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Community planning for affordable housing

ArcGIS Urban offers solutions for cities and municipalities struggling to manage housing affordability and planning for the future. The platform considers zoning by-laws and existing conditions to redefine affordable housing and related factors in both urban and rural areas. It enables envisioning scenarios for social supports, designing greenspaces, quantifying factors for housing affordability, and overriding zoning restrictions. This blog provides examples of social supports, greenspace, metrics, and zoning overlays to demonstrate how ArcGIS Urban is a tool for planning affordable housing.

Create a realistic park in 3D using ArcGIS Urban

Create a realistic park in ArcGIS Urban 

When it comes to housing affordability and planning for the future, it can be difficult for cities and municipalities to quantify and visualize the existing conditions, let alone predict the future ones. However, the capabilities of ArcGIS Urban can redefine affordable housing and related factors in both urban and rural areas by taking into account zoning by-laws and existing conditions. 

The following topics are examples that this blog discusses to demonstrate planning for affordable housing: 

  • Social Supports 
  • Greenspace 
  • Adaptable Housing Units 
  • Energy Consumption 
  • Zoning Overlays 

Social Supports 

According to CCPA Manitoba, social supports contribute to affordable housing by providing resources to vulnerable tenants. Additionally, they can cut down on costs and transportation time for vulnerable populations when they are in proximity to residential buildings. Some examples of social supports include community centers, adult learning centers, and day care. With ArcGIS Urban, allocating space use types specific to these social supports can help envision their place in the community, as this video demonstrates.  



Greenspaces are another key factor to affordable housing because of their positive impact on physical and mental health, their ability to reduce heat islands, and how they act as a social function for the community to connect. However, the way greenspace is designed determines its benefit to the community. For example, the Accessible Natural Greenspace Standards are defined as both the physical ability of residents to access natural green space and how equitable access to nature is. This means that access to greenspace is not solely defined by a distance-based metric. The characteristics that would make a suitable greenspace are quiet, minimal built infrastructure, natural elements, not a pocket park or a green roof, and acts as habitat restoration.  

One way of making sure that these characteristics are met when planning the development of greenspace is to create a realistic view using Projects in ArcGIS Urban. Projects have the features of either uploading a 3D model or creating a 3D visualization using the built-in tools.  



Quantifying factors for housing affordability is possible with the ArcGIS Urban metrics graph and dashboard. The video below demonstrates calculating and visualizing adaptable housing units, energy consumption, and greenspace.  

Adaptable housing units are ones that have accessible features, and they make renovation processes easier if further accessibility accommodation is required for a tenant. According to the BC Accessibility Handbook, at least 20% of all units in a publicly funded housing project or multi-unit should be allocated to adaptable housing. Using this minimum, we can calculate the number of adaptable units required. 

Another factor to consider is energy consumption because it can give an idea of how affordable a unit is. For example, mobile homes are around the size of an apartment, however, their energy consumption is similar to that of townhouses. This high consumption is due to poor insulation, and inefficient heating and cooling. As a result of this, mobile home residents are likely to use a space heater or an air conditioner.  

Earlier we saw how visualizing greenspaces is possible in ArcGIS Urban. With metrics, they can also be quantified to ensure their size is accessible.  


Zoning and Overlays 

While zoning by-laws restrict certain types of development through rules and regulations, they can promote housing affordability as well. For example, permitting granny houses or lane way houses expands housing availability, which is especially important for the aging population and in rural areas where construction is difficult (or takes a long time).  

ArcGIS Urban allows you to override zoning code restrictions of an underlying zoning type with Overlays.  

For more on ArcGIS Urban and steps to getting your organization started on new tools for community planning, please visit our webpage

About the Author

Martina Todorova is a GIS Consultant with Esri Canada’s Community Design Solutions team. She focuses on delivering best practices and recommendations for ArcGIS Urban and 3D data creation. Martina has a B.A. in Geography from Simon Fraser University and an Advanced Diploma in GIS from BCIT. She has an interest in automating 3D workflows and visualizing data with code, such as with JavaScript and the Urban API.

Profile Photo of Martina Todorova