What is a mixed-tenure community? Views from New Zealand practitioners and implications for researchers

Replacing public housing with housing for different socio-economic groups has been a focus for governments and housing providers in a number of countries. Developing public and market housing, usually on land formerly occupied by public housing, offers the chance to increase the supply of private and public housing, while improving housing quality and community design. However, the process of development is disruptive and can be devastating for those who already call that community home.

Some people think that such mixed-tenure communities will lead to better outcomes for public tenants than if they lived in communities with a high proportion of public housing. This view is shared by some community housing providers, politicians, developers, and, until a few years ago, Housing NZ. However, the international evidence is not clear on this point: as Kay and Nina Saville-Smith wrote in a report commissioned by the Minister of Social Housing in 2015, ‘evidence around low concentrations of social housing and resulting benefits for social housing tenants is weak, benefits are mixed or remain undemonstrated’ (p.31).

It will be important to monitor what happens as communities change on the large scale – in Northcote, Porirua, Māngere, Tāmaki, and Roskill, for examples – and elsewhere on a smaller scale. Recently some colleagues and I published a paper that is a small step towards better understanding the impact of building mixed-tenure communities in New Zealand. Our research question was deceptively simple – what is a mixed-tenure community?

We interviewed a range of people involved in thinking about, developing, designing, or managing tenancies in mixed-tenure communities, who worked in the private, public and community sectors, to find the answer in the New Zealand context. The design of housing and neighbourhoods was important to their definition.

We found that participants held diverse perspectives about what tenures were represented in mixed-tenure communities. For some people, a mixed-tenure community had private and public housing, for others, it included rent-to-own, shared equity, affordable and emergency housing. For others, it might not have public housing, but would include private rental or shared equity of rent-to-buy as well as owned housing. For some people, a mixed-tenure community was expressly built for the purpose of providing a mix of housing for different socio-economic groups; for others, it was any community that provided rental (sometimes public) as well as ownership, as has evolved organically in many places. Some people talked about mix on the scale of a building or a development, while others talked about mix on the scale of a suburb.

Participants varied as to the appropriate proportion of public housing in a mixed-tenure community – in other words, how much private and public housing was necessary for it to be considered mixed (given that some buildings but no whole communities are 100% public housing). Some people thought that there could be no more than 10-20% public housing, or no more than 50%; most commonly, people with opinions on the matter thought that the community should have no more than a third public housing.

While participants agreed that private and public housing should be spatially integrated in a mixed-tenure community, they differed as to how they defined spatial integration. Some people thought that public housing should be scattered (“pepper-potted”) throughout a community, others thought that you could have an apartment building or a block of 12 units housing public tenants among private housing:

“Their idea of mixed-tenure was okay, we’ve got two apartment blocks, one is going to be our tenants, and the other’s going to be private, and we’ll separate them by a, a fence anyway, so that’s mixed-tenure . . . [Laughing] And I’m not sure really, I don’t think it actually is”.

Finally, some participants had firm views about the design of mixed-tenure communities, including the placement of public housing within those communities. Public housing should be close to amenities, and good neighbourhood design included spaces that encouraged interaction among public tenants and other residents. While all participants agreed that both public and private housing should be of equal, good quality, for some people, it was important that it looked the same; “blind tenure” was seen as protecting public tenants from experiencing stigma.

How we define things determines how we measure things. Understanding the broad range of perspectives briefly outlined here can help us ensure that when we research mixed-tenure communities, we consider all the different things that might make a difference.

The different approaches in different mixed-tenure developments completed, proposed or being developed in New Zealand, offers researchers the opportunity to answer many of the questions that remain on how tenure mix affects social outcomes, and the importance of scale, proportion and placement of public housing, and visual and spatial integration of public and private housing. Such evidence could contribute to policies that support best outcomes for residents and ensure that projected public housing demand is met.

For more, read our paper:

Chisholm, E., Pierse, N., & Howden-Chapman, P. (2021). What is a mixed-tenure community? Views from New Zealand practitioners and implications for researchers. Urban Policy & Research. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1080/08111146.2020.1863780 Download PDF

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