how to solve housing problems in developing countries

Solving the global housing crisis

The global housing crisis has continued to deepen this year, with cities being most affected, and the pandemic has only worsened this crisis, writes natalie keffler.

Aerial view of high rise housing in Hong Kong, the least affordable place in the world

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It was revealed, in a survey carried out by the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy (LILP) in 2019, that 90 percent of the 200 cities around the globe that were polled were considered to be unaffordable to live in, based on average house price in relation to median income. The impact of COVID-19 has only worsened the housing crisis, and government stimulus packages designed to fend off economic disaster are unsustainable in the long term. The data from the LILP shows that although household debt might boost economic growth and employment in the short term, households are eventually forced to rein in spending to repay these loans.

This then results in debt damaging the economy in the long run, and therefore, affordable housing is ultimately beneficial for both homeowners and the economy.

The last half of 2020, and the first half of 2021, have both seen housing prices across the world dramatically increase; in America, prices rose by 11 percent during the period, the fastest pace in 15 years, while in New Zealand, house prices were up by 22 percent. As a result, many countries, including Italy and the US, implemented measures to protect mortgage holders against the risk of losing their homes. The reasoning behind this was because mortgages can go lower while wages are not rising, and many are becoming unemployed due to the pandemic.

The rise in house prices also coincides with the increased demand for more housing, as a result of a growing population and a shift in demographics. This demand for housing has been particularly present within city centres, where there are good transport links, and a surplus of public services.

Richard Florida, founder of the Creative Class Group, told World Finance that part of the reason for the housing crisis is because “housing has been financialised and turned into an investment vehicle, which has caused an oversupply of luxury housing and a lack of affordable housing.” Florida added to this that “home ownership has created challenges for our cities by restricting the supply of housing and creating a system that incentivises those that make an investment.”

The decline in home ownership as a result of unaffordable housing has led to the economic benefits of home ownership being questioned even further. In rich countries in particular, home ownership has previously been glorified as the ultimate goal. However, it now seems that it is a dysfunctional concept at times, and has led to gaping inequalities, as Florida talks about, as well as inflaming generational and geographical divides.

The foundation of the problem Prior to the pandemic, lack of affordable housing was already a major issue. A growth in luxury tower blocks in cities across the world contributed to this, with this increase being partially aimed at the rise of foreign investors. This consequently contributed to a shortage in housing for the low and middle-income people in these cities. Vancouver has been viewed in recent decades as a place abroad for the wealthy Chinese to keep their assets. This has led to an increase in how upmarket certain areas of the city are, which has subsequently decreased how affordable the city is to locals.

Hong Kong is another unaffordable city, having retained the title as having the world’s least affordable housing market for an 11th consecutive year in 2020, with the average price for a home a staggering 20.8 times the annual household income ( see Fig 1 ). Although there is a public housing scheme to try and combat this issue, it unfortunately offers little compensation to tackle this sizeable disparity, with a current waiting time of five and a half years.

Hong Kong’s home ownership scheme (HOS) does not improve on this, as the chance of being successful with this government initiative is only 1.63 percent. Tokyo is one of the few cities to have kept up with the increasing housing demand for all classes, but this can largely be explained by its deregulated housing policies, which mean that in this city there are no rent controls, and fewer restrictions on height and density. Japan has consistently been building nearly one million new homes and apartments each year for the last decade.

Shortage of houses In the US, house prices have increased by nearly 40 percent since 2000, making the median home in 200 US cities $1m. Home ownership has become unattainable for the vast majority of the population. This difficulty is also highlighted through the National Low Income Housing coalition, who found that a renter working 40 hours a week and earning minimum wage cannot afford a two-bedroom apartment in the US. One of the reasons for the shortage of new houses is due to the exclusionary zoning laws, with some areas of the US having neighbourhood bans on new developments. There are also rules to establish minimum lot sizes, or requirements to include a certain number of parking spots per development.

Most recently, corporate relocations during the pandemic have contributed to dramatic surges in a demand for housing for particular reasons. At the end of 2020, Elon Musk announced that Tesla was moving to Texas, which consequently led to a boom in the Texas housing market. The rise in the cost of construction materials has also contributed to a shortage of new houses globally. The cost of home building materials has increased as a result of higher tariffs emerging from the ongoing trade war, with increased tariffs being placed on imported steel, aluminium and other building materials.

According to the Bureau of Labour, the cost of raw materials in the US has risen as high as 20.2 percent since the financial crisis. The lack of construction occurring during the pandemic has also contributed to this pre-existing issue, with output falling in April 2020 by 40 percent in the UK, and by 30 percent in the US. It will continue to take time before global residential construction reaches pre-COVID-19 volumes.

Tackling the housing crisis after COVID Post-COVID, there is the hope that globally we can move forward on the critical housing targets of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). Goal 11 is to ‘make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable,’ and new housing projects should bear this in mind when starting new construction projects, particularly in cities. In addition, more consideration for the wellbeing of citizens must be given over the desire to make a hefty profit.

More consideration for the wellbeing of citizens must be given over the desire to make a hefty profit

Some cities across the world have been working on affordable housing plans for the last couple of years to combat the housing crisis, and hopefully these new ways of solving the housing crisis can be learnt from, and put into effect on a global scale. In Australia, the state government of Sydney launched a partnership with the private sector and community housing groups in 2018 to develop and renovate 23,000 social housing units in different neighbourhoods.

In addition, Melbourne founded the Melbourne apartment project in 2018 to encourage home ownership, with 34 apartments built via this scheme. Six were sold at the market rate, which then enabled the other 28 to be subsidised through a deferred second mortgage model, in order to reduce the necessary deposit and repayments.

In India, they have found a cheaper construction material; glass fibre reinforced gypsum (GFRG) panels, which use a minimal amount of concrete and steel, and therefore the cost of the material is greatly reduced. This means that the houses made from this material in the future will be more affordable. In Austin, Texas, the company ICON has gone one step further to find more efficient and less costly ways to build houses, through developing 3D printing robotics that are capable of printing 2,000 square foot houses.

The global housing crisis is much bigger than just housing, due to the enduring issues of availability of transport and the nearby location of public services. The shortage of land must also be solved, due to limited land supply increasing demand and therefore also price. While it is important for a solution to be found to fix the current disparity between house prices and wages, it is also important to consider other solutions to unaffordable housing in cities. This includes repurposing vacant properties, and improving transport links to increase the amount of land around a city that people are happy to live in.

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how to solve housing problems in developing countries

  • Economic and Social Council
  • Commission for Social Development

United Nations

United Nations

Affordable housing, inclusive economic policies key to ending homelessness, speakers say as social development commission begins annual session.

Homelessness is a global problem that affects people in both developed and developing countries, regardless of economic, social and cultural backgrounds, and addressing it in the context of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development will require both innovative policies and inclusive partnerships, the Commission on Social Development heard today as it opened its fifty-eighth session.

“Homelessness is a harmful form of systemic discrimination and social exclusion,” affecting people everywhere, said Liu Zhenmin, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs.  Its causes are many and interrelated, ranging from the unravelling of working-class communities to substance abuse and “unchecked gentrification”.  He called for redoubled efforts “to rid the world of this inhumane scourge” through adequate, accessible and affordable housing, expanded social protection systems, and measures to mitigate the impact of climate change.

Gbolié Désiré Wulfran Ipo (Côte d’Ivoire), who was elected Chair of the session by acclamation at the start of the meeting, noted that the Commission’s focus on affordable housing and social protection systems dovetails with the start of a new Decade of Action to deliver on the Sustainable Development Goals.  As its outcome document, the Commission will seek to adopt its first resolution addressing homelessness, thus contributing to the Economic and Social Council’s 2020 high-level political forum and high-level segment later this year, he explained.

The last time the United Nations attempted to count the global number of homeless people, in 2005, it estimated that 100 million people were homeless, according to a report of the Secretary-General prepared for the Commission. Globally, 1.6 billion people live in inadequate housing conditions, with about 15 million forcefully evicted every year, it added, citing data from the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat).

Daniel Perell, Chairperson of the NGO Committee on Social Development, asked the Commission to adopt a clear and universal definition of homelessness as well as the establishment of standardized measurements to better gauge the scale of the problem.

