Overcoming barriers to affordable housing

The social, economic and environmental advantages of providing affordable, diverse housing in Melbourne near jobs and services have been recognized by successive state planning policies. However, these policies have largely failed to convince the development community to expand beyond a high-density one- and two-bedroom apartment model in the central city area, with 3+ bedroom units remaining an expensive, niche product restricted to the ‘top’ of buildings.

A number of reasons for this policy implementation failure have been posited, including higher construction costs for multiple unit housing, an absence of an integrated metropolitan planning approach to affordable housing, inadequate funding for social housing, the lack of supportive planning policies (like inclusionary zoning and density bonusing), longer investment time-frames and higher risks/uncertainty in the inner city, and cultural barriers to children growing up in inner city apartments.

However, research in several North American and European cities suggests that central city renewal that provides affordable family-friendly housing is possible, in planning and governance regimes relatively similar to Melbourne.

What is the research about?

This project seeks to answer the question: What are the major barriers to creating family friendly affordable housing in central Melbourne, and how might these barriers be overcome?

In order to do this, the project researchers and partners will examine what form ‘family friendly’ housing may take, what ‘affordable’ housing means in the context of the central city, and what market, industry, and institutional forces shape the current mix of housing options within the City of Melbourne’s local government area.

An important focus of the research is the dynamics of the different actors that constitute the supply-side providers of housing in central Melbourne: planners, private developers, and non-profit housing providers. Together, we are investigating how the housing industry can incorporate ideas from international best practices.

This project (March 2013-June 2014) has now successfully concluded and funding for ongoing research into affordable housing in Melbourne has been secured through the Carlton Connect Initiatives Fund and collaborative partners. See Transforming Housing: Affordable Housing for All.

Who is involved in the research project?

The research project involves industry representatives from local and state government, the development and property institute peak bodies, social housing and not-for-profit housing providers, and researchers from the fields of planning, social geography, architecture, urban design, and quantity surveying from the University of Melbourne.

How will the research be used?

The research will suggest options for the private development industry, housing associations and planners to realise a greater diversity of housing form and tenure in the central city area.

Getting to Yes Study Tour

In February 2014 Professor Carolyn Whitzman, Dr Andrew Martel and representatives from the local government and developer sectors in Melbourne, undertook a study tour to San Francisco, Vancouver and Portland.  The co-researchers met with 56 key personnel from a diverse range of sectors across the three cities.

While all of these cities have a housing affordability problem, they all are providing more social and affordable rental and ownership housing than Melbourne.

Getting to Yes Interdisciplinary Studio

ABPL90143 | ABPL90088 (25 points)

The Getting to Yes Design Studio brought together Master of Architecture, Master of Urban Planning, Master of Urban Design and Master of Construction Management students to tackle a real world problem: developing realistic and fund-able proposals for family-friendly housing that can meet the needs of low and moderate-income households. Multi-disciplinary group work was a special feature of the Studio, from urban planning and design collaborations, to refinement of architectural proposals, and construction and cost reviews. Students gained invaluable experience and a new lens through which to view their own work. Design Studio Leader: Sarah Backhouse, with Carolyn Whitzman (MUP) and Peter Lawther(MCM).

Studio Group

Research Outputs


Whitzman C., Martel A., Spivak G., Gartner A. & Jong K. (2014) Getting to Yes: recommendations from a study tour to San Francisco, Portland and Vancouver. Melbourne:University of Melbourne

Project Information Sheet

Martel A. (2013) Literature Review. Melbourne:University of Melbourne

Related Minor Theses

Anderson-Oliver M. (2014) Opportunistic, ill-considered and impossibly vague: barriers to inclusionary zoning in Victoria. Melbourne:University of Melbourne

Brydon A. (2014) Families in the City. Melbourne:University of Melbourne

Perković J. (2013) Rethinking the Inflexible City: what can Australian planning learn from successful implementation of ‘temporary uses’ across the world?. Melbourne:University of Melbourne

Schwartz H. (2013) Cooperative housing for an ageing Australia. Melbourne:University of Melbourne.