How might we rethink urban housing models to increase housing affordability in Taipei?
Cities are getting more and more expensive…
With more than half the world’s population now living in urban environments, the intersection between design and technology has become a fundamental key for making cities more sustainable, affordable, adaptive and efficient. Taipei is emerging as one of the world’s leading innovators of urban planning and design, green architecture, public transportation and smart technology leveraging the Internet of Things. This presents itself as an exciting opportunity area to implement new urban systems that work and adapt to existing products and technologies.
Housing Inequality in Taipei
The current housing market in Taipei faces several major issues. Having one of the World’s lowest price to income ratio, housing inequality remains a pressing issue in Taiwan. While most of the housing in Taiwan are privately bought and sold, only 10% are being rented and due to lack of funding and land, only 0.1% are Government owned social housing. A lot of these privately owned homes also remain unoccupied due low rental yields, housing discrimination, foreign investments and price inflations.
On top of that, due to lax regulation surrounding the renting of homes, the rental market in Taipei takes place mostly in a underground market that has a volume ten times the official market. Tenants enjoy Tax evasion while tenants, particularly young people and senior citizens, are taken advantaged of and are living in substandard “snail” housing without protection or rent subsidy. With the expanding gap between housing prices and annual income in Taipei, how might we rethink urban housing models to increase housing affordability and eliminate housing inequality?
Converting Taipei’s Private Housing to Social Housing
Improving housing affordability can be tackled through many different ways, modular construction, compact living and even co-location construction. However with the case of Taiwan, where significant amounts of existing housing development are privately bought and sold but still remain unoccupied, I wanted to design a solution that would utilize these existing private housing to increase the availability of social housing in Taipei.
Defining the User Experience
Bringing It To Life
Putting It All Together
The initial concept sketch explores a “pay-it-forward” approach that leverages the vast network and high consumption rate of the EasyCard. This concept introduces a new type of “charity card” where cardholders roundup or add an extra dollars when ever they take the bus, metro, train or use the card in general, to fund social initiatives. These funding can be distributed to registered low income individuals to relieve some financial burdens including food and transportation.
I realize simply a “charity” approach will not be sustainable. I shifted my focus to “investments”. There are currently many interesting housing ownership models that involves co-ownership such as London’s Help to Buy program and Brown University’s Brown to Brown Home ownership. Using these co-ownership models, I developed a refined concept that takes form as a community investment program to help government purchase privately owned housing and help increase housing affordability.
I then came up with two investment systems. One focuses on increasing housing affordability through reduced rent where the Taipei City government takes the community funding to purchase homes from private developments and convert them into Public Housing for registered Low Income earners. The second sytem focuses on reducing property prices by purchasing half of a home funded by the community as a form of housing subsidy.
In the end, I decided to go with the first system. My intention for this project is to help citizens in the lowest income bracket. These people live paycheck to paycheck and aren’t able to buy a home, hence the second system will neglect this key demographic. The first investment model also provide more immediate and steady flow of investment retuns in the form of rent. This provides a stronger incentive for the public to partake in this initiative. Having selected a system, I designed an infograph detailing the main idea of the system which I then sent out to the public for feed back.
When thinking about the user experiences involved into this new system, I wanted to design a mobile app that aims to provide transparency on government activity and the flow of money. The main goals including to allow users to track where their donation is being invested in, the status of purchase, as well as their manage their earnings. I narrowed down the scope of the product into two categories;
User Controlled: A user controlled experience focuses on putting investment at the forefront, allowing users to control and build their own investment portfolio by selecting which homes they invest their funds in. This is an active investment experience.
User Contributed: A user contributed experience focuses on putting charity first and investment second. This is an automated experience where investments are made on behalf of the users. Users contribute funds and are then able to monitor and track earnings. This is a more casual investment experience.
I started designing several of the more important screens and iterations for each based on the two different approaches I’ve defined. The first two screens are for the User Controlled approach, the home page shows the user how much funds they have left along with the different property investment opportunities to select from. On the other hand, the next two screens show a User Contributed approach where there is only one investment target.
