Kay is a sociologist who has built up over twenty years of expertise in community and social policy research. Her research areas include applied social research and evaluation in housing, public policy and community development. She is research director of CRESA, a research centre she established which focuses on encouraging community development and sustainable communities.

Prior to this Kay was an academic, policy manager and ministerial adviser. She has extensive experience in quantitative and qualitative research design, evaluation, and policy analysis. Her research includes housing markets and demand; retirement villages; accessible housing; sustainable housing; the residential building industry; neighbourhood built environments; benefit and funding policy for health, welfare, disability and social services; and mental health services. She has led a number of public good science funded programmes, including: Life When Renting: Enabling Older People's Independence in the Tenure RevolutionFinding the Best Fit: Housing, Downsizing, and Older People in a Changing SocietyCommunity Resilience and Good Ageing: Doing Better in Bad Times; Ageing in Place: repairs and maintenance of older people's housing; and BBHTC SRA1: Improving the Architecture of Decisions Making.

In 2018 Kay was made a Member of the NZ Order of Merit for Services to Older People's Research and Housing Research. She is currently appointed to the Ministerial Advisory Group on Housing and Urban Development and is a trustee for the Marlborough Sustainable Housing Trust.

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