Olivia Tan Jia Yi, speaking on behalf of the United Nations Major Group for Children and Youth, said that decent housing should be accessible and affordable to youth, children and people of all socioeconomic classes.  “A roof over our heads and four solid, warm walls are not a human luxury, but a necessity for a fulfilling life and decent livelihoods,” she said.

During the ensuing general debate, speakers underscored the multifaceted nature of homelessness — which, as the Secretary-General’s report noted, has no universally agreed definition — and the challenges that Member States are facing in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals’ pledge to ensure adequate, safe and affordable housing for all.  Many also underscored the impact that climate change is having on accessible and affordable housing.

Guyana’s representative, speaking on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, said that despite significant progress in addressing homelessness, statistics reveal that its prevalence has increased in the past decade.  “Data also confirm that homelessness is one of the most glaring symptoms of lack of access to education, health and productive employment, inequality and social exclusion,” he said, adding that poverty reduction must remain the international community’s highest priority.

Angola’s delegate, speaking for the African Group, said poverty — especially rural poverty — is the main driver of homelessness in developing countries.  Noting that 23.5 per cent of the world’s urban population lived in slums in 2018, she said structural causes should be addressed through partnerships as well as policy interventions that distinguish between chronic and transitional homelessness.

Finland’s youth delegate said homelessness among young people is on the rise and can easily go unnoticed.  It is the most radical form of social marginalization and among the most serious problems facing youth globally, he said, adding that issues leading to homelessness can be prevented through comprehensive health and youth inclusion policies.

Belarus’s representative said his country does not have a big homeless problem nor does it have any homeless children.  Accessible housing is an important State priority and a basic element for preventing homelessness, he said, adding that building family housing is an important socioeconomic priority.

In other business, the Commission today elected by acclamation Sharifa Yousef Al-Nesf (Qatar), Caroline Bartel (Austria) and Nikola Nenov (Bulgaria) as Vice-Chairs of the session, while postponing the election of a Vice-Chair from Latin America and the Caribbean.  Ms. Al-Nesf will serve as Rapporteur.  It also adopted its provisional agenda and organization of work (document E/CN.5/2020/1 ).

In the afternoon, the Commission held a high-level panel discussion on the theme “Affordable housing and social protection systems for all to address homelessness”.

Also speaking during the general debate were ministers, senior officials and representatives of Croatia (on behalf of the European Union), Thailand (on behalf of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations), Haiti (on behalf of the Caribbean Community), Ghana, Peru, Ukraine and Venezuela.  Haiti’s delegate also made a national statement.

The Commission will reconvene at 10 a.m., Tuesday, 11 February, to continue its programme of work.

Opening Remarks

Following his election as Chair, GBOLIÉ DÉSIRÉ WULFRAN IPO (Côte d’Ivoire) said the Commission — which, like the United Nations itself, is marking its seventy-fifth anniversary in 2020 — plays a critical role in supporting Member States in the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.  The year 2020 also marks the twenty-fifth anniversary of the World Summit for Social Development, held in Copenhagen in 1995.  Emphasizing that the meeting’s inclusive principles remain highly relevant today, he underlined the 2030 Agenda’s promise that no one should be left behind because of their gender, race, ethnicity, age, social or economic status or where they live.  Against that backdrop, he welcomed the Commission’s 2020 focus on affordable housing and social protection systems and the fact that it coincides with the start of a new Decade of Action to deliver on the Sustainable Development Goals.

Noting that this year’s meeting will explore strategies to accelerate progress on Goals 1, 8, 10 and 11 — on ending poverty, ensuring decent work and economic growth, reducing inequality and building sustainable cities and communities, respectively — he said the focus will be on supporting States in realizing those targets and the right to adequate housing enshrined in the 2016 New Urban Agenda.  As its outcome document, the Commission will seek to adopt its first resolution addressing homelessness.  Action-oriented policy recommendations, together with summaries of the session’s various panel discussions, will serve as the Commission’s contribution to the Economic and Social Council’s 2020 high-level political forum and high-level segment.  The Commission will also deliberate on issues pertaining to the social dimensions of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) and modalities for the fourth review and appraisal of the implementation of the 2002 Madrid International Plan of Action on Ageing, he said.

LIU ZHENMIN, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, said that 25 years after the World Summit for Social Development in Copenhagen, conflict, poverty and disease continue to shorten the lives of many.  Rising inequality, slowing economic growth, climate change and the impact of technology on the future of work are squeezing the prospects of social and sustainable development.  “In short, we’re not on track to meet the Sustainable Development Goals.”  Underscoring the Commission’s unique mandate to ensure that those left behind see meaningful improvements in their daily lives, and drawing attention to the Department of Economic and Social Affairs’ recently launched World Social Report 2020 , he said solutions much be found to address the vulnerabilities of those left behind.

“Homelessness is a harmful form of systemic discrimination and social exclusion,” affecting people everywhere, he said.  Its causes are many and interrelated, including the unravelling of working-class communities, declining manufacturing employment, substance abuse and “unchecked gentrification”.  In many countries, the supply of adequate and affordable housing is failing to keep up with demand, he said, adding that housing for the past 20 years has been largely unaffordable for most of the world’s population.  Many of the world’s 25 million refugees live in inadequate shelters, while the Special Rapporteur on adequate housing describes homelessness as a global human rights crisis.

For the most vulnerable, homelessness is not only that lack of physical housing, but also a loss of family, community and a sense of belonging, as well as an erosion of self-esteem leading to substance abuse, poor health and loss of life, he continued.  It affects people of all ages, genders and socioeconomic backgrounds, he said, pointing to the rapid growth of homelessness among older people, particularly older women, who are more vulnerable to poverty, and young people and migrants, who lack financial stability.

“We must redouble our efforts to rid the world of this inhumane scourge that is homelessness,” he said, highlighting the need for adequate, accessible and affordable housing, expanded social protection systems, and measures to mitigate the impact of climate change while also building safe and accessible neighbourhoods.  Effectively addressing homeless will require policies and partnership between Governments, civil society and faith-based organizations, philanthropic organizations, financial institutions and the private sector — and homeless people themselves, he said.  He concluded by expressing confidence that China will be able to overcome the novel coronavirus outbreak “very soon”.

DANIEL PERELL, Chairperson of the NGO Committee on Social Development , said humanity rises or falls as a single global family, and that the good of the part is achieved by working for the good of the whole.  However, the United Nations is characterized by a culture of negotiation in which national interests are paramount.  Such an approach may have been appropriate 75 years ago, but it is seeing its limits today in the face of myriad challenges.  Emphasizing that the Copenhagen Declaration on Social Development gave voice to the well-being of those who had previously received little attention, he said change requires robust transformation.  Arrangements of all kinds need to be reimagined in the interest of humanity.  On behalf of the NGO Committee, he requested the Commission to adopt a clear and universal definition of homeless that would make it possible to measure and analyse homelessness in given areas.  He also proposed the establishment of standardized measurements of homelessness in response to a shortage of reliable data and research on the problem.

OLIVIA TAN JIA YI, a member of the Yale International Relations Association , speaking on behalf of the United Nations Major Group for Children and Youth, said the last 15 years have seen important development strides, including a 38 per cent drop in poverty.  “We celebrate these achievements, but are also aware of the growing inequalities, slow progress and deeply rooted issues that systematically put profit over people and the planet,” she said.  Calling for a renewed ambition and sense of urgency to reverse that trend, she pointed out that in 2018 countries of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) saw a 34 per cent housing cost overburden rate, and low-income private tenants were estimated to be spending on average more than 40 per cent of their income on rent.  Some OECD States also saw a worrying increase in youth homelessness and rising rates of homelessness among families with children.  Meanwhile, concerns are also increasing over such crucial issues as the global climate emergency, public health challenges and rising political divisions.

Expressing concern that countries only spend 20 per cent of their gross domestic product (GDP) on social protection schemes, she underlined the urgency of addressing housing as a critical issue affecting the world’s young people.  “A roof over our heads and four solid, warm walls are not a human luxury, but a necessity for a fulfilling life and decent livelihoods,” she said.  Decent housing should be accessible and affordable to youth, children and people of all socioeconomic classes.  Indeed, without a secure environment, young people find it harder to develop emotional resilience, physical health and peace of mind.  “These costs, slowly building, snowball into lowered economic productivity, social malaise and perhaps most regrettably a defeated and distressed generation,” she said, calling on States to urgently invest in the security of the world’s young people.  Failure to do so will haunt the world for future generations, she warned, spotlighting the potential benefits of robust social protection policies, and funding for higher education, skills development and nutritious food.  “The goal of these policies is simple — to provide every child with the same starting line, a fair chance in life no matter what circumstances they were born into,” she said.

