Applications of Housing Affordability Measurement Approaches Used in Planning Affordable Housing: A Systematic Review


Housing affordability measurement is a recurring subject in planning literature. Research evidence suggests that in planning for affordable housing, planners typically apply the normative (ratio and residual income) measures to all variants of affordability stress. Hence, proffering intervention strategies that often fail to address peculiar situations in their towns. This systematic review synthesizes empirical evidence in the literature relating to various applications of housing affordability measurement approaches. To ascertain the various application fields/domains, present findings, specify relevant literature gaps, and propose future research themes. The review findings demonstrate that the accurateness of conclusions reached, about the severity of the housing affordability problem is highly dependent on the measurement approach used. The study concludes that the application of appropriate methods to specific situations leads to better planning outcomes.

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Ezennia, I. and Hoskara, S. (2022) Applications of Housing Affordability Measurement Approaches Used in Planning Affordable Housing: A Systematic Review. Journal of Building Construction and Planning Research, 10, 1-36. doi: 10.4236/jbcpr.2022.101001.

1. Introduction

Measuring housing affordability has become a vital area in planning education and research. Towards making adequate planning guidance for proper and focused affordable housing interventions, which is an essential step in housing policy response for low-medium-income families. As a subject area, housing affordability measurement has a relatively long history, from the 1970s through the 1990s when the foundations of modern measures were laid (see Hancock [1]; Stone [2]; Hulchanski [3] ). In planning affordable housing, planners typically base their intervention strategies on empirical evidence predicated upon normative affordability standards (see, Adegoke & Agbola, [4] ). However, these normative standards have been shown to superficially measure some variants of housing affordability stress [5] [6]. Several approaches for measuring different variants of housing affordability stress have been suggested by researchers of diverse orientations. However, the key methodological challenge that has occupied researchers and planners for decades is the question of how to appropriately measure housing affordability; which is yet unresolved. Each approach as suggested is unique, but conceptually very similar since they are fundamentally formulated on household income and its relationship with housing price levels. However, small differences (such as the inclusion of certain criteria like transportation cost, and location efficiency, among others) make each class more appropriate for different applications. In recent years, academic research on housing affordability measurement (HAM) approaches increased extensively and has seen an incredible amount of use. More so, their role in diverse application areas has grown considerably, particularly as new methods are proposed or developed, and older ones improved.

Despite this intensive development worldwide, no study has performed a systematic literature survey on the various applications of housing affordability measurement approaches. This assertion is concretized by a recent study that revealed the lack of rigorous systematic reviews in the planning field [7]. Thus, this review attempts to fill this literature gap and aims to systematically review the applications of various approaches used in the measurement of housing affordability; as put forward by researchers and scholars for planning purposes, with context-specificity to low- and medium-income groups. To be clear, this article is neither a review of the concept nor trends of housing affordability, which have been attempted e.g. Haffner & Hulse [8]; Ezennia & Hoskara [9]. The purpose of this study is to show, through systematic literature analysis, how HAM approaches have been applied in the various housing affordability analysis over an 18-year period.

In this regard, six major online databases (ScienceDirect, Wiley Online Library, Sage Journals, Emerald Insight, Taylor & Francis Online, and Springer) were selected, and the PRISMA methodology was proposed based on Moher et al. [10]. Therefore, a review of 160 scholarly articles published in 47 academic journals indexed in the Web of Science Core Collection between 2000 and 2018 was collected to achieve an extensive review of HAM approaches and their applications. Relying on experts’ knowledge-based opinions, articles were classified based on ‏the type of study (HAM utilizing study, HAM developing study, and HAM proposing study). Furthermore, six (6) application fields/domains namely, rental housing affordability (RHA), home-ownership affordability (HOA), combined housing and transportation affordability (CHTA), housing and mortgage market affordability (HMMA), and individual household affordability (IHA) were identified with expert knowledge-based categorization; based on which, a database of common applications of various HAM approaches for different and specific situations were established.

