Community Housing isn’t easy, but it doesn’t need to be this hard

23 June 2020

City Collective has spent years working in the Community Housing Sector and we know it’s easy to get bogged down in the development process.

Community Housing Providers have the honourable goal to build a high quantity of product for those that need it most and put a dent in one of Australia’s most significant challenges – affordable housing.

But no matter how noble the intentions and how well-positioned internal processes are, Community Housing Providers are consistently faced day-in and day-out with what? Road blocks. Red tape. The ‘too-hard basket’. Asking, why does this have to be so difficult?

Picture a community housing project that is not only built, but it has also provided all the needs of its residents, was developed ahead of schedule and was developed under budget.

Community Housing isn’t easy, but it doesn’t need to be this hard. City Collective has worked for years hand-in-hand with Tier 1 Community Housing Providers and have pulled together 8 key strategies we have found increase project certainty and accelerate community housing outcomes in 2020 and beyond:


Implement Diversity Every Chance You Can

Community Housing Providers are faced with a series of key decisions that shape the design and development process. City Collective believe when given the choice (and even if you aren’t, demand it!), always air on the side of diversity and variety. In every community housing project there are a bountiful number of parameters – unit size, number of bedrooms, unit configuration, building typology, circulation, orientation, access, amenity, etc – and all of them have one single thing in common – every future resident is different and almost all of them want to live together if given the opportunity. We have seen firsthand that community housing developments that embrace this, build in diversity into their housing products, are absorbed by the market at a higher overall return and an exponentially faster rate.



Utilise P3s (second generation ‘Public, Private Partnerships’) Development Models

Community Housing Providers have a unique superpower that no Council or private developer has – the ability to bring public authorities, state government, for-profit developers and the community together around the table in service of tackling the common enemy of increasingly unaffordable housing. This power however is minimised when providers go-it-alone on developments. P3 models enable Community Housing Providers to do what they do best which is ensure quality community housing outcomes, while leveraging other partners to contribute what they do best – such as provide ideally located land, provide development plan approval & relief, and provide an injection of private capital. Although this does take a little more upfront effort in relationship building with likeminded organisations, we have found when choreographed diligently the results far outperforms the housing outcomes than if a Community Housing Provider were to develop by themselves.



Engage with Stakeholders Incrementally

Engaging with project stakeholders achieves two ends 1) to draw out information that would guide better housing outcomes; and 2) to build stakeholder consensus around a shared vision for the project. The community housing projects that pass-with-flying-colours meet with their stakeholders early and incrementally throughout the project to gain timely and appropriate feedback. This has ensured certainty on the back end of projects and little room for surprise revisions in the 11th hour (which as architects, we certainly don’t miss).




Prioritise Urban Design Considerations Early

Gone are the days when considerations of community housing stop at the parcel boundary. High quality community housing outcomes starts with how housing integrates with the broader context. Consider not only what the context can offer the community housing development, but also what the housing development can offer the context. We have seen community housing projects that ask-and-answer these questions up front find themselves breezing through Planning Approvals without all the arm-twisting and concession-scheming.



Design Housing Around Key Amenities (not the other way around)

Community Housing is made up principally of two components: housing AND community. Too often we have seen an over-fixation on the internals to the units, while the amenities and importantly the relationship to amenities falls on the nice-to-have list. Albeit unit quality and configuration are important, we have found that Community Housing projects that are organised around key amenities centralise common activities for residents and are more likely to act as a connection to the broader community.



Create an Integrated Architect & Builder Team

As architects we have a skill set well-positioned to guide the Community Housing design process. That said we know we aren’t builders (although we know enough to play a Builder on TV), and that no matter what any architect tells you, builders have their own particular means and methods for building that we aren’t always privy to (and we love them for it!). We have seen Community Housing Providers that embrace this early on projects, pairing architects with the prospective builder, have benefited with 1) increased budget certainty, 2) decreased risk profile and 3) happier project stakeholders with crystal clear expectations throughout the project journey. Community Housing aside, our hope is our industry moves more to this collaborative model.



Prioritise Durability & Maintainability Over Capital Costs

Buildings are expensive. Below-average quality buildings are even more expensive to maintain. We have found that Community Housing Providers that delve into their existing properties, do the research around their own durability concerns and maintenance demands, often come prepared to make the less-popular decisions of prioritising durability & maintainability over initial capital costs. As with everything it is a balancing act, though we applaud the diligence & confidence some Community Housing Providers have taken in recent projects to stretch for higher quality materials because they knew it would save them in-spades over the life of the project.



Value Sustainability as a Philosophy

Environmentally Sustainable Design does not need to be (and shouldn’t be) something that is bolted onto the roof once the design is finished. Instead, ESD is a philosophical approach for all design decisions. We have seen when projects identify ESD targets early, an ESD plan can be written and carried out and most importantly is woven into decisions throughout the design process. This change in perspective has guided Community Housing Providers to make minor tweaks on key decisions on projects that add up to greater ESD outcomes without requiring quadruple argon-filled glazing on western-facing facades (though we do love us some argon).


Case Study: Henley South (Unity Housing)

City Collective has been working with both Unity Housing and SAHA to turn this vision into reality and have prepared a design solution that responds to the environmental aspects of the site and provides improved community open space, enhanced streetscape connections and high quality housing for future residents.

The Henley South project could not have been completed without the leadership from Unity Housing, South Australian Housing Authority and the City of Charles Sturt.

Case Study: Panorama and Woodville West (Anglicare)



The City Collective design approach for Anglicare Panorama offers a mix of flexible housing outcomes including 10 townhouses and a four-level apartment building comprising of 24 dwellings. Due to the areas low residential scale the apartment building takes advantage of the site’s typography to reduce its overall visual appearance to the surrounding dwellings.

Woodville West:

Anglicare SA Woodville West Redevelopment is an exciting opportunity to capitalise on the fantastic location and amenity that the surrounding Woodville area has to offer. Strong ties to a new community centre and an important transport corridor, present the chance to increase density, link and enhance amenity and complement new and existing development.

The Panorama and the Woodville West projects could not have been completed without the leadership from Anglicare SA, Renewal SA, City of Charles Sturt, and the City of Mitchem.


Like to know more about our experience working with community housing providers?

Download our Capability Statement showcasing our past and current projects or reach out! We’re always keen to chat!