ACCESS Seminar: Hacking Housing: technologies and processes of alternative housing models

  • -
  • Online


Declining home ownership, shifting labour markets, and digital disruption are changing the experience of housing. Rising housing unaffordability coupled with employment precarity means that a growing cohort of young people can no longer expect a job for life or to own their own home. Declining home ownership is exacerbated by long-term shifts in labour markets characterised by short-term contracts and casualisation, and demands that workers be mobile, flexible and agile. Additionally, traditional models of housing rental and ownership are ill equipped to serve the needs of a mobile and precarious workforce. These changes have been exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic which has further made visible the inability of current housing systems to provide adequate housing and security of tenure.

An outcome of these processes is the growth in alternative housing models as housing providers and consumers are innovating with novel models, tenure, techniques and practices to ‘hack’ housing and drive the diversity of housing systems. These include housing startups and digital platforms that underpin co-living models, household management apps, and, sharing housing among others. Emerging from early cultures of computing, ‘hacking’ is the process of problem solving through experimentation, creativity and openness. I propose the ‘hack’ as a new conceptual framework to think about the production and consumption of housing in the digital and renting age. I identify four ways hacking is reconfiguring housing:

  1. Hacking housing and policy
  2. Hacking housing provision
  3. Hacking housing and work
  4. Hacking living

I illustrate these with examples from research conducted in Sydney, Boston and New York to demonstrate how a framework of hacks reveals how a housing system characterised by increasing diversity and innovation is produced by adhering to the rules of the system but by applying those rules counterintuitively and creatively. The hack allows us to escape the confines of our current ways of thinking about housing, to ask new questions, generate new data, and identify new solutions. Such new ways of thinking are increasingly salient as we emerge from the pandemic, the impacts of which are likely to predominantly effect the housing outcomes of younger generations.