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Public housing is a form of housing tenure in which the property is owned by a government authority, which may be central or local. Social housing is an umbrella term referring to rental housing which may be owned and managed by the state, by not-for-profit organizations, or by a combination of the two, usually with the aim of providing affordable housing.

Although the common goal of public housing is to provide affordable housing, the details, terminology, definitions of poverty and other criteria for allocation vary.

By country


Public housing in Australia is usually provided by departments of state and territory governments, with funding provided by both state and federal governments. There are over 300,000 public housing dwellings in Australia, consisting of low-density housing on master-planned estates located in suburban areas, and also inner-city high-rise apartments in Melbournemarker and Sydneymarker.



In Canadamarker, projects are usually a block of purpose-built government subsidized housing operated by a government agency, often simply referred to as projects with easier-to-manage town houses. Canada, especially Torontomarker, still maintains primarily large high-rise clustered developments in working class neighborhoods, a system that has fallen into disfavor in both the UK and US. In Toronto, large projects house largely immigrants and refugees, and lower-income Canadians.

Following the decentralisation of public housing to local municipalities, Social Housing Services Corporation was created in the Province of Ontariomarker in 2002 to provide group services for social housing providers (public housing, non-profit housing and co-operative housing). It is a non-profit corporation which provides Ontario housing providers and service managers with bulk purchasing, insurance, investment and information services that add significant value to their operations.

Recently there has been a move toward the integration of public housing with market housing and other uses. In the notorious Downtown Eastsidemarker of Vancouvermarker and revitalization plans for properties like Regent Parkmarker and Lawrence Heights in Toronto aim to provide better accommodations for low income residents, and connect them to the greater community.

A plan to house Vancouver's homeless is taking shape on the drawing board of a local architect. It calls for the rapid erection of temporary villages assembled from the same type of modular units that mining companies provide for remote workers. "Stop Gap Shelters" is what architect Gregory Henriquez calls it. "All of us in this community have long been advocates for permanent housing," he said. "But we've gotten to the point where the numbers of homeless are so staggering that I'm left wondering if we will ever catch up doing it that way. I don't think we can. I think there has to be a stop-gap measure. And that's what this is." Henriquez drew up plans for a motel-like village, with 48 suites clustered around a central courtyard. The colourful compound includes a managers' office, a covered patio, and a second storey meeting room all within a typical 120-by-200-foot city lot.


Finland may have had the first public housing. In Helsinki, in 1909 four wooden houses designed by the architect A. Nyberg were built on Kirstinkuja (formerly Kristiinankatu) for the city’s workers. The residents were mainly working-class families with several children. The apartments had an average of five people per room, sometimes up to eight.The tiny apartments were equipped with running water, a pantry and an attic cupboard. Every apartment had its own toilet in the cellar. Electric lighting was installed in 1918.

The homes and lives of worker families in Helsinki from 1909 to 1985 are presented in a museum near the Linnanmäki amusement park. The museum is currently being renovated and will reopen in summer 2009.


Francemarker has a long tradition of state intervention in the housing market. After World War II, population increased at a rate previously unknown, the rural exodus increased, while war damage had reduced the number of houses in many cities. Rental prices dramatically rose, and the government made a law in 1949 to block them, effectively ending the economic benefits of housing investment; Additionally, construction was strictly regulated which made building very difficult without political support.

The government launched a huge construction plan, including the creation of new towns ("villes nouvelles") and new suburbs with HLM (Habitation à Loyer Modéré, "housing at moderated rents"). The state had the money, the legal means to acquire the land and could provide some advantages to the companies that built its huge housing complexes of hundreds of apartments. Quality was also effectively regulated, resulting in decent or even top quality housing for the standard of the time (this was in the 1950s and 1960s). Political forces used the HLM weapon effectively, for the family that was given the opportunity to have an HLM could only be thankful to its local mayor; besides, a "communist" mayor was always happy to have as much HLM as possible, for their tenants were poorer and more likely to vote for him, while its "gaullist" neighbour was as much happy to see them leave.

HLM construction was also a major (and illegal) source of political financing: building companies had to pay back the political party of the mayor that launched an HLM program. This resulted in corruption and some scandals.

France still retains this system, a recent law making it an obligation for every town to have at least 20% HLM. Nowadays HLM represents roughly half of the rental market.

