The research on housing quality is comprehensive and broad. Residents’ evaluation of quality is studied within a variety of disciplines. There is a fairly good knowledge on a general level regarding people’s values of housing quality. Safety and security, social relations to neigh-bours, the area’s reputation as well as the design of local environment and dwelling units have been shown to be important aspects of housing quality.
The overall picture of how to strike the balance between certain levels of quality against input of resources from the housing management is not studied to the same extent. Different actors within housing management may have differing and even conflicting views of quality and efficiency. Short-term economical judgements can increase the risk of sub-optimisations.
Substantial evidence shows that social capital is critical for increasing security and wellbeing in residential areas. The hypothesis is that the creation of social capital within a housing neighbourhood will raise housing quality and facilitate management.
The purpose of this study was to analyse the creation of social capital in a housing neighbourhood context, to make the concept applicable in housing management. A complementary aim was to develop indicators for social capital in housing areas, useful for evaluating the effects of different measures. To find out new methods for the development of housing quality, the study applied case studies of housing management, for evaluation of quality efforts. A multi-disciplinary framework was adopted. Theories of social capital and models for value creation processes are the key concept in the project.
The core of value creation processes is to produce more value at a given input of resources. The basic idea is that value can be created through the supply of goods or services in new ways or in a new form. The customer / consumer is part of the process and will, through this participation, experience a higher quality (Cars, Healey, Madanipour, Magalhães, 2002).
Several theorists in sociology, for example Bourdieu and Coleman, have interpreted social capital. The starting point for this project is primarily the concept as coined by Robert Putnam: ”Social capital here refers to features of social organization, such as trust, norms, and networks, that can improve the efficiency of society by facilitating coordinated actions.” (Putnam, 1993, p. 167). Social capital is seen a common utility, a form of capital that is not owned by individuals, but is created and growing in interpersonal relations, for example among neighbours in a residential area. Putnam (2000) and Lin (2001) discuss the epithets 'bonding' and 'bridging' in connection with SC. Bonding SC tends to exclude other individuals or groups, while the group that possesses the bonding capital benefits from it. Bridging SC will increase trust in other groups and structures in society and contribute to the identification and mutual cooperation with others. In residential areas SC can be a great asset, but the balance between bonding and bridging SC is critical.
The study objects were management projects in a number of public housing companies. The criteria for selection of projects for the study were that their purpose should be to improve housing quality and / or trust and norms between companies and residents. There should be enough of accessible information on the measures taken and the projects should be fairly recent so that staff and residents of the company had clear memories of what happened before, during and after the process. The study covered four case studies, from different medium sized Swedish cities. Data were collected through interviews with key actors and residents, questionnaires to residents and document studies.
The projects were compared regarding how they were designed to achieve their goals, and to what degree they managed to attain those goals. The intention was to find out more about the successes or failures in terms of management measures, regarding the enhancement of participation, security and social capital in the residential areas.
The four case studies focused on very different types of measures. One project aimed at increasing perceived security in a residential area by introducing a special watchman who would offer protection, assistance and social control. Next project held youth activities for primary school children, to prevent youth delinquency. Sports clubs gave free instruction, the municipality offered venues for free and the school administered the activities in cooperation with the housing company. The third project was the renovation of outdoor environment and common areas like laundry rooms and entrances, in a residential area with social problems, to make the area more attractive. The fourth project was a campaign among tenants to counteract the perception of water as a free resource and in particular reduce the consumption of hot water.
The results showed that the projects did not fully meet their stated objectives; to the extent it was possible to make such assessments. The companies had not ensured that there was data to verify the compliance to goals before they started their actions. Rather, the projects may be seen as building up experience in the housing management practice.
The companies themselves have not mentioned the concept of social capital during the planning of the various projects. In practice though, the addressed management problems could be defined as stemming from deficits in social capital. Where the residents did not trust their neighbours there was a lack of bonding capital. If residents saw themselves as victims of circumstances, unable to influence their own situation, the bridging capital was missing.
Social capital can be built from personal relationships between residents and housing companies and between the residents. With time bonding social capital is built up. This in turn contributes to the fostering of bridging social capital. When the residents see that commitment and work for the common good pays off in different ways, trust in the housing company will grow and in a longer perspective also trust in the surrounding society. To participate in the housing management and take on responsibilities can provide new life opportunities, such as an entrance ticket to the job market.
The case studies showed that housing quality is a complex concept. It is a 'fresh product' that must be constantly maintained and developed. Various conditions can affect what is perceived as housing quality, and quality must be kept up all the time. To achieve the best quality as perceived by residents, it is a prerequisite that residents are involved to a high degree.
Reasoning based upon literature and the empirical results suggests that important indicators of social capital in housing areas are related to trust, norms of reciprocity, social control, social networks and civic participation. With regard to if they are manifest on micro, meso or macro level, the indicators will take on different forms, discussed in a forthcoming article.
The results have been presented at seminars with the housing companies, in teaching undergraduate students at KTH, in a report in Swedish, and in conference papers.
Stockholm: KTH Royal Institute of Technology, 2007. , 66 p.