Evaluating housing outcomes

Prof David Clapham and Dr Chris Foye, outline the CaCHE exemplar project Wellbeing as a tool for evaluating housing outcomes and housing policy impacts, which commenced in February 2018.

“What Would Success Look Like?”. That was the question posed in a recent blog post by residential analyst Neal Hudson. “Without a framework for what we need and want from housing,” Hudson argued, “our ability to understand and fix it appropriately will be compromised.” The question of how to judge success permeates all scales of housing policy and practice; from the local housing association trying to define and estimate their Social Return on Investment (SROI) to the policymakers in Whitehall evaluating Help to Buy.

To an extent, the question of what constitutes success is obvious and uncontroversial: thousands of people homeless on the street is not success. However, we can only go so far in painting a feasible picture of success before we start to reach areas of conflict. If a regeneration project increases average incomes, but also increases levels of income inequality, then does this constitute success?

One of the reasons why we disagree over whether a housing intervention was a success or not is because the evidence is ambiguous or misunderstood. For example, it may not be clear what effect regeneration projects have on the existing residents’ housing situation, health, income, and well-being. The other source of conflict is to do with values. Constructing a framework for success inevitably requires us to make value-based judgements. But different organisations and individuals prioritise different values – equality, economic efficiency, liberty – and this can lead to conflicting value-based judgements.

Against this background, the objectives of this CaCHE exemplar project are twofold. First, we will examine the extent to which the framework for success adopted really matters when evaluating outcomes. If well-being, health, equality, income, education… – those things that we value as a society – all move together, then it does not really matter which framework for success we adopt so long as we measure the outcomes accurately. However, there is quite a lot of existing evidence that suggests that this might not always be the case. For example, although there is a clear positive relationship between income per capita and life expectancy, the graph below shows there are several countries below which buck this trend. Iceland, for example, has higher life expectancy than the USA despite having much lower income per capita; and Cuba, Greece, China, Sri Lanka, and Iceland all have higher life expectancy than the much wealthier Saudi Arabia (data is taken from 2016 UN Human Development Index).  How does this picture look for housing outcomes in the UK? Are increases in the average size of living space correlated with housing satisfaction? These are just some of the questions we will be addressing.

blog - life expectancy

If these different measures do not all correlate then we face the dilemma of choosing which one(s) to prioritise: is it more important avoid overcrowding than to improve housing satisfaction? This prioritisation process inevitably requires us to make a value-based judgement, and the second question we pose in this project is: can we make better ­value-based judgements when defining our framework for success? On first impressions, the idea of making better value-based judgement might seem like naïve idealism. A common perception in policy, practice and academia, is that value-based judgements are purely ‘subjective’ and therefore cannot be subject to reasoned debate in the same way that evidence can. However, we can all agree that particular value-based judgements are unreasonable – no one could reasonably claim that homelessness is a good thing, nor could anyone reasonably claim that health outcomes are irrelevant when assessing housing outcomes. Therefore, in this second stage, we critically evaluate the value-based judgements which underpin several commonly adopted frameworks for success questioning the extent to which they are reasonable.

It is all very well criticising existing frameworks but the third question we need to ask is ‘what are the alternatives’? Our current thinking is that subjective well-being measures represent a good framework for success, but these need to be supplemented with a more ‘objective’ measure like Amartya Sen’s capabilities approach. Realistically though, we can only develop a better framework for success in collaboration with housing organisations: academics are good at evaluating whether a framework is philosophically and theoretically coherent, but they are much weaker at understanding whether it is implementable and user-friendly. Therefore, a large part of this project involves identifying existing good-practice in evaluating housing outcomes.

If you are a housing organisation who is interested in how best to evaluate housing outcomes, then we would like to hear from you. You may be a Local Authority who has developed an innovative way of assessing the social-value of a regeneration project, or a house builder who wants to better estimate the social value of a new development. In any case, please get in touch:

Prof David Clapham (University of Reading) is a Co-Investigator with the UK Collaborative Centre for Housing Evidence and Dr Chris Foye is Knowledge Exchange Associate for the UK Collaborative Centre for Housing Evidence, based in London.

Author: Prof David Clapham and Dr Chris Foye
Date: 27/03/18


Date: March 27, 2018 11:30 am

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