While they succeeded in giving lower-income families a place to live, this system also led to the creation of suburban ghettos. There, deprived strata of the population, mostly of immigrant origin and suffering massive under-employment, were left to simmer away from the gentrified urban centres, sometimes becoming rife with social tensions and violence. Tackling this problem at its roots is all but simple, with a lack of success despite many plans, so that a blind "law-and-order" attitude is now common in French internal politics, with few effective results and violent symptoms.You can see a part of the Paris suburban ghettos here :[26734]


see also Modernist Housing Estates

Between 1925 and 1930 Germany was the site of innovative and extensive municipal public housing projects, mostly in Berlinmarker, Cologne and Frankfurt am Mainmarker. These Siedlungen (settlements), were made necessary by the dreadful living conditions of pre-war urban tenements. The right to a healthy dwelling was written into the 1919 Weimar Constitution, but few dwellings were built until economic stability in 1925.

These settlements were low-rise, no more than 5 stories, and in suburban settings. Residents were provided access to light, air, and sun. The size, shape, orientation and architectural style of Germany's public housing were informed by the recent experience of the Vienese and the Dutch, the anti-urban Garden City Movement in Britain, by new industrialized mass-production and pre-fabrication building techniques, by the novel use of steel and glass, and by the progressive-liberal policies of the Social Democrats.

Architect Martin Wagner (with Bruno Taut) was responsible for the thousands of dwellings built in and around Berlin, including the Horseshoe Siedlung (named for its shape), and Uncle Tom's Cabin Siedlung (named for a local restaurant). But Wagner was second to the city planner Ernst May in Frankfurt. May was responsible for the construction of 23 separate settlements, 15,000 total units, in five years. He ran his own sizable research facility to investigate, for instance, air-flow in various floorplan configurations, construction techniques, etc. The Austrian architect Margarete Schütte-Lihotzky applied the principles of Taylorism to the kitchen workspace and developed the Frankfurt kitchen while working for Ernst May.

Beyond technical research May also published two magazines and embarked on a significant public-relations project, with films and classes and public exhibitions, to make Neues Bauen acceptable to the public. In the late 1920s the principles of equal access to "Licht, Luft und Sonne" and the social effects of a guaranteed ""Existenzminimum" became a matter of lively popular debate all over Germany. One indirect result of this publicity was the American housing movement: a young Catherine Bauer attended one of May's conferences in 1930, and wrote her seminal "Modern Housing" based on research done in Frankfurt and with Dutch architect JJP Oud.

Increasing pressure from the rising Nazis brought this era to an end in 1933. A majority of the German public housing experts had Social Democrat or Communist sympathies and were forced out of the country.

Hong Kong

In Hong Kongmarker, the government provides public housing through flats which are rented at a lower price than the markets, and through the Home Ownership Scheme, which are sold at a lower price. These are built and administered by the Hong Kong Housing Authority and the Hong Kong Housing Society. Nearly half of Hong Kong population lives in public housing.


In the Netherlandsmarker, the rent for the cheaper rental homes is kept low through governmental oversight and regulation. These types of homes are known as sociale huurwoningen.In practice this is accomplished by non-profit private housing foundations or associations (toegelaten instellingen). Due to frequent mergers the number of these organizations dropped to around 430 (2009). They manage 2.4 million dwellings. The majority of the low-rent apartments in the Netherlands are owned by such organisations. Since the policy changes in 1995 the social housing organizations have become financially independent focussing on their role as social entrepreneurs. In most Dutch municipalities there came to exist a certain minimum capacity of social housing throughout the last decades. In many cities such as Amsterdammarker, The Haguemarker, Rotterdammarker and Utrechtmarker the percentage of social housing approaches or even passes 50 percent. The public (financial) supervision is done by the central fund for housing (Centraal Fonds Volkshuisvesting Dutch housing policy is based on a concept of universal access to affordable housing for all and the prevention of segregation.

New Zealand

In New Zealandmarker, public housing, known as state housing, was introduced by the Government in 1937 for citizens unable to afford private rents.Following WWII, most local authorities also started providing social housing, mainly for elderly people with low incomes.

Republic of Ireland

In Irelandmarker, public housing and halting sites (sites used by semi-nomadic Traveller communities) have been built by Local Authorities and are known as Local Authority Accommodation. Dublin Corporation and the former Dublin County Council provided the lion's share of Irish Local Authority Housing, with County Longfordmarker having the largest ratio of Local Authority to private housing in the state. Ireland has promoted tenant purchase on favourable terms, and many former social housing areas are now completely or almost completely privately owned.


HDB-built flats in Singapore.

In Singaporemarker, the public housing program, particularly the planning and development of new public housing and the allocation of rental units and resale of existing ownership units, is managed by the Housing and Development Board. Day-to-day management of public housing communities has largely been delegated to Town (local community) Councils.

Most of the residential housing developments in Singapore are publicly governed and developed. Most of the residents in public housing are owners rather than tenants (as it originally was in the 60s).

Since most Singaporeans reside in public housing, public housing in Singapore is not generally considered as a sign of poverty or lower standards of living as compared to public housing in other countries where land constraint is less of an issue and property pricing may be significantly cheaper. Property prices for the smallest public housing can often be higher than privately owned and developed standalone properties such as townhouses and apartments in other countries after currency correlation.