The study argues that the informed application of appropriate affordability measures in the specific context of affordability problems leads to better planning outcomes. However, the methodological framework and choices for evaluating decisions are still ongoing. This study narrates the situation with a review of HAM approaches and their applications based on the main research question: How have the different HAM methodologies/techniques been applied in planning affordable housing, over the last few decades? From this, the following three sub-questions emerge: 1) What type of research has been performed regarding these HAM approaches? 2) Which of the 6 application domains/fields (rental housing affordability and others) have employed HAM approaches more? 3) What types of HAM approaches were used over an 18-year period based on 6 domains/fields?

The answers to these sub-questions will present sound evidence on the relations between various applications and diverse measures of HAM, as well as the suitability of each approach to the specific application. This will permit a clear explanation of various applications of HAM approaches. The rest of this study is structured; accordingly, the second section explains the study methodology and research protocol. The third section deals systematically with review results in accordance with the research questions and objectives. Forth section deals with study findings and research contribution, while the fifth section deals with the research agenda for future studies. Finally, the sixth section presents the research contribution, and the last section presents the conclusion and study recommendations.

2. Research Methodology

This study was conducted using the Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses (PRISMA) checklist as reference methodology [10]. PRISMA consists of systematic reviews and meta-analyses. A systematic review describes a review of well-thought-out questions that employ explicit and systematic methods [11]. Meta-analysis describes the application of statistical techniques in a systematic review to blend the results of selected articles [10]. PRISMA checklist guides researchers to conduct transparent reporting of a literature review [12]. According to De Bruijn and Gerrits [13], systematic reviews of scholarly publications reports are imperative for acquiring a deeper understanding of a concept, its approaches, and applications. A systematic quantitative research method allows researchers to comprehensively identify what is known and not known on a subject, establish and understand the inconsistencies among research findings, and help ascertain whether findings can be applied to specific situations [10] [11] [14]. This systematic review is quantitative because it quantifies a wide collection of research related to the subject and reveals the gaps in the research. This methodology has seen wide applications in diverse research areas such as housing and health-related studies [12]; housing research [15]; and urban planning studies [13]. Therefore, to undertake a PRISMA methodology in this research, three key protocols must be completed. These protocols comprise literature search, eligible papers selections, and extraction and summarizing of data.

2.1. Literature Search

Six (6) electronic databases were selected in this stage, to provide an extensive application of HAM approaches. These databases include Science Direct, Wiley Online Library, Sage Journals, Emerald Insight, Taylor & Francis, and Springer. Journal article publications by these six databases are perceived to be reliable and worthy of comment. The search for relevant literature was conducted in accordance with the following descriptors: “Housing affordability measurement methods and application” as well as their combinations. Because research on the HAM approach is continuous and evolving, the period of time restrictions was not considered by the authors. Hence, article collection ranged from 2000 to 2018. In summary, about 17,808 academic articles were extracted and 237 potentially relevant articles remained, after subtracting duplicate articles with redundant information. Then titles and abstracts were vetted, and irrelevant papers were removed, leaving behind a total of 160 potentially relevant articles (see Figure 1).

Figure 1. Flow diagram of the systematic search, indicating the numbers of excluded and included articles in the review.

2.2. Study Selection and Eligibility (Inclusion and Exclusion) Criteria

Here the full text of extracted articles from the prior stage was independently reviewed by the authors for eligibility purposes. A clear rationale was formulated for paper selection to arrive at a consensus. Articles that had used HAM approaches and techniques in affordability and related problems were chosen. Grey literature searches using Google searching sites like (gov. or edu. and file type: Pro Quest, pdf, Open Grey, WHOLIS, and Med Nar) were completely avoided. Textbooks, master and doctoral dissertations, unpublished working papers, book chapters, abstract only papers, and non-English articles, were also excluded as shown in Table 1. In addition, Housing affordability indexes (HAI) were excluded because they are not readily used in housing and planning research (as no empirical study published under Web of science adopted these indexes).

Selecting only peer-reviewed empirical studies guarantees that the methodologies and techniques of relevant articles assessed, had already been evaluated within its discipline. Hence, the authors did not independently assess the reliability of relevant articles because doing so would be tantamount to questioning the appropriateness of diverse research methods, thereby raising epistemological issues, particularly in a phrase like housing affordability, where studies have been undertaken in several disciplines. Furthermore, no meta-analysis was conducted due to the diverse designs and aims of the empirical studies.

