Housing Diversity and Choice

Housing diversity refers to different types of housing opportunities, in line with household characteristics, needs and preferences. It encompasses the design, size and form of housing, relative to household characteristics, forms of tenure, different price points and location (accessibility to employment and services and social networks).

Housing diversity promotes socially mixed communities, by offering greater housing choices for households from different socio-economic groups within the community. A diversity of housing choices within a community supports social networks over time because people can stay living in a neighbourhood or local area, thus retaining close connections between locally residing friends and/or family, even when their dwelling needs change. Social mix appears to be a goal worth pursuing, even though academic evidence is equivocal on whether it generates all of the benefits claimed for it (Galster 2007; Arthurson 2012; Van Ham and Manley 2010; Sautkina, Bond et al. 2012). In the UK, social mix tends to mean ‘tenure mix’, a strategy which may be pursued equally for economic reasons (for instance to leverage new finance into estate renewal schemes, or to meet affordable housing obligations at lower cost) to achieve social benefits (Darcy 2010). However, when urban planners conceptualise the term social mix, they are often referring to the availability of more diverse housing forms in highly accessible or high-amenity locations (Talen 2006), where the market, or restrictive planning regulations, might otherwise exclude lower income, culturally or ethnically diverse groups (Pendall 2000; Rothwell and Massey 2010).

Housing diversity and social mix may not happen if housing development occurs along traditional ‘business as usual’ lines. Both social and private developers can be responsible for mono-tenure and mono-type housing estates which fail to meet this goal and may also be seen by consumers as bland and boring. Requirements for more diversity of size and type of dwelling within schemes (as encouraged in UK planning guidance since the mid-2000s), can address the problem of homogenous housing and restricted choice, even though developers often argue that having imposed diversity quotas will make developments like these less profitable or viable. Even where this is not the case, for instance, where developers have come to embrace principles of ‘new urbanism’ which emphasise design for social diversity, it is increasingly the case that the amenity benefits associated with vibrant and walkable neighbourhoods offset cost savings associated with smaller sites and dwelling sizes (Talen 2010). Affordable/inclusionary requirements imposed through the planning system provide a way of ensuring that the amenity and accessibility values arising from ‘good’ planning and associated with diverse housing choices, do not inadvertently price out low- and moderate- income earners.

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