Introduction of Reports

DANIELA BAS, Director, Division for Social Policy and Development of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs, introduced several documents related to the Commission’s work.  Drawing attention to the Secretary-General’s report on “Affordable housing and social protection systems for all to address homelessness” (document E/CN.5/2020/3 ), she said it contains an overview of housing trends in both developed and developing countries and explores the drivers of homelessness.  Spotlighting such driving factors as personal and family circumstances and the impacts of the global climate crisis, she said the report focuses in particular on the most vulnerable groups.  It encourages Member States to develop comprehensive, intersectional strategies and specific interventions to address homelessness while improving access to affordable housing and addressing the rising commercialization of housing.

Turning to the Secretary-General’s report “Social dimensions of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development” (document E/CN.5/2020/2 ), she said it addresses progress and gaps in reducing poverty and achieving sustainable development in Africa.  It also explores synergies between the 2030 Agenda and the African Union’s Agenda 2063, calling among other things for sound governance and the provision of public goods and services, including universal health coverage and social protection floors.

Meanwhile, she said, the Secretary-General’s report on “Modalities for the fourth review and appraisal of the implementation of the Madrid International Plan of Action on Ageing, 2002” (document E/CN.5/2020/4 ) provides an overview of the modalities for that meeting and addresses the increasingly important trend of ageing around the globe.  His report titled “Implementation of the objectives of the International Year of the Family and its follow-up processes” (document A/75/61-E/2020/4 ) highlights recent trends related to families, with a focus on homelessness and how it impacts them.  Noting that homelessness is sometimes temporary but can also become chronic, she said the report describes cash transfers as key to reducing poverty in single-parent households — which are often headed by women.  There is also a growing recognition that cash transfers should be backed by broader investments in education, health, childcare and affordable housing, she said.

Finally, she said, the Secretary-General’s report titled “Twenty-five years of the World Summit for Social Development:  addressing emerging societal challenges to the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development” (document E/CN.5/2020/5 ) reviews global megatrends since the 1995 Copenhagen Summit, with a focus on issues relevant to the Commission’s 2020 theme.  In particular, she recalled the three core objectives identified by the Summit — namely, poverty eradication, the promotion of productive employment and decent work for all and social inclusion — and noted that the report explores how they intersect with such recent global shifts as climate change and evolving technology.

VESNA BEDEKOVIĆ, Minister for Demography, Family, Youth and Social Policy of Croatia , speaking on behalf of the European Union, said homelessness is on the rise in most of the bloc’s member States.  Through its European Pillar of Social Rights, the Union promotes the reintegration of homeless people into society by means of enabling social services.  It supports member States in implementing preventative policies that produce long-term social and economic benefits, including lower public expenditure.   While youth unemployment in the Union has declined to 14.2 per cent, it is still more than double the overall rate, with certain groups of young people at a disproportionate advantage.  Technological change is also bringing new challenges, she said, emphasizing that the bloc will reinforce its Youth Guarantee framework to keep it in line with changing labour markets.  She noted that the European Commission will in 2020 propose a new European Gender Equality Strategy and publish a green paper on ageing, together with the results of a review of the European Disability Strategy 2010-2020.  She expressed hope that the European Consensus on Development will remain a key instrument for supporting social development worldwide.

RUDOLPH MICHAEL TEN-POW ( Guyana ), speaking on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, said the 1995 World Summit augured an historic consensus on the need to put people at the centre of development.  The 2030 Agenda aims to ensure access for all to adequate, safe and affordable housing — as well as basic services — and to upgrade slums.  Regrettably, and notwithstanding the significant inroads made in addressing homelessness, statistics reveal that the phenomenon’s prevalence has progressively increased in the past decade.  “Data also confirm that homelessness is one of the most glaring symptoms of lack of access to education, health and productive employment, inequality and social exclusion,” he said.  Calling for a consideration of the multiple causes and consequences of homelessness — as well as the challenges faced by homeless persons — he stressed that poverty reduction should remain the international community’s highest priority — especially in light of the impacts of climate change, food insecurity, armed conflict, slowing global economic growth, humanitarian emergencies and global health threats.  He underlined the importance of scaling up South-South and triangular cooperation and mobilizing resources through official development assistance (ODA), while asking all Member States to work together in a spirit of responsibility, transparency, solidarity and cooperation to tackle such emerging challenges as the novel coronavirus.

VITAVAS SRIVIHOK ( Thailand ), speaking on behalf of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and aligning himself with the Group of 77, said the bloc has advanced economic growth through vibrant trade and investment.  Addressing rapid urbanization requires intersectoral policy frameworks and housing strategies, he said, pointing to the ASEAN Human Rights Declaration (2012), which recognizes that every person has the right to adequate living standards — including adequate and affordable housing.  The Sociocultural Community Blueprint 2025, along with the Master Plan on ASEAN Connectivity 2025, are the main mechanisms directing efforts to foster sustainable urbanization.  At the same time, rural livelihoods are promoted through the ASEAN Framework Action Plan on Rural Development and Poverty Eradication 2016-2020, which helps poor households access productive natural resources, financial support and social protections.  The 2018 Declaration on Strengthening Social Protection, meanwhile, fosters access to vocational training and other such resources, he said, underscoring ASEAN’s commitment to raising living standards and empowering people to address future challenges.

BOCCHIT EDMOND, Minister for Foreign Affairs and Worship of Haiti , speaking on behalf of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) and associating himself with the Group of 77, noted that progress has been made in reducing poverty since the 1995 World Summit for Social Development, pointing out, however, that inequality has persisted.  If left unaddressed, it will create further challenges, such as homelessness.  While inequality and poverty are among the foremost causes of homelessness, the adverse effects of climate change can also displace people from homes for a prolonged period.  Small island developing States are vulnerable to natural hazards such as earthquakes and storms.  In recent times, they obliterated homes and social infrastructure, wiped out agricultural land and hampered essential services, causing instant economic losses exceeding 100 per cent of GDP.  Expressing concern that the Secretary-General’s report indicated disasters stemming from natural hazards have displaced an average of almost 24 million people each year over the last decade and damaged more than 9 million homes between 2005 and 2017, he said that the Community’s member States are making ongoing efforts to build resilience, guided by the CARICOM Strategic Plan 2015-2019, Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, 2030 Agenda, Paris Agreement on climate change, Addis Ababa Action Agenda and the New Urban Agenda.  But “we cannot do it alone,” he said, stressing the need for partnerships.

MARIA DE JESUS DOS REIS FERREIRA ( Angola ), speaking on behalf of the African Group, and associating herself with the Group of 77, said homelessness is mainly driven by structural causes, including inequalities and poverty among and within countries.  In developing countries, poverty — especially rural poverty — is the main driver of homelessness, with a lack of employment opportunities and more frequent extreme weather events leaving many with no choice but to migrate to cities.  She expressed concern that 23.5 per cent of the world’s urban population lived in slums in 2018, a number that is projected to increase, with Africa and Asia accounting for nearly 60 per cent of the increase.  With the number of those living in inadequate housing estimated to reach 3 billion by 2030, and with sub-Saharan Africa facing a shortage of 3.4 million affordable housing units, there is a need to develop data to identify the homeless and ensure they are included in official statistics.  The structural causes of homelessness should meanwhile be addressed through partnerships as well as policy interventions that distinguish between chronic and transitional homelessness.  She went on to stress the way that climate change has heightened the risk of disaster-related displacement and homelessness.  While emergency shelters and temporary housing are crucial, relocation assistance for transition to permanent housing should be provided as soon as possible, she said, urging the international community to honour its development commitments.

CYNTHIA MAMLE MORRISON, Minister for Gender, Children and Social Protection of Ghana , associating herself with the Group of 77 and the African Group, outlined her country’s strides towards eradicating poverty as well as gaps that remain.  Citing strong economic growth and proactive Government policies, she said Ghana’s poverty and extreme poverty incidence declined from 56.5 per cent and 18.2 per cent in 2002-2003 to 23.4 per cent and 8.2 per cent, respectively, in 2016-2017.  The Government recently launched a programme to build 250,000 affordable housing units and introduced a national credible mortgage regime.  Among other things, it is working to bridge development gaps between inner cities and “zongo” communities and plans to build a 600-bed hostel for migrant workers outside Accra.  Outlining policies related to protection for older persons, affirmative action schemes and support for non-governmental organizations, she said they are based on the principles of solidarity, universality, sustainability, adequacy and participation.  In addition, about 1.4 million out of the 2.4 million Ghanaians currently living in extreme poverty are beneficiaries of the country’s flagship cash transfer programme, known as Livelihood Empowerment against Poverty (LEAP), she said.

