Here are five ways governments can intervene in the market to create affordable housing

More than 84 per cent of households in Berlin rent their home. Image: exilism/Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND.

Housing affordability continues to be an issue of importance to voters in many regions. Different countries have adopted different approaches to improve access to affordable housing – with governments playing a central role in ensuring people are adequately sheltered, as well as being encouraged to buy housing where possible. In many countries there is an underlying desire by households to own their own home; in others, renting is the norm.

In each case there are specific approaches, sometimes unique-to-that-country, that have helped address the issue of affordability. Here are five.

1. Government intervenes in the rental market

In some countries there is a general culture of renting for accessing accommodation, rather than assuming all households should achieve home ownership. At times, renting is cheaper than buying.

In Germany most households (54.1 per cent) are renters due to the long-term intervention in the marketplace by the government, as well as the accepted culture that renting is suitable over the long-term. In Berlin a total of 84.4 per cent of all households rent. Providing this amount of rental accommodation is a major challenge without substantial government intervention or provision of housing.

 

Source: Federal Statistics Office Germany, 2011.

 

For example, in 2012 the German government paid housing allowance to approximately 783,000 households, equating to 1.9 per cent of all private households. Most of this funding (57 per cent) was allocated to single person households, who are unable to compete in the open housing market with multiple income households.

Source: Federal Statistics Office Germany, 2011.

Other countries have also acknowledged the gap between

(a) the maximum amount of rent a tenant can pay, and

(b) the minimum level of rent a landlord will charge.

In the US, for example, this gap is bridged by the widespread use of a voucher system ,which subsidies the payment of rent to private landlords. This system is funded by the US government, and ensures tenants can access a minimum quality of affordable housing.

2. Government provides affordable housing

In Singapore there is a high level of government intervention in the market, with the Housing and Development Board (HDB) providing approximately 80 per cent of all housing in the country. Approximately 90 per cent of households in Singapore own their own home; there are also grants for first time buyers and second time buyers in Singapore.

In Hong Kong, about 29.7 per cent of residents live in public rental housing (PRH) provided by the government. In Scotland, a large proportion of the supply of affordable housing is undertaken by housing associations and local authorities. This collectively equates to about quarter of total housing accommodation in the market. 

Source: Housing Statistics for Scotland, 2011.

However – the recent trend for many countries, including Australia, has been the provision of less direct housing by governments.

3. Cities embrace higher density housing

There are numerous examples of global cities making better use of limited inner-city land supply by encouraging higher density living in high rise units or condominiums, especially in Asian cities including Hong Kong, Macau and Singapore. The provision of affordable housing for purchase or renting is therefore more likely to be achieved in these circumstances, due to minimal land use and higher densities.

However, high-rise living is not commonly accepted in many European cities, or in locations with a resistance due to cultural preferences for detached housing.

4. Public transport allows residents to commute to less expensive housing

The main driver of where a household lives is the need to be close to their workplace. As more affordable housing is usually located away from the central business district, the trade-off is cheaper homes but additional commuting time.

When this extended commuting time – of up to 2 hours each way – is combined with improved transport infrastructure such as in Japan, it is possible to access affordable housing in outlying satellite towns and cities where land is more affordable. In other words, governments which improve road and public transport infrastructure can also increase access to affordable housing.

Source: Japan Guide, 2000.

 

5. Multiple person households are encouraged

Lower demand can be achieved by limiting population levels and underlying demand for housing. But while this may not be an option for many governments, another option is to encourage multiple person households which otherwise would remain as single person households.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (2012), in 1911 the average persons per household was 4.5. By 1991, that had decreased to 2.7.

Source: Wikipedia, compiled from various sources.

The Conversation

Richard Reed is chair in property & real estate at Deakin University, Melbourne.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

 
 
 
 

The best bike maps are made by volunteers

A cyclist in Vancouver, Canada. Image: Getty.

