Human rights and housing unaffordability: Applying policy practice engagement to a wicked problem


  • Michael Webster University of Auckland, Aotearoa New Zealand



Housing unaffordability, policy practice engagement, Universal Declaration of Human Rights


INTRODUCTION: In working with marginalised communities, social workers are confronted with the consequences of housing unaffordability. The 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), adopted by Aotearoa New Zealand, identifies housing deprivation as a human right of relevance to social work. This study explores the application of the Policy Practice Engagement (PPE) framework (Gal & Weiss-Gal, 2015) as a tool by which social workers can contribute to policy-making processes to address the human right to affordable housing.

METHOD: The project used a descriptive/exploratory design. Data were collected by semi- structured interviews of eight subject matter experts in housing affordability: two public sector economists; one private sector economist/developer; two public sector urban planners; one public policy advisor; one non-governmental policy analyst; and one private sector housing strategist. Data were analysed thematically, followed by an inter-rater process.

FINDINGS: Participants identified human rights as relevant to the wicked problem (Grint, 2005) of housing affordability. Participants also identified political, economic and environmental factors impacting affordable housing. They considered that these factors are found in local body planning regulations, leading to land supply constraints. Some participants considered that housing unaffordability is the price paid to live in liveable cities.

CONCLUSIONS: The PPE framework offers a conceptual structure through which social workers can address housing unaffordability. By understanding the factors causing unaffordability, social workers are enabled to examine why and how they should contribute to policy processes.


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How to Cite

Webster, M. (2021). Human rights and housing unaffordability: Applying policy practice engagement to a wicked problem. Aotearoa New Zealand Social Work, 33(4), 31–46.



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