Sustainable Architecture(s) - Humane Cities
What Counts as Affordable Housing: Establishing a Baseline Understanding of Perceptions of Affordable Housing in the United States
I. Douglas et al
7:30 pm - 9:00 pm


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For the past two decades, the cost of housing in the United States has increased relative to income, making housing affordability precarious for the average household. This housing precarity has been exacerbated by an ongoing shortage of housing, as well as challenges to affordable housing acceptance. The current health and financial crises brought on by COVID-19 have highlighted the importance of housing and in particular affordable housing, for personal and community wellbeing. While awareness of affordable housing need is definitive among the general public, it is less clear how uniform or variable the public’s understanding of what counts as affordable housing is. This variability in public understanding can impact actions taken for or against the support of affordable housing. Even within the academic community, there is not a consensus on what the formal definition of affordable housing should be or if the term should be used. Our research seeks to understand and establish a baseline of public perceptions and mental imagery involving people, policies, and buildings associated with affordable housing. Using a national online survey (n = 540) consisting of  closed- and open-formed responses as well as demographic questions, hand-coding with a combined inductive and deductive approach of qualitative data is being paired with quantitative data to examine several hypothesized relationships and develop exploratory analyses. Findings are expected to reveal links between perceptions and demographics, as well as identify factors affecting motivation to support or resist affordable housing. This baseline understanding of public perceptions will be used to inform strategies for increasing affordable housing supply and, ultimately, community wellbeing.


Isabella Douglas is an NSF Graduate Research Fellow and Ph.D. candidate in Civil & Environmental Engineering (CEE) at Stanford University. She received a B.S.E. in CEE with a certificate in Architecture from Princeton University. She is part of an interdisciplinary research team at Stanford working toward understanding how the design of physical and digital can impact wellbeing. Her dissertation research seeks to better understand how to leverage physical building design to improve the quality of affordable housing and its acceptance within existing communities.


Deland Chan is a Clarendon Scholar and DPhil candidate in Sustainable Urban Development at the University of Oxford. She received a B.A. in Urban Studies and M.A. in Sociology from Stanford University, and a Master in City Planning from the University of California at Berkeley. Her research examines how marginalized ethnic immigrant communities engage in land use advocacy, specifically for environmental amenities in public housing and transport. Chan previously worked as a Senior Planner for the Chinatown Community Development Center, and she currently serves on the San Francisco Planning Commission and is part of the American Institute of Certified Planners and a LEED Accredited Professional.


Sarah Billington is the Chair and UPS Foundation Professor of Civil & Environmental Engineering and a Senior Fellow in the Woods Institute for the Environment at Stanford University. From 1998-2002 she was an Assistant Professor at Cornell University. She received her B.S.E. with high honors in Civil Engineering & Operations Research and a certificate in Architecture Studies from Princeton University and her M.S. and Ph.D. in Structural Engineering from the University of Texas at Austin. Her expertise includes the characterization and design of sustainable, durable construction materials including bio-based composites and ductile cement-based composites. Her current research focuses on the impact of building design and materials on human wellbeing and on public perceptions and acceptance of affordable housing.