Social Housing Development – Thorough Research Pays Off

A Black and white photo of curve-fronted 6 story building with and archway into the social housing complex
Quarry Hill Flats, 1943 photo collected by Imperial War Museums This work created by the United Kingdom Government is in the public domain.
Quarry Flats, Leeds, UK, shown 8 years after it was built in 1935. A medium-rise downtown housing project, it broke the mold of suburban social housing estates. frequently trots out Singapore and Vienna as examples of ‘how social housing could be done better.’ Nor is this some unique trend. Governments support fact finding missions. As well, it isn’t unusual for people who are deeply troubled by their own housing policies to self-finance trips and research in other jurisdictions.

Regardless of who pays, there are always those who say, “it will never work here,” sometimes as a way to shut down any discussion about doing things differently. But as the authors of the article linked to this post argue, there is a lot to learn from looking at how housing is treated in other countries.

Mark Stephens and Rod Hick1 review how thinking about social housing has evolved from something considered separate from social policy to something that is better understood as part of social welfare policy (along with health, education and financial assistance).

They also make the case that it’s necessary to understand the role of the global financial policies and international markets, noting the widespread effects of the global financial crisis of 2007. People who are thinking about how to transfer an idea from one jurisdiction to another need to be familiar with all of these influences, both in the country being studied and in the country where the innovation is to be applied

This article will be of interest to anyone who wants to see changes in housing policy, including researchers, decision makers and advocates.

For those who aren’t so much interested in the evolution of theory, there’s a case example to drive the point home. It’s the Quarry Hill Flats social housing development in Leeds. It was a major departure from social housing programs in England when it was built. Quarry Hill consisted of multi-storey buildings in the city centre at a time when suburban garden flats was the policy standard for social housing.

Quarry Hill was inspired by Karl Marx Hof flats in Vienna. Unlike Karl Marx Hof flats, Quarry Hill was torn down in the 1970’s. The reason for the demolition, which is revealed at the end of the article, may come as a surprise, but certainly reinforces the value of learning from other jurisdictions.

Read more at the UK Collaborative Centre for Housing Evidence: Comparative housing research – learning the right lessons?


  1. Mark Stephens and Rod Hick are based at the University of Glasgow and Cardiff University, respectively.