The first author using a predesigned protocol, extracted essential characteristics of the articles, as illustrated in Table 1. The second author cross-checked this information, all titles and abstracts were independently vetted by both authors. Four experts in parallel screened the quality of selected studies and informed the classification framework, based on data extraction form. These experts were selected based on two major criteria. First, experts who had broad research on housing affordability and/or industrial experience in affordable housing were selected. Second, experts who have in-depth knowledge and had contributed to existing housing affordability literature were selected. Considering these selection criteria for experts, it is believed that these experts will offer insight into the classification scheme.

3. Literature Search Results

The term “housing affordability” has come into popular usage in the last two decades, replacing “housing need” at the center of a debate about the provision of adequate housing for all. Affordability has become the key term in housing policy in both developed countries and those in transition.

3.1. Application of Housing Affordability Concept and Measurement

Hulchanski’s [3] review expounded on the applications of the expenditure-to-income ratio. In the ensuing 24 years, housing researchers have

Table 1. Review design.

successfully established that the housing expenditure-to-income ratio as an affordability metric does not adequately measure the six applications as described by Hulchanski [3]. Therefore, other alternative measurement methods have been proposed in other to improve the weakness of the housing expenditure-to-income ratio. For instance, in an often-cited study, Stone [16] made a case for the residual income method as an alternative approach.

3.2. Fields/Domains of Category—Problem Context-Based Classification

As a result of the wide applications of HAM approaches in the real affordability problems, there is a need to classify these applications across several domains/fields. The papers that used HAM approaches are classified into three groups: HAM approach utilizing study, HAM approach developing study, and HAM approach proposing study. In cases where an article falls into several categories, relying on the article’s objectives as determined by the targeted audience, the most suitable option was chosen. This enabled the elimination of possible duplication of studies in the classification scheme. In subsequent sections, themes (fields/domains) are presented in brief and further summarized with corresponding tables. In every table, studies are summarized and described in accordance with their intent and reporting technique. These studies used different methods for different applications, it was observed that each method possesses its unique features in providing the best outcome. Table 2 shows articles distribution based on application domains/fields.

3.2.1. Rental Housing Affordability (RHA)

RHA is the difficulties experienced by households in accessing rental housing and/or the financial burden imposed on households for securing accommodation in either the private or public housing sector. Several scholars have explored this area using several HAM techniques and approaches which include sub-categories of econometric/regression modeling such as logit regression model [17] [18] [19] [20], hedonic price equations [21], regression models [22] - [27], simulation methodology [28], partial regression plots [29], Canonical Spatial Equilibrium model [30]. Other methods are the residual income method [31]; ratio-based method [32] - [38]. Wegmann, [39] modified ratio measure to a replacement metric called the subsidy per housing affordability equivalent (SHARE) ratio; subjective method [5] [40] [41] [42] [43]; composite method [44] [45] [46] [47] [48]; Gini coefficient method [49] [50]. A total of 35 articles have applied HAM approaches and techniques, in this field of application.

3.2.2. Home-Ownership Affordability (HOA)

HOA is the difficulties experienced by households in accessing their own housing and/or the financial burden imposed on households for securing accommodation in the housing and mortgage market. In the domain/field of

Table 2. Summary of applications of HAM approaches and techniques used in varied affordability stress.

Source: Authors’ summation.

HOA, some prior articles developed and/or utilized HAM approaches and techniques. For instance, in the case of the econometric model [51] [52], and its subset like ordinary least square regression [53], hedonic house price model [54], multivariate regression [55]. In the case of residual income method [56] [57] [58], subjective method [59] [60], ratio-based method [61] [62] [63] [64] [65], behavioral method [66] and composite method [67] [68]. HOA domain/field had second to the lowest ranking with 18 previous scholars (11.25%) haven applied only 5 out of the 12 identified HAM approaches and techniques.