Soviet Union

In the Soviet Unionmarker, most of the houses built after World War II were big, usually 5-10 stories high, with small apartments. In these boroughs, the goal was saving space and creating as many apartments as possible.


The aversive mentality of the Spaniards to rental houses and government spending cuts in the 80's have dropped "viviendas de protección pública" to minimum. They were common in the Francisco Franco (1936-75) era. Now that lack of housing is a social problem, especially with the high rise of house prices, many sectors are currently asking for more public houses to rent.


The Million Programme (Miljonprogrammet) is the familiar term for an ambitious housing programme implemented in Sweden between 1965 and 1974 with the aim of building one million new dwellings in 10 years; in the beginning strongly influenced by the "Garden City" developments in England during the 40's - 50's, but towards the end the developments were mostly built as single family homes along curving streets and cul-de-sacs and/or as immense tower blocks, similar to many residential districts built in Eastern Europe. Most were built detached from pre-existing neighbourhoods, often some distance from the existing urban areas and connected via mass transit to the older developments and city centre.

United Kingdom

In the United Kingdommarker public housing is often referred to by the British public as "council housing" and "council estate", based on the historical role of district and borough councils in running public housing. Local semi-independent non-profit housing associations have begun to operate some of the older council housing estates in the United Kingdom. Housing Associations are now referred to as 'Registered Social Landlords' (RSLs). Despite being non-profit based, they charge generally higher rents than council properties. However, in England the Government has introduced its rent re-structuring policy which aims to bring council and RSL rents into line by 2012. Since 1996, public housing has been referred to as 'Social Housing' to encompass council and RSLs. Additionally local planning departments may require private-sector developers to offer "affordable housing" as a condition of planning permission. This accounts for another £700m of Government funding each year for tenants in part of the United Kingdom.

Governments since the early 1990s have also encouraged "mixed tenure" in regeneration areas and on "new-build" housing estates, offering a range of ownership and rental options, with a view to engineering social harmony through including "social housing" and "affordable housing" options. A recent research report has argued that the evidence base for tenure mixing remains thin.

Most UK social housing tenants have the right to swap homes with another tenant even if their landlords are different. This is called a "mutual exchange".

United States

In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, government involvement in housing for the poor was chiefly in the introduction of buildings standards. Atlanta's Techwood Homesmarker, built in 1936, was the nation's first public housing project. Most housing communities were developed from the 1930s onward and initial public housing was largely slum regeneration, with no nationwide expansion of public housing. This helped ease the concerns of a health-conscious public by eliminating or altering neighborhoods commonly considered dangerous, and reflected progressive-era sanitation initiatives. However, the advent of make-shift tent communities during the Great Depression caused concern in the Administration. Public housing in its earliest decades was usually much more working-class and middle-class and white than it was by the 1960s. Many Americans associate large, multi-story towers with public housing, but early projects were actually low-rise, though Le Corbusier superblocks caught on before World War II.

One of the most unique US public housing initiatives was the development of subsidized middle-class housing during the late New Deal (1940-42) under the auspices of the Mutual Ownership Defense Housing Division of the Federal Works Agency under the direction of Colonel Lawrence Westbrook. These eight projects were purchased by the residents after the Second World War and as of 2009 seven of the projects continue to operate as mutual housing corporations owned by their residents. These projects are among the very few definitive success stories in the history of the US public housing effort.

Public housing was only built with the blessing of the local government, and projects were almost never built on suburban greenfield, but through regeneration of older neighborhoods. The destruction of tenements and eviction of their low-income residents consistently created problems in nearby neighborhoods with "soft" real estate markets. Houses, apartments or other residential units are usually subsidized on a rent-geared-to-income (RGI) basis. Some communities have now embraced a mixed income, with both assisted and market rents, when allocating homes as they become available.

Public housing in the US has been overhauled in recent years after criticism that neglect and concentrated poverty have contributed to increased crime. HUD's 1993 HOPE VI program addresses these issues by funding renewal of public housing to decrease its density and allow for tenants with mixed income levels. Projects continue to have a reputation for violence, drug use, and prostitution, especially in New Orleansmarker, New York Citymarker, Chicagomarker, Washington D.C.marker as well as others leading to the passage of a 1996 federal "one strike you're out" law, enabling the eviction of tenants convicted of crimes, especially drug-related, or merely as a result of being tried for some crimes. Other attempts to solve these problems include the 1978 Section 8 Housing Program, which encourages the private sector to construct affordable homes, and subsidises public housing. This assistance can be "project based," subsidising properties, or "tenant based," which provides tenants with a voucher, accepted by some landlords.

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