ARIELA LUNA FLOREZ, Minister for Development and Social Inclusion of Peru , said her country is rolling out a project to use new technology to improve the heating of homes in sparsely populated areas at altitudes of more than 3,000 metres.  Warmer homes are part of Peru’s social protection system, she said, explaining how the project also helps to create jobs and thus reduce poverty.  The goal is to build homes that are affordable, sustainable and which improve the quality of life of their occupants.

AINO-KAISA PEKONEN, Minister for Social Affairs and Health of Finland , associating herself with the European Union, said the Government is committed to halving homelessness during its term, and ending it by 2027.  It will carry out measures to decrease the carbon footprint of housing and improve energy efficiency of the existing building stock.  “Governments are responsible to secure affordable housing for all,” she said.  “Markets alone, especially without regulation, will not be able to do it.”  The right to social protection for all must be included in the Commission’s mandate and agenda.  During Finland’s presidency of the European Union in 2019, the Government introduced the “Economy of Well-being” concept, underlining the mutually reinforcing nature of well-being and economic development, as investing in better health, education, employment, gender equality and social protection fosters sustainable economic growth.  Youth delegate YURI BIRJULIN added that homelessness among young people is on the rise and can easily go unnoticed.  It is the most radical form of social marginalization and among the most serious problems facing youth globally, he said, adding that issues leading to homelessness can be prevented through comprehensive health and youth inclusion policies.

YULIA SOKOLOVSKA, Minister for Social Policy of Ukraine , associating herself with the European Union, said her Government recently signed a decree committing to implement the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030.  National social policy is aimed at minimizing and overcoming difficult circumstances, including those caused by lack of housing, and a social support system for vulnerable groups is in place.  The State provides apartments for orphaned children and those deprived of parental care.  One significant challenge is providing housing for internally displaced persons who have fled an armed aggression of the Russian Federation and participants in an anti-terrorist operation in Donbas.  Recalling the 2017 introduction of a cash compensation mechanism supporting 2,800 families, she also described a step-by-step social reintegration model aimed at identifying, registering and sheltering homeless people and connecting them with work opportunities.  The final step of the plan is to obtain housing — either private or social — and a review is under way to ensure that social housing is affordable, she said.

ILDEMARO VILLARROEL ARISMENDI, Minister for Housing and Habitat of Venezuela , associating himself with the Group of 77, said poverty and inequality are the main causes of conflict around the globe.  Calling for the promotion of new, sustainable social models that are truly people-centred, he said Venezuela was recognized as a swift adopter of the Millennium Development Goals and is now working to implement the Sustainable Development Goals.  The country transformed its patterns of capitalist production into a more inclusive, people-owned economic model.  Among other things, it eradicated illiteracy entirely in 2005, and now provides some 2.5 million metric tons of food to more than 7 million families each month to protect against the negative impacts of the unilateral coercive measures imposed by the United States against Venezuela.  Noting that the provision of housing is a cornerstone of the country’s social protection polices, he pointed out that the Government has provided more than 3 million housing units in nine years’ time.  Meanwhile, the United States through its sanctions has stolen more than $30 billion from his country and wields food and medicine as weapons of economic warfare in a bid to impose its national interests, in contravention of Venezuela’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, he said.

Mr. EDMOND ( Haiti ), speaking in his national capacity, said his country has limited means to address social development.  Over the past decade, Haiti has been subjected to natural hazards that exasperated its political, economic and social situation.  Underscoring the President of Haiti’s efforts to fight corruption, he said the country’s political instability has deep-rooted causes and remains a major impediment to national reconstruction.  In response, the President is promoting an inclusive national dialogue to address Haiti’s problems in their complexity.  High unemployment and social insecurity characterize Haiti today and the responses can be neither sporadic nor based on immediate solutions, he said, emphasizing the need for strengthened international support that is aligned with national priorities.

ANDREI DAPKIUNAS Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs of Belarus , describing homelessness as a failure of society, said his country does not have a big homeless problem nor does it have any homeless children.  Ninety-two per cent of the population has accommodation, which is a constitutional right.  Accessible housing is an important State priority and a basic element for preventing homelessness, he said, adding that building family housing is an important socioeconomic priority.  Guaranteeing accessibility requires close State monitoring of construction costs and financial support.  He went on to emphasize that housing must also be safe and comfortable, adding that green construction methods can also contribute to climate security.

Panel Discussion

In the afternoon, the Commission held a high-level panel discussion on the priority theme “Affordable housing and social protection systems for all to address homelessness”.  Moderated by Louise Casey, Chair of the Institute of Global Homelessness, it featured keynote presentations by Mary McAleese, former President of Ireland, and Maimunah Mohd Sharif, Executive Director of United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat). 

Six panellists delivered remarks:  Aino-Kaisa Pekonen, Minister for Social Affairs and Health of Finland; Laura-Maria Crăciunean-Tatu, Associate Professor at the Lucian Blaga University of Sibiu, Romania, and Vice President of the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights; Dennis P. Culhane, Dana and Andrew Stone Chair in Social Policy, University of Pennsylvania, and the former Director of Research at the National Center on Homelessness among Veterans, the United States Department of Veterans’ Affair; Marissa Plouin, Housing Policy Analyst, OECD; Emeka Obioha, Professor of Sociology in the Department of Social Sciences and Research Chair, Faculty of Humanities, Social Sciences and Law at Walter Sisulu University, South Africa; and Jean Quinn, Executive Director of UNANIMA International and Co-Chair of the Non-Governmental Organization Working Group to End Homelessness. 

Ms. MCALEESE, delivering her keynote address, said that today’s theme is a priority to many people around the world but still struggles to reach the top of Government agendas.  “There is hope and reassurance in this gathering,” she said, noting that the objective of today’s panel discussion is to explore the working strategies and best practices to achieve the 2030 Agenda — including access to safe and affordable housing for all.  Emphasizing that housing is a right, she said Governments that fail to prioritize it leave their children exposed to unnecessary trauma “as they try to ride out storms that are not of their making” but that instead are due to such forces as poverty, climate change and volatile economic markets.  Outlining Ireland’s history with homelessness, she recalled that it once had a large population of “rough sleepers” — mostly men, with poor social support structures and personal troubles — who were often regarded as authors of their own misfortune and overlooked by society.  Later came waves of asylum-seekers from abroad, for which Ireland was unprepared.  Charities were the first to sounds the alarm about the challenges of homelessness, she said, drawing attention to another spike in Ireland’s homeless population — which grew by almost 150 per cent between 2014 to 2018. 

Describing some of their challenges and stories, she said that many homeless people around the world today are not on the street, but neither are they in their own homes.  In Ireland, there are also thousands of asylum seekers living in “direct provision centres” and receiving financial support on a temporary basis.  While that system is controversial, it has nonetheless helped to reduce lengthy queues and backlogs.  People allowed to remain in Ireland permanently immediately face a massive housing squeeze.  Noting that recent polls find that most the Irish population is in favour of addressing homelessness and housing as a priority, she stressed that homelessness must not mean unending hopelessness.  Ireland is proud of its successful emergence from the recent global financial crisis and its diverse and dynamic population.  Recounting her own brief encounter with homelessness during the early years of the Northern Irish Troubles, she said: “It was enough to carve an enduring memory of the chaos and fear of life lived off the grid.”  Indeed, tens of millions around the world live in a precarious limbo, relying on strangers and easily lost in a sea of numbers, and Governments have no chance of addressing other development challenges if they cannot consign homelessness to history.

Ms. SHARIF, delivering keynote remarks in a video message, said that she is currently in Abu Dhabi at the 2020 World Urban Forum — a meeting which shares many priorities with this year’s session of the Commission on Social Development.  Welcoming the longstanding partnership between the Department of Economic and Social Affairs and UN-Habitat, she added that housing issues are high on the priorities of the 2030 Agenda.  “The future of sustainable urbanization depends on how policy-makers prioritize housing,” she stressed, emphasizing that housing “is not just about a roof” but about human rights.  Poverty and inequality — also central issues in sustainable development — are two of the main drivers of homelessness, she said, adding that they are also related to the human right not to suffer from cruel and inhumane conditions.  “Homelessness is a societal failure, rather than an individual one,” she stressed.

