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Design that can impact a society’s stigma on housing


The housing titanic – The big ship in communicating to influence the public stigma of affordable housing.

Australia has an ingrained belief that owning a home is essential to their wellbeing, stability and being a responsibility citizen in our society. This is mainly due to the fact that it has been possible in the past. Yet with our changing world this expectation is fading fast. In its wake we have a void of Australians who may never own their own homes but with the expectation that home ownership is a rite of passage in our society.

I over heard this statement in an office, “He (32yrold) has finally entered the adult world by buying his own place, now he can enjoy the reality of life with a mortgage.”

The Australian public is defined by the have and the have nots and stereotype that is associated with this. This is the arena that affordable housing alternatives have to perform. It is a heated topic. One man I spoke to yesterday shared his view, “The issue is that home owners don’t want to live next to ‘rif raf’. The ‘rif raf’ sit around all day watching cable television, leave their unwanted belongs like broken down cars in the parking bay and drag down the neighbourhood.” To think differently about housing in Australia is a giant awareness project, a giant challenge for any creative communicator.

A company in Brisbane is deliberately disturbing the demographic makeup of home owner’s verse tenants in a radical approach by building apartments with mixed ownership of owners and affordable rentals in association with National Rental Affordability Scheme (NRAS). Ms Oelkers of the Brisbane Housing Company recommends this mixing approach, “We need to apply ‘salt and pepper’ development in our communities. By showing affordable housing product in our display villages that people can see and touch and feel. I believe, we can turn the ship around.” Quoted in the Sydney Morning Herald, ‘Stop sulking, first home buyers’, Feb 24, 2010. (link attached) She also mentioned that affordable doesn’t mean cheaply made or poorly designed, “Affordable housing isn’t cheap housing – it’s good product at a reasonable price.”

I met with Ms Oelkers yesterday and in discussing the perceived issue of the ‘rifraf’ she mentioned that the behaviour of owner or tenant isn’t predetermined by social status or wealth. In her experience with mix ownership and tenanted apartments, both good and bad behaviour exists amongst all strata’s of society. Her team therefore approach the mix as a community, matching simular age groups, location and lifestyles to build a community that blends regardless of wealth perceptions.

In this shifting scene of the Australian housing-climate change, I see a great opportunity to re-educate a generation through design. This is where designers can solve the closed mindset by breaking the established understanding of housing and community to present new possibilities.

Ms Oelkers mentioned above that they are building display centres to give communities a chance to see what affordable housing means. So here is the visual communication challenge –
How do we change a national mind set and social stigma associated to housing and affordable housing? Does anyone know of any examples that can be used as case studies?





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