Public housing and urban regeneration: maximising wellbeing

Exciting opportunity to make a difference to public housing with a MBIE Endeavour Fund. Professor Howden-Chapman will lead a multi-university programme in in collaboration with public and community housing organisations. The aim is to increase understanding of public housing organisational capacity, the sustainability of housing developments, and the benefits of better urban design, to help enhance wellbeing within these communities. The ultimate goal is to effect positive changes for the short and long-term.

Historically high housing prices and rents, increased market demand, and difficulty accelerating the housing supply response have led to major stress in the affordable housing sector. This has increased levels of household crowding, homelessness and reliance on emergency and transitional housing, with major consequences for wellbeing. This is particularly evident in Māori and Pasifika households where the decline in homeownership has meant these populations bear the brunt of these problems.

The supply of public and community housing has been increasing significantly in the last 4 years but is unable to keep up with demand, and the public and community housing waiting list has been significantly increasing. There is an urgent need to upscale public housing supply further, to reduce homelessness. Government and community agencies are therefore expanding large residential building programmes.

The variations across public and community housing organisations in terms of governance, financial planning and approaches to building quality homes at scale and well-integrated into existing communities, are markedly under-researched. The pathways by which central and local governments and community organisations support wellbeing in their housing and communities needs to be better measured and understood.

Our Research

University of Otago, Wellington and research partners have been awarded a 5-year, $14 million MBIE Endeavour research grant, to focus on public and community housing as a driver of wellbeing and sustainable urban regeneration. This research will provide world-leading evidence on these pathways. The research group is investigating how to improve building performance to contribute to economic, social, cultural and environmental regeneration, including reducing carbon emissions. The built environment is responsible for 20% of NZ’s carbon emissions.

Distinguished Professor Howden-Chapman from Otago University is the programme director and leads an experienced team of researchers from several universities and research organisations.

Wellbeing and Sustainability Outcomes

Our research is applying an inclusive wellbeing framework to public and community housing initiatives, where mana whenua, iwi and Māori urban authorities are major partners with the Crown and local government. Our aim includes better understanding the impacts of public housing on improving Māori wellbeing, as well as wider tenant and community wellbeing.

In the short term, the findings will provide evidence to help improve strategic public housing policies and support more effective allocation of government funding. In the long term, the expectation is that this research can help enhance wellbeing and improve environmental sustainability through the provision of more effective, equitable and sustainable public housing and urban regeneration.

Partnering and Methods

Our research will examine and compare six public housing organisations’ (refer to table as below) arrangements for how they design and deliver housing & urban regeneration projects to optimise tenant and community wellbeing and advance sustainability outcomes.

Public and community housing models and partnerships

Direct state funding and development Local and central government collaboration State transfers to Māori/community agencies
Tāmaki Regeneration Programme Wellington City Council Wainuiōmata Marae Trust
Eastern Porirua Regeneration Project Ōtautahi Community Housing Trust Salvation Army


In each organisation we will measure:

  • Governance and financial management reporting
  • Te Tiriti responsibilities and understandings
  • Wellbeing
  • Tenants’
  • Community social cohesion
  • Design quality and scale of housing
  • Indoor environment and materials
  • Outdoor setting
  • Community formation and local urban design
  • Energy use and associated carbon emissions
  • Transport patterns, including proximity to public transport, walking and cycling facilities, and associated carbon emissions

We will build on existing partnerships between public housing organisations and researchers. Together we will identify priorities, challenges and opportunities and implement new knowledge through improved ways of working. Building enduring feedback loops throughout the programme will enable findings to be fed back to the providers and stakeholders, so they can test the utility of the findings in real time.