Noting that homelessness exists around the world in both developed and developing countries, she said that a recent UN-Habitat report aims to collect input from various experts involved in protecting and promoting housing rights around Sustainable Development Goal 11.  Among other challenges, it addresses such driving factors as environmental disasters, conflict and unprecedented migrant flows.  In that context, she emphasized the need to address the phenomenon holistically, stressing that housing entails “more than four walls”.

Ms. CASEY said that she has worked in homelessness for more than 30 years, including as “homelessness czar” under Prime Minister Tony Blair.  In her country, homelessness was defined as “rough sleepers” who literally sleep on the pavement.  Definitions of homelessness may very from country to country, however.  She added that the United Kingdom does a good job of collecting and reviewing homelessness data, but sadly many other countries have no definition, framework or measurement.  Solving homelessness requires reliable data and good information to know how to implement targeted and comprehensive solutions and to know if those solutions are achieving good outcomes.  Even if all the Sustainable Development Goals make headway, the homeless on the street will be most at risk of being left behind.  “We have to make everyone count,” she said, emphasizing the importance of a definition, a framework and a means of measuring homelessness in its own right.

Ms. PEKONEN said that the Government of Finland wants to eradicate homelessness by 2027 through a “Housing First” approach that focuses on making housing advice more readily available while also preventing homelessness, particularly among young people and migrants.  Statistics on homelessness can be collected through existing national databases.  She explained that Finland’s approach is based on a simple idea:  to give people permanent housing and support as soon as they become homeless.  When someone has a secure roof over their head, it is easier for them to focus on their other problems.  She emphasized that housing one long-term homeless person can save €15,000 in social funds per year, and that in Tampere city, housing with intensified support has reduced demand for social and health-care services by half.  Ending homelessness not only the ethically correct thing, but also economically sustainable, she added.

Ms. CRĂCIUNEAN-TATU discussed the applicability of the human rights-based methodology in the context of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, emphasizing that that instrument sets a normative framework for addressing housing issues.  Four if not all of its tenets are applicable in cases involving homelessness, she said, including the identification of marginalized and disadvantaged groups, refraining from legislative and other policy measures that would deprive citizens of their rights, the obligation of States parties to ensure access to legal mechanisms, and their obligation to adopt preventative steps to protect people against violations of their Covenant rights by private parties.  She went on to summarize two quasi-judicial decisions by the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights dealing with housing issues, including the eviction of tenants.  Homelessness must be seen and addressed as a violation of human rights, namely the right to adequate housing, she stressed.

Mr. CULHANE shared two distinct stories of homelessness in the United States.  One began in 2009, when former President Barack Obama’s Government embarked on an aggressive programme tackling street homelessness.  That strategy involved the provision of permanent housing — including funding about 90,000 housing vouchers for veterans — as well as the mobilization of popular community support.  As a result, the number of veterans experiencing homelessness in the United States dropped by 50 per cent in just eight years.  Despite those positive trends, however, a second story is now unfolding in many cities on the United States West Coast, as well as in Washington, D.C., and New York City.  Citing a failure in the housing market and the inability of the Government to address it, he pointed to a major supply-side challenge in a country where 97 per cent of housing is private.  There are also challenges on the social protection side of the equation, he said, pointing out that when people in the United States lose their jobs or suffer a disability, most are not eligible for Government housing assistance.  Meanwhile, the country’s Earned Income Tax Credit does not reach any single adults without dependent children, and even support for eligible families remains woefully inadequate.

Ms. PLOUIN, outlining the findings of a recent OECD report including cross-country comparison data, said homelessness is difficult to measure and even more difficult to compare.  Countries share no common definition of homelessness and count people in different living circumstances differently.  Many cities across the world carry out street homelessness counts, which present a snapshot in time but do not shed light on trends or “hidden homeless” populations.  Outlining the report’s data in light of such caveats, she said that across the OECD people can be either chronically or sustainably homeless — a smaller and more visible share of the overall homeless population — while others are temporarily or transitionally homeless.  Calling for solutions that address a range of driving factors, she spotlighted a rise in youth homelessness in Australia, Ireland and New Zealand and increasing family homelessness in England.  In Canada and New York City, senior homelessness is on the rise.  Homelessness has increased in recent years in about a third of OECD countries, while it has declined in about a quarter of them.  Agreeing with other speakers that countries should commit to collecting and using better data, she said that only 17 of 42 OECD countries have national plans to combat homelessness and many employ a patchwork of solutions.  “We can do better,” she said.

Mr. OBIOHA said that homelessness is a huge problem which straddles all continents and affects everyone, directly or indirectly.  Care must be taken, however, in the way that homelessness is framed, as its definition in developed countries may not be the same in developing States.  Most worrying in sub-Saharan Africa is the conflagration between homelessness and related conditions.  Projecting an image of a thatched house in an African village, he said that such a family may be living in inadequate housing, but it does not represent homelessness like someone who is sleeping on the streets.  He added that most data on homelessness is “not really hardcore” and that homelessness never gets its own chapter in national censuses.  According to available estimates, Nigeria has 24.4 million homeless people, while about 100,000 people are homeless in Togo’s capital city of Lomé.  In Kenya, about 2 million people were homeless in 2012, while in South Africa, some 200,000 people were thought to be living on the streets in various cities and towns.  Africa urgently needs affordable housing because more than 50 per cent of its people are living in substandard conditions.  The good news, however, is that several African countries have embarked on affordable housing programmes.  In Nigeria, South Africa, Ghana and some other countries, employers are required to provide their workers with housing allowances, he said, adding that free housing is also available in South Africa.

Ms. QUINN said that States are failing to meet their obligations to provide housing as a basic human right, leaving homelessness as one of the most devastating cross-cutting issues faced by the global community.  Family homelessness is a growing social problem, with more than 73 million families lacking decent shelter in India alone, in line with global trends.  Yet family homelessness is poorly documented at the global level, both quantitatively and qualitatively.  Underscoring the plight of homeless women, children and girls, she said that with no formal address, they often struggle to obtain even the most basic services, such as education and health care.  Often ignored is the fact that homeless women tend to seek shelter from relatives, friends and acquaintances, only turning to homeless services when informal options run out.  In Australia, recent studies indicate that older women are the fastest-growing homeless demographic, she said.  For children, homelessness can lead to acute physical and mental health problems.  She emphasized the need for a human rights approach of homelessness that includes a globally agreed definition of the phenomenon.

As the floor was opened for comments and questions, the representatives of several countries shared their national experiences with homelessness, outlining a range of driving factors as well as strategies aimed at tackling the phenomenon.

The Vice-Minister for Women, Family and Human Rights of Brazil said her country’s housing policy is guided by the principle of universal access.  Housing — as well as health care and access to public services — is a federal right guaranteed to all 220 million Brazilians by the Constitution, she said, also spotlighting the country’s Bolsa Familia financial assistance programme and a new pilot programme targeting the cycle of street homelessness.

The Minister for Housing and Habitat of Venezuela said that his country’s social protection system is the product of approaches that prioritize the population’s well-being.  Underscoring the country’s focus on housing as a human right, rather than a commodity, he described a range of high-impact, innovative social policies.  Thirty-five per cent more housing has been built to date and access is provided to the neediest on a priority basis, he said, pledging that the United States’ unilateral coercive economic measures will not succeed in derailing such important development strides.  Noting that the final cost of housing is an important factor, he asked Mr. Obioha how to best address the challenge of speculative land prices.

Responding, Mr. OBIOHA said that some countries in sub-Saharan Africa have enacted measures to assist those who cannot pay for homes — especially in terms of down payments.  Others have regulated interest rates.  While markets are left intact, “the poorest of the poor are not just left out in the wind”, he said.

The representative of the European Union agreed with the panellists that a common definition of homelessness — and the availability of more reliable data — would be useful.  He asked them to comment on how they would help countries achieve Sustainable Development Goal 11.

Ms. PLOUIN, responding to that question, said that — even in the absence of a shared definition — a broad commitment by States to use a common typology would be helpful as countries work to achieve Goal 11.

