Sustainable Low-Income Housing:
Case Studies and Design Strategies
This report was completed as part of a design studio at the University of Cincinnati, under the direction of Professor Virginia Russell. The introduction is reprinted below; for the full analysis, please download the pdf.
The traditional approach to sustainable low-income housing (to the extent that a "traditional" approach exists) begins with the question "what sustainable strategies can be implemented cheaply?" This approach, however, neglects the important design issues that surround designing in low-income communities. The result is often strong ecological sustainability coupled with questionable social sustainability.
This paper takes the stance that sustainable low-income housing must first and foremost be appropriate for low-income users, otherwise it is little different than sustainable design in general. Therefore, this paper will begin by exploring the needs of low-income communities. (When possible, it has been made specific to the Cincinnati area.) The paper then explores design implications, including elements of sustainable design that are supportive of and compatible with these needs. In order to further elucidate the implementation of sustainable strategies in the design of low-income housing, several examples from around the world are presented. Finally, these case studies are analyzed under the dual lenses of ecological and social sustainability. Cost is, of course, an important part of this analysis (the question of "how can sustainable be made affordable"), but it is not the only (or even primary) element. If the architecture does not work for the users, sustainability makes little difference.
The intent is: (1) to understand the needs of low-income families, and (2) to understand how sustainable design can be made affordable, including both low-cost design strategies and funding sources. The result is a strategy for sustainable design for low-income communities, rather than just inexpensive (or publicly- funded) sustainable design.
This paper does not elaborate on the requirements of sustainable design in general as there is already a large body of literature and knowledge on the subject. The question here is how to effectively apply these existing ideas to low-income housing.
For the complete report, please download the pdf.