The term “affordable housing” has many stigmas attached to it and to its residents. Although research has found these stigmas as false, not-in-my-back-yard (NIMBY) activists still use them to try to keep affordable housing out of their neighborhood. Residents fear that affordable housing will be unattractive, poorly maintained, lower property values, and increase crime in the area. Because architectural design could affect property values, crime, maintenance, and its attractiveness, it makes sense to consider whether design alone (something we can control) can reduce stigmatization towards affordable housing. Thus, the following dissertation examines the use of architectural design as a tool to alleviate affordable housing stigma.
To examine this issue, I designed, implemented, and analyzed three survey studies. Each study surveyed homeowners within the United States at either the local, state, or national level. The first study, Design and the Stigma of Affordable Housing, found that homeowners who could correctly identify affordable housing were less likely to accept it near them than those who could not. This suggests that when affordable housing fits the existing fabric and blends in with the neighborhood, it is more likely accepted than if it is poorly designed and does not fit in with the neighborhood. The second study, Symbolism of Affordable Housing, examined the role of design aesthetics and symbolic meaning of affordable housing to uncover effects of specific design elements and building styles on perceptions that a house is an affordable house. The study found that a building’s style and its design elements evoke a sense of affordability over others. This suggests that even if the costs are higher, planners, developers, and architects need to design and build affordable housing that resemble single-family homes, that uses a non-plain exterior, materials that look expensive like brick, ornate, more windows, large doors and entrances, more landscaping, chimneys, and columns to reduce its association with affordable housing. The third study, Housing Design to Alleviate Affordable Housing Stigma, sought to develop a measure of affordable housing stigma and to establish its factor structure and psychometric properties. I developed a 28-item questionnaire around the seven stigmas of affordable housing identified in the literature. Notably, the analyses found that the design aesthetics of affordable housing related to perceived property value, maintenance, and crime. This suggests that good design can have positive effects on property value, maintenance, and crime. These findings offer a holistic view of affordable housing stigma, which can help advocates, planners, and developers to create more inclusive communities.
The findings from these studies have several implications for planning practice. The first two studies suggest ways to alleviate affordable housing stigma by providing specific design elements and building styles to make homes look less affordable. The third study suggests that improving the curbside appeal of affordable housing may reduce affordable housing stigma. For researchers, the findings of the third study help frame affordable housing stigma and its complex relationships. By decreasing the stigma associated with affordable housing, higher-opportunity neighborhoods might be more likely to support affordable housing in their neighborhoods, which could help reduce segregation and concentrated poverty.