The representative of Morocco agreed with the panellists that prevention of homelessness is crucial and asked them to elaborate on effective prevention strategies.  She also asked them to address the situation of homelessness in the Arab world and the specific phenomenon of homelessness among children.

To that, Ms. QUINN responded that it is crucial to examine the driving factors that lead people to become homeless.  A focus on children is also critical, she said, noting that UNANIMA will launch a programme on 11 February examining both quantitative and qualitative data exploring what it is like for children and young people who experience homelessness.

Ms. CASEY said that while children around the world suffer homelessness in different ways, they must always be prioritized by their Governments.

Ms. PEKONEN, speaking to the issue of prevention, called for political will at the highest levels of Government.  In Finland, efforts to end homelessness are based on joint efforts by national and local leaders as well as the systematic introduction of social protection schemes and affordable housing.

Mr. OBIOHA echoed the need to root out the causes of homelessness, noting with regret that Government efforts too often focus on macroeconomic causes rather than specific driving factors.

A representative of the non-governmental organization International Longevity Centre Global Alliance spotlighted the opportunities presented by technology to track and better understand homelessness.  She asked the panellists how they believe data systems can be better used to reflect the urgency of the problem and how to utilize technology more effectively.

Mr. CULHANE responded that relatively simple technology already exists to share data and ensure real-time client care coordination.  Clients can use text messaging and applications to stay connected with care professionals, he said, citing the example of medication reminders.

A representative of the New Future Foundation asked the panellists who should be held responsible for reinforcing the rights of elderly people and others against predatory lending practices and mortgage fraud.

To that, Ms. CRĂCIUNEAN-TATU responded that a human rights-based approach to homelessness is crucial and suggested that States consider imposing a responsibility on judges to consider the risk of homelessness in their decisions. 

Also speaking was a representative of Senegal, as well as speakers from the Loretto Community and ATD Fourth World Movement.

*     The 1 st Meeting was covered in Press Release SOC/4879 of 21 February 2019.

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The world’s housing crisis doesn’t need a revolutionary solution

From Lagos to London, people are stuck in inadequate homes or pay so much of their incomes for housing that they forego other necessities. Lack of access to decent affordable housing is an issue in rich and poor economies. Even in rich countries, low-income families in inadequate housing have higher levels of unemployment and their children are more likely to do poorly in school and quit sooner than other students. High housing costs squeeze middle-income families, and in the costliest cities, even households earning far more than the median income can be financially stretched by rent of mortgage payments, limiting the growth of the local economy.

For decades, policy makers and private-sector leaders have tried to solve the affordable housing problem, yet it has only grown more severe and is on track to expand dramatically as urbanization plays out in developing economies. Today, about 330 million households worldwide are stuck in slums or inadequate housing or are paying too much of their incomes for housing; by 2025, this number could rise to 440 million households and about 1.6 billion people — or one-third of the entire urban population. Simply to replace or refurbish the world’s substandard housing and build the homes needed to accommodate new low-income urban households by 2025 could cost $9 trillion to $11 trillion, not including land, which could raise the cost to $16 trillion.

However, we believe that there is a plausible alternative, because there are clear solutions that — under proper management — can narrow the affordable housing gap substantially by 2025. In our research, we identify four “levers” to manage affordable housing delivery: finding land at the right cost, reducing operations and management costs, adopting more efficient construction processes, and improving access to financing for home buyers and builders. Together, these approaches can reduce the cost of a finished housing unit by 20% to 50%. They can be applied anywhere in the world and can make housing affordable (without subsidies) for households earning 50% to 80% or more of local median income.

Achieving such results depends on new management approaches. Affordable housing programs must be designed and implemented as part of a comprehensive housing plan that considers the needs of citizens up and down the housing ladder, not just the lowest-income segments (new luxury and middle-income homes can free up older stock for affordable housing). Affordable housing should also be viewed as an important component of a broad effort to integrate low-income groups into the economy. So new affordable housing must be in places from which residents can commute to centers of employment and reach vital services such as schools and healthcare facilities.

Housing programs must also be designed with clear goals, based on detailed local data and criteria and supported by the public, government, and the private sector. Finally, delivery of affordable housing — whether it is new construction built by the private sector or subsidized by government or rehabilitation or older buildings — must be managed professionally, with measurable goals, timelines, and careful performance management and capability building.

Fortunately, our four levers do not require any breakthroughs in technology or policy. Nor would they require a massive increase in public spending. Putting the world’s poorest citizens into decent housing will still require subsidies and other government measures, but we estimate that 80% of the funding needed to close the affordable housing gap could come from private investment. Indeed, an important take-away from our research is that affordable housing is a significant opportunity for the global construction industry — about $200 billion per year in new construction would be needed through 2025 to close the gap. And, if the cost-saving approaches are used effectively, affordable housing can be a far more attractive investment than it has been.

How do these levers work? The two most powerful ones are getting land at the right cost (and in appropriate locations) and reducing construction costs. It turns out that even in major cities such as New York, there are large amounts of land that can be unlocked for development. Often land goes undeveloped because of use restriction, such as limitations on density. If there is appropriate infrastructure to support higher densities, upzoning to allow more floor space to be built on a parcel can lead to very low cost land for affordable housing. In return for giving landowners a “density bonus”—the opportunity to make more money off a parcel by building more housing — the city requires that the owner provides land for affordable housing or sets aside a certain number of units for affordable housing. In either case, land for affordable housing is reduced dramatically, in effect to zero in some cases.

Many cities have used similar strategies to fund infrastructure and housing by tapping the increase in land value that occurs when new transit infrastructure is built. There are examples in which property values rise by 30% to 60% when a new transit stop is added. By selling public property in the area or levying “betterment” assessments, the city can capture some of the increased value to pay for infrastructure and affordable housing.

On the development side, there is a great deal of room for improvement in how efficiently housing can be built. In many countries — not just in developing economies — the housing construction industry is highly fragmented, with many small, poorly capitalized players. Typically, these players have not invested in mechanization or modern methods and many work the same way they have for decades. Developers can reduce the cost of delivering housing by 30% and cut completion timelines by 40% by using standardized designs and other value-engineering tricks, streamlining purchasing and other operations to match the efficiency of other industries, and adopting industrial production methods — using more components, such as floor and wall slabs, that are manufactured off-site.

Efficiency in operations and maintenance and improved access to finance are also important ways to make housing more affordable. O&M is 20% to 30% of the cost of housing and can be cut substantially through energy efficiency measures and by professionalizing the maintenance business. Cities can certify repair and maintenance suppliers and purchasers can band together to increase buying power. By forming buying consortia, UK social housing owners have cut costs on some items by 30%. Improving access to finance for low-income households can reduce housing costs, particularly in the developing world, where many individuals are unbanked. By developing professional property appraisal systems, refining underwriting methods, and establishing credit bureaus, developing economies can reduce the cost of loans for low-income borrowers. Cities can cut financing costs for developers in several ways, including by taking the risk out of projects — fast-tracking permitting and other processes to shorten timelines or guaranteeing that there will be tenants or buyers for housing units.

None of these levers is revolutionary, but they have not been applied systematically in the past. Cities need to define very carefully what will constitute a decent, affordable housing unit in their communities (which may vary by income group), what incentives can be used to encourage private investment (what land might be released for development, for example), and which kinds of households will benefit from the city’s housing efforts. Next, they need to put in place the “delivery platform” to turn these aspirations into reality. Then the full benefits of these cost-saving approaches can be realized and the affordable housing gap can start to narrow.

This article originally ran in Harvard Business Review .

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Tackling the world’s affordable housing challenge

Solving the Housing Crisis in the Developed World

Solving the Housing Crisis in the Developed World

The global housing problem affects many Western economies, with prices rising faster than citizens’ income. In 2018 the average price of a house increased by 4.4% across Europe, with Portugal and Ireland rising by 10.3% and 10.2% respectively ( according to Eurostat ). The cost of living stops people moving to good jobs, creates a division between young and old, and lowers the quality of life for millions. According to UN Figures, only 13% of the world’s cities have affordable housing ( UN HABITAT, 2016 ) . Affordability is not only about the cost of buying a home – solutions need to consider location, quality and sustainability, social infrastructure, transport links and amenities. UN-HABITAT defines affordable housing as “housing which is adequate in quality and location and does not cost so much that it prohibits its occupants from meeting other basic living costs or threatens their enjoyment of basic human rights” (UN-HABITAT 2011). So, what are cities and organisations doing to tackle the problem? What solutions and long-term objectives are being created to deliver housing that considers both supply and demand-side challenges? We take a look at cities and organisations leading the way globally.

