The tricky thing about planning for affordable housing

The tricky thing about planning for affordable housing

Georgia Allan 25 Feb, 2019

After speaking with a number of council planning teams, we confirmed our suspicions: preparing an evidence base for their housing strategy is harder than it should be. A small team at .id have launched a new online tool to make it easier for strategic planners (and other parts of council) to access the data they need to plan for affordable housing and monitor progress toward their goals.

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Walk a mile in the shoes of a planner

Imagine it was your job to deliver a local planning strategy that delivered affordable housing in your area.

The right mix of high, medium and low density, at a suitable price point, preferably while maintaining local character, amenity and economic prosperity.

Oh – and the situation on the ground is changing month-by-month.

What a job.

If you wanted to make an informed decision (and, as you’re reading our blog, we assume you would)? Where would you start?

We were wondering the same thing, so we visited some local councils we’ve worked with for a number of years and spoke with their planning teams to find out how they build an evidence base and monitor their progress toward the goals in their housing strategies.

It’s not just planners who care about housing

We set out to meet strategic planning teams, however, we quickly learned there were many other teams with a vested interest in the council’s housing strategy.

Economic development officers wanted housing supply that was affordable and suitable for the demographic of the local workforce, to ensure these workers could continue to live and work locally (or attract more people who worked locally to live in the area).

Social planners needed to advocate for the needs of the community. Specifically, quantifying the need for affordable housing, the number living in housing stress and how income was changing relative to house prices in the area.

And, of course, strategic planners need to understand how the local demographic profile was changing, engage the community in the planning process, and develop strategic plans that balance the competing priorities of housing supply, local amenity and the preservation of neighbourhood character.

No stranger to evidence

If there was any doubt about these councils’ commitment to informed decisions, we only need look at the lengths they’d already gone to in preparing an evidence base for their strategies.

In almost all cases, these people knew the story of their community intimately; but finding a consistent and reliable source of data was difficult.

Three frustrations with the current data

With each council visit, we started to see a pattern emerging.

We repeatedly heard about three issues that meant time-strapped planners were spending time wrangling data, rather than developing the important strategic plans;

  1. Local data is hard to find
    With many datasets available at a state or regional level, it was hard to understand the extent to which housing is a localised issue, and how much it is the by-product of a broader regional trend
  2. Understanding incomes
    The ABS outputs household income data into ‘brackets’, so reporting on the number of people above and below a given income threshold makes reporting on the number of households experiencing housing stress difficult.
  3. Static reports
    However, the most consistent frustration we heard with the current evidence base for housing were the shortcomings of static, one-off reports.
    Typically, housing studies and research are either commissioned from consultants (like us!) or sourced from reports produced by think tanks or other public research sources.
    And while these sources provide valuable inputs to decision making, one-off reports, by their nature, only tell the story at a single point in time – they don’t reflect the changing and dynamic nature of housing, and the many economic and demographic drivers behind it.

The importance of monitoring


The final step in the strategic planning cycle is ‘Are we on track?’

So, while profiling the current community and formulating a plan are important first steps, monitoring progress toward housing goals is critical in shortening the ‘feedback loop’, allowing councils to make regular corrections to keep them on track toward their goals.

Is there a better way?

The challenge, as we suspected, is that councils didn’t have such an evidence base ‘at their fingertips’.

The other realisation we came to through this process (and through prior work we’d done with councils facing significant housing challenges) is that the ideal evidence base for housing strategy combines data from a number of sources. – the prototype

So, in close consultation with these councils, a small team at .id have developed a prototype of a new tool called

Last week, we launched the first prototype, commissioned by The City of Whittlesea in Melbourne’s outer north-east.

See the new prototype here.

Whittlesea is in a growth corridor, and the team are strong proponents of evidence-based decision making in planning a housing strategy that meets the needs of their rapidly-growing community. They were keen to work with us on this project because they had well-established metrics for housing strategy, but they didn’t have a consistent source of data to help them monitor progress toward these goals. has been developed to tell a comprehensive picture of housing, by combining all the data required to tell that story – data about the local population and households, housing supply and approval, housing affordability and availability as well as data about prices and incomes.

Expressions of interest

Would you like to trial this evidence base at your council?

We’re currently taking expressions of interest from councils who would like this evidence base made available for their planning teams.

Email Georgia Allan, the project-lead for our housing team –

Please note, this is a tool that has been developed for local government planners and can only be commissioned by local councils. If you are in the private sector, you can find housing, demographic and economic data in our community profiles, social atlases and economic profiles, or learn more about our services for the private sector here.

Georgia Allan

Georgia completed a Masters in Population Studies and Demography at Flinders University in Adelaide. At .id, Georgia is a consultant in .id's housing team. She was heavily involved in the creation and continued development of, the online tool developed to give councils an accessible evidence base for planning and advocacy. Georgia has prepared housing demand and supply analysis for a range of councils, including those in inner-city, middle ring, growth and peri-urban areas. When not in the office, she is likely to be cooking, knitting, crocheting, or buried in a good book.

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