3.2.3. Purchase and Repayment (Amortization) Affordability (PRA)

PRA is the ability of a household to borrow adequate funds for a house purchase and the stress undergone by a household to repay. According to this review in the field/domain of PRA, only 7 studies out of 160 selected studies used 5 out of 12 identified HAM approaches and techniques. These include the regression model [69] and its other form such as multinomial logit estimation [70]. Other examples are ratio-based measures [6] [71], residual income method [72], behavioral method [73], and data envelopment analysis [74].

3.2.4. Combined Housing and Transportation Affordability (CHTA)

The concept of CHTA holds that actual housing affordability must include transportation costs as a substantial and related household cost burden. Such that housing is perceived as affordable if less than 45% of household income is spent on combined H + T costs. Some scholars have applied various HAM approaches and techniques in this domain/field such as econometric model [75] [76] [77] [78], and its subset like microstimulation [79], logistic regression [80], hedonic approach [81], monocentric modeling [82], multi-level regression models [83] [84] [85] [86], least-squares regression models [87]. Luckey [88] proposed a location-sensitive residual income (LSRI) approach. In the case of subjective method [89], data envelopment analysis method [90], location affordability index [91] [92], and composite method [93] [94], the results of Tables 3-14 indicated that 20 articles were published in this field/domain.

3.2.5. Housing and Mortgage Market Affordability (HMMA)

HMMA describes the affordability of housing stock, the housing assistance available, household’s eligibility, and forecasts the profitability of erecting and sales of new houses in an area. Therefore, could aid in determining new areas for developing affordable housing, and areas in dire need of housing subsidy. Results of Tables 3-14 showed that, in field/domain of HMMA 59 articles out of 160 selected articles applied 9 out of the 12 identified HAM approaches and techniques. Residual income method [16] [95] [96], econometric modeling [97] [98] [99] [100] [101], quantitative model-based simulation method [28] [102] [103], Markov-switching (MS) model [104] [105], autoregressive distributed lag [106], probit model [107], hedonic pricing parameters [108] [109] [110] [111]. Others are subjective method [59] [112] [113] [114] [115], composite method

Table 3. Article distribution based on ratio-based method.

Source: Authors’ summarization.

[116] - [123], scenario technique [124], ratio-based measures [125] - [137], behavioral method [138], MPP [139] [140], Gini coefficient method [141] [142], MCDM [143] [144] [145].

3.2.6. Individual Household Affordability (IHA)

For most households with limited income, every housing stock is unaffordable until offered at no cost. While for most with high income, every housing stock is affordable regardless of the cost. These phenomena are referred to as IHA, it is

Table 4. Articles distribution based on residual income method.

Source: Authors’ summarization.

important to determine because uncontrollable emotion or over the excitement of perceived fall in house prices, as well as individual weakness of never to be outpriced could force households to secure apartments beyond their capacity to sustain. However, research is limited in this area, [146] [147] [148] employed the residual income method to assess this field/domain, [149] - [158] used ratio-based measures. [159]; used the composite method. [160] [161] [162] used the subjective method. [163] [164] [165] [166] [167]; used regression model. Other regression techniques used are ordinary least squares (OLS) regression [168], logistic regression [169], and bivariate probit models [170], residual income method [171].

Table 5. Articles distribution based on composite method.

Source: Authors’ summarization.

Table 6. Article distribution based on econometric/regression modeling.

Source: Authors’ summarization.

3.3. Article Distribution Based on HAM Approaches and Methods

Table 2 presents the frequency of applications of identified HAM approaches and techniques invariants of housing affordability stress. Based on the results, a total of 160 articles have used 12 HAM approaches and techniques. The table reveals that econometric/regression modeling (36.87%) has been used more than other methods and techniques. The second in this ranking is the ratio-based method (23.75%) and the composite method (11.25%) is the third. The frequency of other approaches and techniques is also shown in Table 2. Tables 3-14 show the implementation of each HAM approach and technique. Selected articles are sorted alphabetically in all tables by author name.

Table 7. Article distribution based on behavioral method.

Source: Authors’ summarization.

Emerging Novel (Hybrid) Approaches—State of the Art Developments (2011-2018)

Authors began proposing robust methodologies from other disciplines. For instance, two methodologies were borrowed from Operations research (MCDM and DEA).