Emerging technologies of the Fourth Industrial Revolution create opportunities for affordable housing.  Austin based company , ICON, is leading the way into the future of home building by developing technologies capable of 3D-printing a 2,000 square foot house. ICON is working to help solve one of the most pressing issues exacerbating crisis: how to reduce time and cost in construction – and ultimately ownership.

Speaking about the product, Mayor of Austin, Steve Adler told Silicon Hills :

“A global housing crisis exists, and 1.2 billion people worldwide struggle with homelessness and can’t afford shelter. ICON’s technology can make housing more affordable. I believe in the next couple of years, you will see a 3D printed house with a for sale sign in front of it here in Austin, Texas, for sale for half price”

Credit: New Story + ICON

Cities are increasingly realizing the need for action that works towards decarbonisation targets. The Mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham, has set a target to build 50,000 affordable homes by 2038 (30,000 of which are social housing). Fuel poverty and carbon reduction remain at the heart of Greater Manchester’s plan to tackle the region’s “housing crisis” . The Greater Manchester Spatial Framework addresses sustainability, with plans to attain net zero carbon in all new homes and buildings by 2028 in line with the broader strategy of delivering a carbon neutral city no later than 2038. Energy efficiency will work to benefit residents by reducing fuel bills, and thus the cost of living. (see GM 16a Housing Strategy , 28 June 2019)

“The housing crisis takes many forms, and the challenges we face in Greater Manchester need solutions that work for our communities and residents. In drafting a Greater Manchester Housing Strategy we are focusing on where we can make a real difference by working together across the city-region, either to deliver real change on the ground, or to make the case to Government for the national changes needed to help tackle the challenges faced by people in Greater Manchester” Commented Paul Dennet, Greater Manchester Combined Authority Leader. “Specific work is already under way on many of the issues raised in the strategy, including homelessness and rough sleeping, the private rented sector, work to accelerate housing delivery and detailed work on the real pressures of housing affordability facing households in Greater Manchester. Housing is fundamental to the quality of everyone’s lives, so it’s a vital part of our work to make Greater Manchester one of the best places in the world to grow up, get on and grow old.”

Equally as important is access to transport links and amenities. Plan Melbourne’s concept of creating 20-minute neighbourhoods is guided by the principle of ‘living locally’ – allowing residents to meet their everyday non-work needs on foot (as illustrated in figure x). The vision is part of the long-term planning strategy of the Victorian Government in Australia and is currently being delivered as a pilot programme in established and greenfield neighbourhoods by the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning DELWP in partnership with Department of Transport (DoT), the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), the Victorian Planning Authority, local government, Victoria Walks, the Heart Foundation (Victoria), Resilient Melbourne, the private sector and communities. The concept aims to address the need for Melbourne to supply 1.6 million homes over the next 35 years, with a planning strategy that facilitates the development of housing that is affordable and diverse. This strategy also meets 3 of the 17 requirements set by the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development established by the United Nations. These include insuring good health and well-being, sustainable cities and communities, and sustainable development goals.

“The 20-minute neighbourhood concept is all about creating walkable, healthy, cohesive, sustainable communities with strong local economies, while reducing the need to travel and cutting greenhouse gas emissions,” says the Minister for Planning, Richard Wynne . “We want locals spending less time on the road commuting and more doing the things they enjoy with family and friends . Our communities offer so much to so many locals. For many of us, we have everything we need right on our doorstep.”

how to solve housing problems in developing countries

Credit: “Hallmarks of a 20-minute neighbourhood”, Heart Foundation (Victoria)

The housing crisis is complex with change required at each stage of the value chain. Cities must act to address affordability should they want to retain talent and key workers. Emerging advancements such as blockchain may work to ensure the proper distribution of housing, whilst technology may eventually minimise production costs and time limitations. Finally, “an enabling environment for affordable housing can be developed with the right infrastructure, investment and macroeconomic policies targeted towards social and financial inclusion” ( World Economic Forum , 2019).

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Can We Create Affordable Housing in the World’s Fastest-Growing Cities?

More than half the planet’s population lives in urban areas, and cities are absorbing most of the world’s population growth, putting pressure on the limited supply of housing. Ira Peppercorn ’85, a consultant on international development, says that creating affordable housing in the developing world requires truly understanding how people in those communities live.

Housing built along the riverbanks in Freetown, Sierra Leone

Housing built along the riverbanks in Freetown, Sierra Leone. Photos by Ira Peppercorn.

  • Ira Peppercorn President, Ira Peppercorn International

Ira Peppercorn ’85 served as deputy federal housing commissioner under President Bill Clinton and has worked on poverty and housing in dozens of countries as president of Ira Peppercorn International, an international development consulting firm whose clients have included the United Nations, World Bank, IFC, American Red Cross, and USAID. He is also a photographer and has documented the lives of poor and remote communities around the world. He talked with Yale Insights about the challenges of affordable housing in the developing world, and contributed a selection of his photos.

Q: What are the key challenges to creating affordable housing in developing countries?

The biggest challenge is that cities are growing, but in an unplanned way and in a way that creates unsafe conditions for many. The growth is steady, but steady built on steady winds up being exponential. People come for work. They know somebody in the city—a relative or friend. Often, the opportunities they find are informal. In many cases, the cities aren't ready for them. The planning systems are out of date. The building codes don't work. Basic services aren't there. The conditions can be awful—overcrowded and polluted.

As an example, Dakha, Bangladesh, is already one of the most densely populated cities in the world. Yet people keep coming, so it’s also one of the fastest growing. The newly arrived end up in informal settlements like Korail, which is a very, very dense community with housing that is not safe. These are basic structures made from wood or sheet metal walls with a corrugated tin roof. Rarely will you have an indoor toilet or running water. Cooking is done on polluting cook stoves. Floors might be cement; more likely they are dirt.

At the same time, walking through Korail you see fruit stands, barber stalls, cell phone stores. There are people fixing shoes. There are women on the ground sorting rice. The level of activity, commerce, and community is something that most Americans would find surprising.

Clearly, we want the residents of these communities to have better lives, but that doesn’t mean that everything about a slum is terrible and bad and slums should be eradicated. There is a lot of commercial activity. People are working. Kids are playing in the streets. Sometimes the best options are small improvements that let the residents live more safely while staying in or near their neighborhood.

Q: What is a slum?

The indicators of a slum include inadequate access to safe water or sanitation, overcrowding, poor structural quality of dwellings—whether because of the materials or the location—and insecurity of tenure. These are baselines to improve on. Adequate access to water does not have to mean running water in the house; it might mean you can pump drinkable water nearby. Similarly, access to sanitation doesn't mean that you have a flush toilet. There isn’t a universally accepted number for any of these indicators, but when I was at the World Bank working on an analysis of basic services in urban Kenya, we counted adequate sanitation as a communal toilet shared by less than 20 people for purposes of defining what is a slum. That is not necessarily the right number, simply an indicator to show how people are living.

The ability to turn on a tap and get a glass of clean water, the ability to close the door to a bathroom that’s in your own home—those are luxuries in a lot of places. I think most people don’t understand that.

Q: What do you get by creating a more precise definition of a slum?

Without a definition, there isn’t any way into the problem. Frustration leads to calls to eliminate slums. Often when slums are knocked down, the people who used to live there are pushed further to the periphery of the city, farther away from jobs, transportation, and services.

When you have a precise definition and data about a specific community you can say, okay, the problem in this case is access to water. There are small-scale water purification systems that can be put in people’s houses. Somewhere else the issue is sanitation. There are companies that build sanitary facilities that not only provide a safe place to use a bathroom but also treat the waste. When you have a specific definition, you can find ways to intervene that match the particular challenge.

That isn’t to say it is easy, because the scale of the problem is tremendous. In Kenya we found that over 60% of the urban population live in slums.

On the other hand, there’s value to each bit of progress. I was in Uganda at a community meeting where residents were so proud because the community meeting room was on the second floor of a building where the first floor had indoor toilets for the neighborhood. They were so proud and so happy. It was going to take at least five years to pay off the construction costs, but it was a real step up. Not just in sanitation but safety. Women particularly told me how unsafe it felt to go at night to a side street or a field to find somewhere to use the bathroom and how this building changed their lives.

how to solve housing problems in developing countries

Housing in Freetown, Sierra Leone. After the floods of September, 2016, an estimated 6,000 people had to take shelter in the National Stadium.

