Designing with Intent: Public Housing and Resident Involvement:


How does design change the way people in affordable housing live?  What type of resident engagement can help inform and improve the living conditions of those in affordable housing?  Architects and designers have worked on this issue for years.  If you are a designer or developer and have good strategies, please email us at and let us know.

Talk to the Residents

The design firm Studio Completiva used both qualitative and quantitative surveys to understand how and when residents use and interact with space.  They found that qualitative surveys were helpful because they could sit down and talk with people and understand what they want and need.  They also find when doing this they need to find different types of residents that make up the total population of work.  They took several videos of their interactions.  They also had residents map out where they spent the most time, the least time, what they liked, what they did not like.  Of interest, some residents marked down where there were places of conflict. These types of things can help inform design.  For example, where should they make doors bigger or lights brighter.  If there are areas of conflict, what can they do with design to improve upon these situations.

The videos gave great first-person perspective from multiple residents on what was working and what was not working.  The elderly were happy to have a courtyard for the building so they could get outside easily.  They also liked the parks nearby with easy accessibility. They also said it was hard to move around in the laundry room.  Younger people said that they felt strange using the common space because it made people uneasy.  These videos gave a glimpse into the lives of the actual people who live in those spaces to improve the design.

It is also important to think about what does resident and community engagement mean?  How do we go from the micro to the macro?  What is it that people want? Community engagement is important but it is not always easy to understand what people want or need.

Designing Forward:

Affordable housing providers need to continue working with world-class designers and architects to understand what do our residents need.  We need to think about spaces in a building.  That includes spaces within an apartment, an apartment itself, the building, the common spaces and how that building fits into the neighborhood.  You need to have a great building, great property management and great administration.  If the design of the building is off though, it can be a very bad situation. There is much to learn in the realm of design and resident engagement.  Affordable housing providers should continue to work with design firms to press forward on this important topic.



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