Not all bike routes are equal. Some places that are marked as bike routes on a map feel precarious when traversed on two wheels, including shoulders covered in debris and places where you can feel the wind from speeding cars.

North American cities are building more bicycling routes, by adding on-street painted lanes, physically separated cycle tracks, bicycle-only or multi-use paths and local street bikeways. These different kinds of routes appeal to different types of users, from the interested but concerned cyclist to the keen road rider.

Despite this boost in biking infrastructure, a city’s website may not immediately reflect the changes or it may lack important information that can make cycling safer or more enjoyable.

Web-based maps that allow people to add information about bike routes give riders detailed data about the type of route, what it might feel like to ride there (do you have to ride close to cars?) and where it can take them (for example, shopping, work or school).

They can also tell us which cities are the most bike-friendly.

Measuring bike routes

We set out to assemble a dataset of bike routes in Canadian cities using their open data websites. But we found it was nearly impossible to keep it up-to-date because cities are constantly changing and the data are shared using different standards.

A physically separated cycle track in Victoria, British Columbia. Image: E. Gatti (TeamInteract.ca).

The solution was OpenStreetMap, which creates and distributes free geographic data. Anyone can add data or make edits to OpenStreetMap, whether they want to build a better bike map or make a navigation app.

We looked at OpenStreetMap data for three large cities (Vancouver, Toronto and Montréal) and three mid-sized cities (Victoria, Kelowna and Halifax) in Canada.

Not only did the data in OpenStreetMap agree reasonably well with the cities’ open data: in many cases it was more up-to-date. OpenStreetMap tended to include more local details such as where painted bike lanes ended and often marked the short cuts connecting suburban streets.

How did OpenStreetMap measure up?

Our analysis focused on how well different types of routes were mapped. We measured cycle tracks (which physically separate bikes from motorised traffic), on-street painted bike lanes (which use painted lines to separate bikes from motorised traffic), bike paths (which are located away from streets) and local street bikeways (which include traffic-calming features and where bicycling is encouraged).

Painted bike lanes are the most common type of route and also the most consistently well mapped. This makes sense, because the definition of a painted bike lane may be clearest across time and place. There is also a straightforward way for volunteers to tag it on OpenStreetMap.

But it was harder for us to distinguish cycle tracks from on-street painted lanes or paths (bicycle-only or multi-use) using OpenStreetMap. Local street bikeways were challenging to identify because of the wide range of ways cities design these kinds of routes along residential roads. Some use traffic-calming measures such as curb extensions, traffic islands, speed humps and raised traffic crossings to slow vehicle traffic and encourage safety, or greenery, reduced speed limits and bike-friendly markings on signs and the road surface.

Correspondence between OpenStreetMap and Open Data for categories of bicycling infrastructure. Image: author provided.

Bicycle routes that are physically separated from motor vehicles and pedestrians, like cycle tracks and bicycle-only paths, have the greatest benefits for bicycling safety and encourage bike use.

Ease of access to bicycle routes is important to a city’s overall bicycle friendliness, but there are other important things to consider including the distance to destinations, the number, slope and length of hills, number of riders and how the transportation culture of a city can influence its safety.


Bike-friendly Canadian cities

Our results showed that Montréal has the greatest total distance in cycle tracks in Canada. As cities continue building more bicycle routes, researchers and planners can use OpenStreetMap to measure these changes on the ground.

The perfect bicycle map is up-to-date, covers the entire globe and gives riders an idea of the kinds of experiences to expect on different trails, roads and paths. People cycling in cities can contribute to the high-quality geographic data needed to understand changes in bicycle friendliness.

But OpenStreetMap is only as good as its contributions. The exciting thing is that anyone who wants a better bike map — city planners, researchers and everyday riders — can join the bike-mapping revolution by logging in to OpenStreetMap and mapping the features that are important to bicyclists.

The Conversation

Colin Ferster, Post-doctoral fellow, University of Victoria and Meghan Winters, Associate Professor, Faculty of Health Sciences, Simon Fraser University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.