In the end, I decided to shift my focus to the User Contributed approach. I felt that this approach simplified the user experience by reducing the scope of the App. With an assigned investment target, the Government will have more control over which property is being purchased and will also have the power to channel community efforts into raising funds for one property at a time, allowing for the conversions of these private developments into public social housing at a more efficient rate.
The home page shows the total donated by the user along with the investment revenues. They also see the current investment target and have access to all their property ownership.
Each property page provides users with information about ownership details, purchase history, status of funding and housing speci cations.
The investment revenue page shows users a real time graph of their earnings. This is also the page where users can transfer their earns to either a connected Bank or back to their EasyCard.
As part of ensuring the success of this initiative, it is important to design public advertisement that will quickly inform and draw attention from the public. I came up a direction focused on highlighting the project as an exciting investment opportunity. I wanted to utilize illustrations and animations to not only draw attention but also convey a story that summarizes the investment experience. I ended up with an isometric design that plays heavily on color .
The posters, both static and animated, will be placed all over Taipei subway stations and other places that accept EasyCard. The current poster iteration says “Take the subway and earn money”. This phrase can be easily swapped out with other words for example “Take the bus and earn money” when placed at a bus stop. I hope to use this simple yet appealing phrase to draw attention from people who are busy and constantly moving at places such as a subway station.
With a concept of the system, user interface as well as marketing assets completed, I moved on to designing a proposal booklet (embedded below) with the intention of showing the people at EasyCard Corp and the Taipei City Government to receive feedback and conduct a feasibility test.
I am currently awaiting responses from the Taipei City Government. Check back for updates!
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Some of the survey results
Initial concept brainstorm
One of the most prominent smart city initiatives in Taipei is it’s innovation on mobility in the city. Taipei has one of the world’s smartest public transportation systems. From the Taipei Mass Rapid Transit to their YouBike public bike share network, Taipei has found effective solutions to solving mobility and livability in the city. They have even expanded from inner city mobility to intercity mobility by connecting multiple transportation systems together. Beyond that, they have also implement an EasyCard that unifies it’s numerous transportation services from multiple cities including the MRT, bus, taxi, trains, high speed rail and bicycle. It uses a simple rechargeable card to conveniently pay fares on public transportation and to make payments at a rapidly increasing number of vending machines, shops and restaurants. Utilizing the numerous convenience stores in Taipei, the EasyCard has been made extremely accessible and free for all citizens to that point that 89% of the population owns a EasyCard in Taipei.
While Taipei is aggressively developing new smart city infrastructures, it is important to rethink the direction in which technology and the IoT in people’s interactions with the urban environment. With rising issues such as data privacy and security, how might we think about future urban interactions without putting technology at the forefront? Instead of striving for a completely “Smart” Taipei, we should be striving towards a more balanced future where technology is minimal and implemented cleverly with the goal to solve problems and be built around the needs of the people who’s problems they are trying to solve.
To further my understanding surrounding the stakeholders, I conducted a survey with the goal of understanding what people value in their homes as well as their aspirations towards home ownership. The results indicate a pessimistic outlook on home ownership, with little to none of the respondants from the 20 to 30 year old range indicating plans to purchase a home. Illustrations of home plans also reveal a pattern of minimal needs including small living spaces, minimal amenities.
The effected population lies mostly with young working people and senior citizens. While there are current housing models aimed at supporting these target groups, the dominating private development housing models make it difficult to sustain and expand. Social Public Housing remains a significant small portion of the housing market in Taipei due to lack of land and funding resources. Newer housing models such as Co-Living, introduces elements of intergenerational, cultural exchange and social living amongst youth and as a result provides better and more affordable living experiences. This model, however currently only provides around 100 spaces through out Taipei, barely enough to house everyone in need of decent affordable housing.
Snail House (蝸居) : ~NTD 4,000 / month | Image from Apple Daily News Taiwan
Image source: Taiwan News