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Public housing and urban regeneration: Maximising wellbeing

A postgraduate research opportunity at the University of Otago.


Academic background
Humanities, Sciences, Health Sciences
Host campus
Public Health (Wellington)


Are you interested in improving the outcomes of tenants living in public housing? We have funding for 3 enthusiastic and capable PhD students to build on the excellent research being conducted by the New Zealand Centre of Sustainable Cities at Otago University, Wellington and our research partners.

These scholarships are supported through the MBIE Endeavour Programme, Public Housing and Urban Regeneration: Maximising Wellbeing.

Our research will examine and compare seven public housing organisations’ arrangements for how they design and deliver housing & urban regeneration projects to optimise tenant and community wellbeing and advance environmental sustainability outcomes.

This research could have a major impact on future housing and urban design policy.

Our research group

The New Zealand Centre for Sustainable Cities research team is led by Distinguished Professor Philippa Howden-Chapman. The team is based in the Public Health, University of Otago, Wellington, with research partners from several other universities and organisations. The multi-disciplinary team includes researchers with expertise in both qualitative and quantitative disciplines, economists, scientists and expert practitioners. The team has established worldwide international research links.

General candidate requirements

Our ideal candidate will be passionate about housing and health and has a background in public health, statistics, economics, policy, papakāinga housing & Māori health, engineering, geography, anthropology, or architecture and interested in pursuing a project in public housing on topics linked to the above measures.

Preference will be given to Māori or Pasifika students. Due to the ongoing border closures and travel disruptions, preference will be given to applicants who have the ability to live and work in New Zealand and are already in New Zealand, the New Zealand Realm countries, or Australia.

Person specifications

We are looking for candidates who:

  • have excellent writing, critical thinking and analytical skills
  • have strong interpersonal skills; good listeners
  • have an understanding of tikanga Māori and are comfortable in in both Māori and Pākeha settings
  • are self-motivated, organised, reliable and able to work independently
  • are passionate about advancing public health and reducing inequalities.


We invite PhD thesis enquiries on the following possible topics, but would welcome other proposals:

Supporting child wellbeing in public housing

The successful candidate will conduct a mixed methods research study (QUANT-qual) to investigate the child wellbeing impacts of public housing through adapting the international Children’s World survey for the New Zealand context.
You will use your quantitative skills to carry out and analyse the survey with children aged 8 and 10 years old who live in public housing, and will be trained in working with young people to adapt and enhance the survey for the local context and in qualitative techniques that may be used to support the project. You will be supported to publish your findings in academic journals and have opportunities to present your findings at conferences in NZ and/or Australia.

One of your supervisors will be Dr Kimberley O’Sullivan.

Inclusive design within public housing

The accessibility characteristics of homes and neighbourhoods are crucial to the wellbeing of people with a disability as they determine their mobility opportunities which in turn can either enable or impede social, recreational and employment participation. There is a strong need for accessible design in public housing as one in four New Zealanders has a disability (including 21% of adults under 65 and 11% of children under 15).

Doctoral studies on this topic would involve a mixed-methods investigation; auditing dwelling and neighbourhood design features in selected public housing developments and interviewing tenants on the impacts of design features on their mobility, participation and wellbeing. The research could focus on a particular age group and/or type of community participation or have a policy focus on design standards and their implementation. You will be supported to develop appropriate research methods and to disseminate your findings to various audiences through academic articles and workshop and conference presentations.

One of your supervisors will be Professor Karen Witten.

Epidemiology of public housing: using the IDI to understand health and wellbeing outcomes

Aotearoa New Zealand needs to rapidly increase the scale of available public housing. Currently there are a large variety of provider models, including a large national provider (Kāinga Ora), local government providers, and charitable or NGO providers of varying scales. We are looking for a quantitative PhD candidate with knowledge of statistical packages such as R or SAS to contribute research on the comparative economic and social effectiveness of differing public housing and urban regeneration models to increase wellbeing outcomes. You will use your quantitative skills in our Integrated Data Infrastructure lab and data gathered by the providers to examine the health and wellbeing outcomes from public housing. You will be supported to publish your findings in academic journals and have opportunities to present your findings at conferences in NZ and/or Australia.

One of your supervisors will be Associate Professor Nevil Pierse.

Tenure mix and the wellbeing of public housing tenants

Whether the wellbeing of public housing tenants is enhanced or hindered by living in a mixed tenure development is an oft debated but poorly answered question. The six case study sites selected for the Public Housing and Urban Regeneration programme have varying levels of mixed tenure. A PhD candidate investigating tenure mix and tenant wellbeing would have wide scope to define a useful research question/s. For example, potential projects could investigate: the various forms of tenure mix across the sites; the theory of change held by the different housing providers and how these are expressed through the on-the-ground delivery of a tenure mix development; how the physical design and social infrastructure of developments support inclusion or separation by tenure; how public housing tenants experience tenure mix; and whether, and if so how, some individuals or groups feel included/excluded compared to others.

The successful candidate will be supported to develop appropriate research questions and methods. Opportunities will be provided to disseminate research findings to various audiences through academic articles and workshop and conference presentations.

One of your supervisors will be Professor Karen Witten.

Register your interest

Please send a copy of your CV, academic transcripts and a cover letter to Kate Murphy, Programme Manager (


Kate Murphy
Tel   +64 4 918 6246