4. Discussions

This research reviewed studies published in an 18-year period (2000-2018) regarding HAM approaches in 47 high-impact journals indexed in the Web of Science database system. It systematically reviewed studies relating to HAM approaches and applications. Consequently, 160 publications regarding HAM approaches were carefully and systematically selected. Based on the predefined objectives of this review, selected articles were summarized based on title, abstract, introduction, methodology, and conclusion. In this survey, the results obtained were acquired in line with three research questions, which are:

RQ1: Which HAM approaches have been used?

The review reveals the existence of a high number of HAM approaches and all of the identified methods can be applied in addressing one, or more, or other variants of affordability problems. Results collected also show that all HAM approaches are conceptually very similar, but little variations make each class more suitable for different applications. To answer question one, the results presented in Table 2 are considered. It shows the number and percentage of identified HAM approaches. The table also shows that the econometric/regression modeling was the first in ranking amongst other methods with 59 studies, while the ratio-based method was ranked second with 38 articles. The growth in the application of econometric/regression modeling could come from convenience, simplification justification, and conventionality, instead of sound theoretical mathematical or logical justification or as a more robust and accurate method. It was also observed that the mobility and probability plot (MPP) and data envelopment analysis (DEA) had 2 articles each, while the scenario technique is the least method in use with 1 article. These could be because of their complexity, heterogeneity, and

Table 8. Article distribution based on subjective method.

Source: Authors’ summarization.

Table 9. Article distribution based on location affordability index.

Source: Authors’ summarization.

Table 10. Article distribution based on scenario technique.

Source: Authors summarization.

Table 11. Article distribution based on Multi Criteria Decision Making (MCDM) method.

Source: Authors’ summarization.

Table 12. Distribution based on data envelopment analysis method.

Source: Authors’ summarization.

Table 13. Article distribution based on Gini coefficient method.

Source: Authors’ summarization.

Table 14. Article distribution based on Mobility Probability Plot (MPP) method.

Source: Authors’ summarization.

econometric expertise requirement, which may have weakened their uptake and loss of traction amongst researchers and planners.

RQ2: What type of study has been performed on these HAM approaches?

The authors carefully read the methodology aspect of individual studies and classified them into three types, to answer this second question. According to these readings, some articles utilized already established HAM approaches to analyze affordability problems. Relying on discussions held with four housing affordability experts and authors’ experience, this type of study was classified as the HAM approach utilizing research. Attempts were also made by some scholars to develop or modify HAM approaches. Thus, HAM developing research was used as the second type of study. In addition, some researchers proposed new approaches which were considered the third type of study and were called HAM proposing research, as indicated in Table 15.

RQ3 & RQ4: Which of the 6 domains/fields has used these HAM approaches more, and Which types of HAM approaches have been applied over 18 year period based on 6 domains/fields?

The third section and Tables 2-14 present the answers to questions three and four. These tables reveal that out of selected 160 articles, HMMA was ranked first with 54 studies (33.75%), and many of the studies categorized in this area either developed or improved HAM approaches. Furthermore, out of the 6 application fields/domains, the RHA was ranked second with 35 articles (22.29%). More so, Table 2 results show that prior papers used the econometric/regression modeling more as compared to other methods with 59 articles in these 6 applications fields/domains. The ratio-based method and composite method were second and third in rank with 37 and 18 articles, respectively. Moreover, the subjective method and residual income method had the fourth and fifth rank with 16 and 12 articles, respectively. In addition, MPP (2 articles), MCDM (3 articles), and DEA (2 articles) had the next subsequent ranks according to the findings in Table 2. More recent studies are concentrating on the emerging field of combined housing and transportation affordability. This review shows that there is a dearth of empirical research conducted on purchase (down-payment) and repayment (amortization) affordability and the possibility of measuring it through the application of more robust methodologies, particularly in developing economies characterized by underdeveloped housing market systems.

4.1. Implications for Practice and Research

The challenges of operationalising robust approaches (aside from ratio-based measures) as affordability standards with respect to their onerous data and expertise

Table 15. Distribution of articles based on research type.

