Researchers from the City Futures Research Centre at UNSW Arts, Design & Architecture and UNSW Canberra have a marked presence in the 2021 projects funded by the Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute’s (AHURI) National Research Program. Their success builds on UNSW’s research strength in Urban and Regional Planning, confirmed by a 5 (well above world standard) in the Excellence in Research for Australia (ERA) 2018 rankings, the most recent ERA round.

UNSW Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Research, Professor Nicholas Fisk applauded the researchers on their funding success.

“UNSW has performed really well in the highly competitive 2021 AHURI funding round, which further strengthens our urban planning and housing research capacity across the University,” he says.

“Eight UNSW researchers are collaborating across seven funded projects and leading four of those seven. This year, the majority of the UNSW researchers are at City Futures Research Centre while its pleasing to see our first project out of UNSW Canberra, led by Dr Milad Ghasri at the School of Engineering & Information Technology.”

AHURI is a national independent research network exclusively dedicated to housing, homelessness, cities and related urban research. The projects it funds are “topical, important and interesting”, according to Scientia Associate Professor Hazel Easthope, Director of UNSW AHURI Research Centre.

“They are practical and policy-relevant projects, based on rigorous analysis and research, and they're on important, timely topics,” she says. “For example, a project I'm leading – delivering sustainable apartment housing – sits under a wider inquiry project called ‘Housing in a circular economy’. It’s about how we can support a transition to the development and redevelopment of more sustainable housing. In the current context, when people are concerned about housing delivery, housing affordability, but also environmental impacts, we are asking pretty significant questions.”

Associate Professor Easthope says one of the many benefits of participating in AHURI projects is that they require collaboration between researchers at two or more universities. In 2021, UNSW researchers will work with colleagues at Sydney University, RMIT, Swinburne University of Technology, University of South Australia, University of Adelaide, University of Tasmania, University of the Sunshine Coast and Curtin University.

“This means researchers can draw on complementary skills across all housing and urban research areas, and with researchers in different locations, it's easier to do research across different jurisdictions,” Associate Professor Easthope says.

“Also, the reports are summarised and circulated widely and are read by policymakers and practitioners.”

Another positive aspect of AHURI projects is the mix of experience in the researchers involved, according to Associate Professor Easthope.

“AHURI supports projects with a mix of early career and mid-career and more senior academics. The projects help new researchers build a research profile and develop networks across the participating universities,” she says.

UNSW researchers on AHURI projects commencing in 2021

AHURI funds overarching inquiries, which include inquiry (sub) projects, and stand-alone projects.

The ‘Housing in a circular economy’ inquiry, which includes UNSW researchers Professor Hal Pawson, Professor Mattheos Santamouris and Associate Professor Easthope, will establish a framework for delivering better housing outcomes for environmental sustainability. The inquiry will focus on four key housing issues: neighbourhood-scale developments, apartments, retrofit and building materials.

Associate Professor Easthope will lead ‘Sustainable apartment housing: new build and retrofit’, an inquiry project within the broader ‘Housing in a circular economy’ inquiry. Other UNSW researchers on the apartment project are Dr Laura Crommelin and Dr Gloria Pignatta.

Professor Pawson will work on the ‘Financing home ownership: opportunities and challenges’ inquiry. The research will consider how financing home ownership has evolved and the implications of alternative policy options. Within the inquiry, he will lead an inquiry project, ‘Assisting first home buyers: an international review’, which also includes UNSW’s Dr Chris Martin.

UNSW researchers are also involved in three stand-alone projects. Dr Martin (lead) and Dr Crommelin will work on ‘Regulation of residential tenancies and impacts on investment’. Dr Martin and Dr Edgar Liu (adjunct) will work on ‘Retirement villages: business models, consumer experiences and regulation’. Dr Ghasri (lead) and Associate Professor Easthope will research ‘Predicting risk to inform housing policy and practice’.

Belinda Henwood