Addressing problems of highly disadvantaged public housing communities requires multi-faceted, multidisciplinary approaches to both the social and physical environment. Accordingly, over the last decade and a half Australian governments have developed a suite of community regeneration initiatives involving both social and physical design interventions. These also provide an opportunity for valuable learning experiences for university students to learn about the complex problems faced by disadvantaged communities and how design interventions need to work hand in hand with social initiatives to help improve quality of life. This paper outlines a unique 12 year partnership between schools of social work and built environment, a state housing department and public housing communities in inner Sydney. It outlines the background to the approaches used, the range of project types, participatory mechanisms, the educational benefits for both students and public housing tenants, and ethical issues in this collaborative community based learning. Its conclusions are supported by quantitative and qualitative evidence from a variety of sources during the life of the project.