Countering the “Troublesome Unit”: Compensatory Design to Create Equity in Social Housing | The Plan Journal

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Christina Bollo

Housing scholars have shown that moving has inherent hazards and can create disruption for social housing residents as well as collective disruption within communities. This paper draws from social housing case study sites in the Pacific Northwest of the United States. Analyzing those apartments with the highest rates of turnover, what property managers call “troublesome units,” revealed architectural attributes that influence frequent moves. These attributes are related to apartment size, layout, and location within the building. To reconcile the resultant inequity in apartment design, this paper proposes a theory of compensatory design, in which the architect offsets unavoidable negative attributes with positive elements to equalize turnovers between apartments. Ultimately, architects who see a troublesome unit, not as a lost cause, but as a challenge to excellent design solutions, will better serve their clients, the residents who live in the buildings, and the communities at large through the reduction of lost housing.