Housing policy

According to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Art. 25), having a home is a basic human need and an essential good. Its conditions of access, supply, management, distribution, and ownership structure need to be properly thought through to avoid conflicts and rivalries between competing uses (e.g. affordable housing or lofts for couples with double income and no kids or office space), which has consequences on its sustainability.

In our research group, we analyse the sustainability of housing from a neoinstitutional perspective. The institutional resource regime (IRR) analysis approach refers to all formal rules in force within a specific area, which are grounded either in public policies (including use and protection policies) or property rights (including property titles, contracts, conventions, etc.), and which determine use and transfer rights of a given resource (e.g., housing). We argue that a keen understanding of these diverse mechanisms between public policy and property rights is needed in order to analyse the housing resource’s sustainability. We research focuses on issues of socio-ecological justice, (de)commodification of housing stocks, and power relations in the use and distribution of housing.

«Governing densification – The impact of performance-based planning on qualitative urban densification (GoverDENSE)»
Duration From january 2020

Funding Swiss National Science Foundation
Description The densification of the built environment – known in Switzerland as “inward urban development” – is an important step towards more sustainable land uses. However, like all socio-political processes, densification produces winners but also losers: it can potentially lead to more traffic, more noise, loss of green surfaces, loss of view, greater clienteles for common services, and above all higher housing costs.


Densification means dealing with the already built environment. Planning therefore takes place in a tight network of existing rights and duties. Against this complex institutional background, the project examines the governance of the densification processes and the conditions under which densification can take place, while retaining urban quality for all, including more vulnerable socio-economic groups.


The project compares the two functional regions of Bern in Switzerland and Utrecht in the Netherlands. We will reconstruct eight “stories of densification” (four per country). In each national environment, a detailed analysis of the institutions, policy instruments, performance incentives, actors’ strategies and resource conditions (sustainability) will be performed. At the same time, a GIS-based analysis will reconstruct densification processes across the entire functional regions, including socio-political and economic indicators.


This project will help to conceptualize densification as a governance challenge. A major challenge is to increase density without intensifying social inequalities. New findings are intended to provide effective ways to increase densification while ensuring high urban quality for all.


Involved persons
Final product

ResiDENSE: Governance of Densification for Sustainable Housing Development in Swiss Municipalities under increasing Densification Pressure

Duration January 2017 to December 2020 

Funding Self-financed
Description In 2018, the majority of the world’s population (55.3%) was living in cities. By 2030, this share will globally increase to 60% when one in every three people will live in urban areas (UN, 2018). This creates great challenges, but also opportunities in terms of tackling climate change, resource depletion, and environmental degradation (Dixon, 2011). Densification is assumed to play a decisive role in the fight against urban sprawl and the overuse of non-renewable resources (Burton, 2000; Dieleman & Wegener, 2003; Williams, 2004; Holman et al., 2015). Densification is defined as a process leading to higher use-density within existing borderlines of built-up areas (Saglie, 1998). In the built environment, densification strategies (e.g., conversions, subdivisions, modernization, infilling-projects) have been criticised for their socio-economic impacts. Densification can contribute to intensify gentrification, social exclusion, and polarisation processes due to higher rents after redevelopment. Consequently, densification threatens social sustainability dimensions such as housing affordability, residential stability, and neighbourhood cohesion (Lees et al., 2008; Bramley et al., 2009; Jenks & Jones, 2010; Barger, 2016; UN, 2016). Local residents’ resistance can prevent, block, or delay planned densification projects within urban areas. Social acceptance for a project is therefore a prerequisite for realising densification processes (Wexler, 1996; Vallance et al., 2005).

In ResiDENSE, we aim to analyse different local governance mechanisms that support the social acceptance of housing densification through comparative case study analyses. Our research outcomes will provide a detailed answer to the questions how municipalities plan differently for housing densification in the built environment and how they parallelly ensure social sustainability (e.g., housing affordability, access, living quality etc.) of housing development? Parallelly, winners and losers of the new rules of the game (densification) will be identified and the effectiveness and social justice issues related to the densification policies applied will be discussed.

Involved persons
Final product
Dissertation of Gabriela Debrunner
Housing regimes and their impacts on affordable housing for the population
Duration January 2014 to December 2017

Funding Self-financed
Description Tough housing markets and rising rents have led to the emergence of (new) housing policy demands in many Swiss cities. Strategies for an affordable supply of housing are thus moving back into the political limelight. In many municipalities, for example, local popular initiatives to develop and expand housing policy measures are being and have been discussed and decided upon. At cantonal and national level, too, debates on the adaptation of corresponding legal regulations have recently gained momentum.

Municipalities can influence the housing market through their actions. However, their actions are tied to appropriate cantonal and national framework conditions and depend on cooperation with housing market players. This research project investigates this local design and handling of housing policy and its contribution to affordable housing for the public.


Involved persons
Final product  Dissertation of Ivo Balmer