attention to non-physical social-sustainability factors, namely social cohesion, social capital and community participation within the context of the physical social-sustainability factor of 'decent housing' (see Dempsey et al., 2009, Table 1). Dempsey et al. (2009) identified a number of non-physical social factors which affect sustainability, and concluded that sustainability of community, or the functioning of a society in the form of a community, is core to social sustainability, and identified some connections between participation, social capital and social cohesion. Our paper focuses on the current knowledge gap about low-income communities, assessing five self-build projects in England to further investigate and clarify key factors in creating sustainable communities through self-build affordable-housing initiatives. …

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