Source: Authors’ summation.

requirements constrain their applicability, especially in most developing countries, where the availability of reliable data is a persistent challenge. The implication for research is therefore evident in the need to evolve a housing affordability metric that can reflect the practices of the housing market system in developing countries. This also implies that the governments in developing countries must set up machinery for the regular availability of up-to-date data on welfare and establish welfare systems that set minimum living standards.

4.2. Limitations of the Study and Future Research Direction

This survey suffers some limitations which could be suggested as future themes for research. First, the focus of this review is on various applications of different HAM approaches. Article publications of late 2018, if any, were excluded in this review due to the limited reporting time. Future surveys should expand the scope even further. Furthermore, this article also focused on 6 domains/fields. Thus, future research can utilize this study as a basis for further classification of other sub-fields and sub-areas, such as residual housing affordability [146] [159], price affordability, and mass housing affordability, amongst others. Another limitation was that information was obtained from high-impact journals, excluding non-peer-reviewed articles, textbooks, conference articles, master and doctoral dissertations, and unpublished studies relating to HAM issues. Therefore, future studies are encouraged to collect data from these scholarly grey literature and the results obtained can be compared with ours. Another limitation was that selected studies were found in English language journals only, journal article publications in the other languages were excluded in this study. It could suggest that this survey is not complete; however, it is the authors believe that most of the articles published in 47 high-ranking journals were comprehensively reviewed and included. In this view, this survey provides a deeper understanding of HAM approaches and their applications for early-career researchers and planners. It is also hoped that this study is used by scholars as a basis for studies further and by planners for making more precise decisions employing these approaches, and as a guide for researchers in enhancing HAM methodologies.

In addition, due to manpower and time limitations, the authors surveyed only journal article publications of six (6) major databases. Though, some important outlets may be found beyond this study’s scope. Hence, as more comprehensive literature research, future reviews should cover other relevant databases. Finally, this review makes no pretense at covering all published scholarly research on housing affordability measurement and application, which met the authors’ inclusion criteria. It is possible that a few studies may have slipped or erroneously excluded. However, it is the belief of the authors that this review extensively covers significant studies in this field of enquiry.

5. Conclusions and Recommendations

The findings of this study suggest that certain HAM approaches are better suited for specific situations, while other applications should avoid certain methods entirely. Several methodological issues were observed in most of the articles studied, making it intricate to stipulate a precise pathway. However, the study recommends that future studies should include temporal and historical perspectives while answering salient research questions like 1) What differences are there between approaches and methods published in the early 2000s, and those of recent decades? 2) What changes are observed in this field within the last 18 years? Such a historical context may throw more light on the repackaging or recycling of older methods (e.g. residual income method into “new” ones, e.g. location-sensitive residual income [LSRI] method). In this view, understanding how models and concepts evolve over time and how these trajectories reshape and change the housing affordability concepts over the years would be of immense international interest.

Moreover, this review did not include methods developed and applied in books as well as housing affordability indexes (HAI) developed and applied by housing professionals and associations. However, it is worthy to note that the studies reviewed in this paper allow at least a partial representation of the structure of those HAM approaches, which are attracting wider application and acceptability. Recently developed modular and hybrid methods are becoming increasingly important such as the location-sensitive residual income (LSRI) method. Which are based on previously established and well-accepted normative methods, and their modification, as well as the combination of several other affordability indicators, to formulate an aggregated measure. Relatively, recently adapted MCDM and DEA methods, in addition to the newly developed MPP methods were speedily developed and used to address reoccurring problems of affordability. Although there is insufficient evidence in the studies using these emerging methodologies, due to their complexity, reporting technique, and heterogeneity. However, they may be effective and efficient methods for measuring housing affordability problems of low-income families. To assess the potential benefits of these methods most effectively, it will be important for future research to utilize these novel methodologies. Thus, it will be necessary for future reviews to publish on these issues. In conclusion, this research developed a repository of extant studies on housing affordability measurement, which scholars can use to develop theory and models, and by planners to assess intervention strategies they propose.

Conflicts of Interest

The authors declare no conflicts of interest.


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