Citizen Housing
Strategy & Operations
Designing interventions for minds captured by scarcity
Project Types
Behavioral science
The challenge

Citizen Housing (formerly WM Housing) is a not-for-profit social housing business, housing approximately 66,000 people in 30,000 households. A high proportion of its tenants are in receipt of welfare benefits and are on low incomes – some are the most vulnerable in society. Yet legislation changes mean these tenants will become responsible for their own benefits, creating risks for sustainable tenancies.

Our approach

We brought together a diverse set of stakeholders and coded their insights into themes, which then allowed us to identify opportunities for effective targeted behavior-change interventions.

Community dynamics We mapped the social dynamics, interviewing a variety of stakeholders – from local police to frontline staff, enforcement officers to C-suite executives – to understand the required behavior changes and the social dynamics at play.
Experts in cognitive science These insights were rounded out with experts in poverty and social housing, including Eldar Shafir, a behavioral scientist from Princeton and the author of How Scarcity Captures the Mind.
COM-B analysis Using this data, we mapped communications barriers and opportunities for behavior change (using the COM-B framework).
Designing interventions Working with the Citizen Housing teams, we identified a range of intervention opportunities including subtle shifts in communication and use of language.


We detailed a range of interventions to pilot to help communications. These interventions were based on the core insight that tenants live in scarcity – not just of money but also of cognitive resources. That scarcity captures the mind and affects a person’s daily thoughts and feelings. Having too little of something – time, money, knowledge – creates a ‘tunneling effect’, which focuses all available cognitive resources on the most immediate pressures at the expense of everything else.

This mindset means timing and message framing are critical and can mean tapping into a situation when the tenant's motivation is greatest or their capabilities and opportunities are high.


We identified a range of interventions and nudges – such as repositioning the letters they send to tenants – which are currently being piloted across housing communities for efficacy.

Can we help?