A tailor at work in Freetown, Sierra Leone. Informal settlements are often a hub of commercial activity.

A tailor at work in Freetown, Sierra Leone. Informal settlements are often a hub of commercial activity.

Sorting coal for cookstoves, the main source of cooking fuel in Freetown, Sierra Leone

Sorting coal for cookstoves, the main source of cooking fuel in Freetown, Sierra Leone

Boys walking home in their neighborhood of Freetown, Sierra Leone

Boys walking home in their neighborhood of Freetown, Sierra Leone.

A neighborhood in Freetown, Sierra Leone. Many people had to evacuate after torrential rain caused the river to flood.

A neighborhood in Freetown, Sierra Leone. Many people had to evacuate after torrential rain caused the river to flood.

A woman walking just after the floods in Freetown, Sierra Leone

A woman walking just after the floods in Freetown, Sierra Leone

A girl outside of her house in Sunder Nagri, New Delhi, India

A girl outside of her house in Sunder Nagri, New Delhi, India

A woman working in Sunder Nagri, a settlement on the outskirts of New Delhi, India

A woman working in Sunder Nagri, a settlement on the outskirts of New Delhi, India

A family in Sunder Nagri, a settlement on the outskirts of New Delhi, India

A family in Sunder Nagri, a settlement on the outskirts of New Delhi, India

Walking in Nairobi, Kenya

Walking in Nairobi, Kenya

Approaching Korail, the largest informal settlement in Dhaka, Bangladesh

Approaching Korail, the largest informal settlement in Dhaka, Bangladesh

Informal housing in the Korail settlement, Dhaka, Bangladesh

Informal housing in the Korail settlement, Dhaka, Bangladesh

In the market in Korail, Dhaka, Bangladesh

In the market in Korail, Dhaka, Bangladesh

Drinking tea where he lives, Haridwar, India

Drinking tea where he lives, Haridwar, India

Apartment building in Dhaka, Bangladesh

Apartment building in Dhaka, Bangladesh


A small store in the hills above Lima, Peru

Q: Are there examples of countries or cities that have responded well?

The best solutions have involved members of the community. The Akiba Mashinani Trust in Kenya works with slum residents to rebuild their informal dwellings into livable, expandable housing. They use savings plans, training, and community involvement in designing new housing. Beyond that, what makes this work is being very reasonable about expectations. People get a safe, durable, affordable dwelling, but it is small to start. They keep costs down through designs that use shared walls and some communal spaces. It works with the way people are already living, but doing it in a smarter way. The residents are trained in building techniques so that they can add rooms as they are able, allowing another family member to come or a subunit for rental income.

Thailand funds an organization called the Community Organizations Development Institute (CODI). It does many of the same things, including organizing groups within informal settlements, savings clubs, and collaboration with experts to design improvements for the community. There are also systems that allow for communal landownership and support for building collective housing. It involves a long-term commitment of time, people, and money from all partners, but it has had good results.

Q: Are there effective policy and regulatory fixes?

One of the best things that can be done, both at the local and national levels, is a survey of the current conditions. Gathering accurate data will do a world of good. Again, when officials have detailed information, when they are not just saying there is an affordable housing crisis, they can start finding specific solutions.

They can also ask why it is happening. For instance, in a lot of countries formerly under British rule, their zoning and planning system come straight from the post-World War II British building code. What made sense in 1940s London doesn’t necessarily make sense in urban Africa or Asia today.

When building codes don’t fit the local realities, people will ignore them. You wind up with informal building upon informal building. The city knows it’s happening but doesn’t have the capacity to address the situation, so they ignore it and it keeps getting worse. Planning, zoning, permit approval, and inspections are all open to corruption; if the regulations aren’t tied to the way people are actually living, there’s even less chance for success.

But if problems are identified, they can be fixed. Over five years, the government of Rwanda made a very concerted effort to streamline their land registration process. When people can access land more easily, with more certainty, and at a lower cost, that reduces the overall costs of housing.

If you notice, I am not saying that governments should go build housing or pay the private sector to do it. Time and again governments jump to solving affordability problems by increasing the housing supply, but often that new supply is not affordable and the systems causing the problems are not addressed. Sometimes much more can be accomplished by freeing up urban land or by streamlining regulations.

Q: What’s wrong with solving the problem by building housing?

Affordable housing is a very a complex problem that requires multiple solutions. If people tell you that there is one solution, run. They are going to tell you to build massive amounts of inexpensive housing so that low-income people can afford to buy. I can tell you from example after example after example, the proposed numbers look great, but over time, many of these neighborhoods turn into slums.

Governments need to look not just at the supply side, but also on the demand side of housing. The most important thing is to understand the constituency. Understand what people earn, how they earn it, and what they can afford. Manage to the way people are currently living.

How much are people paying a month for rent? If my family is earning the equivalent of $60 a month, which globally isn’t even the poorest of the poor, I can afford $20 a month for housing. Show me decent new housing that can be supported by $20 a month. Even if the government gives away the land, pays for the infrastructure, and sells the new units at cost, poor people still can't afford it. It’s typically people in the 70th, 80th, 90th income percentile who can.

Even if the government increases the subsidies to allow lower-incomes to get into the new housing, there are long-term costs. The government and the families moving in have got to understand what it takes to be there over time. Too often, they don’t.

What if, instead of subsidizing new buildings, the public sector helped with improved access to clean water and sanitary facilities, maybe a safer cook stove, while a family rents a unit owned by somebody in the neighborhood? That’s helping them get a better life—it's not everything but it's an incremental step. And it's a better step than trying to force them into an ownership situation that they are not going to be able to afford in the long run.

Q: Some problems persist because there isn’t sufficient funding dedicated to fixing it. Is that the case with affordable housing?

The answer will depend on the specific situation, but typically if you just throw money at the problem, you subsidize inefficiency. You subsidize a system that isn’t working well. You can put money in with no benefit or even a negative impact.

I would start by looking at solutions that involve no cash outlay but address problems for people that build housing, landlords, or consumers. How much does it change things if you cut the time to get a construction permit from a year to three months? What if you allow greater density in the urban core?

One of the best things cities can do it is to look at the causes of illegal building and how to change the incentives. For instance, it’s quite common in developing countries to see buildings that are seven eighths complete. It’s not that owners all ran out of money; it’s that once the building is completed they have to get an occupancy permit, which means it goes on the tax rolls.

Owners often go through a number of the steps legally. They own the land. They get the construction permit. But they are not going to get the occupancy permit because then they are going to be regulated and they are going to have to pay taxes.

What if you created a system where buildings that are safe, demonstrated through inspection, and renting to people at a defined level of affordability receive ten years of tax exemption? What does that get you? You get a degree of control. You get lower-income people living in a property that you know is safe. Ultimately, you get those buildings on the tax rolls.

If you only take the stick approach, threatening fines or jail, threatening to kick the residents out, what's going to happen? I can guarantee you there won’t be the resources for effective enforcement and the inspectors will be open to corruption and bribery. So figure out why people aren't coming under the legal system, give them a way to join, and give them something for it. Maybe you add a component where buildings that can safely expand can get loans or grants to do so as long as they continue renting to lower income families. Maybe buildings that don’t meet safety requirements can access support to get up to code. Sure, these things create a need for additional monitoring but every program will have a problem or two or five. With affordable housing, you wind up seeing there’s not one thing that will solve the problem. Progress comes from incremental steps.

Interviewed conducted and edited by Ted O’Callahan.

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Home > Books > Sustainable Housing

Sustainable Housing in Developing Countries: A Reality or a Mirage

Submitted: 18 June 2021 Reviewed: 25 June 2021 Published: 23 February 2022

DOI: 10.5772/intechopen.99060

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Efficient houses built in a way that respect resources and could last long in quality systems are said to be the way forward in achieving a low carbon footprint and a sustainable environment. These houses are constructed from high performance, energy saving materials with an energy maximizing building orientations. Findings have shown that as much as housing is a basic human need, in developing countries, around 40–75% of the population in fast growing cities is housed in squatter settlements without basic amenities and services. In sub-Saharan Africa, 59% of the populations in urban regions live in slums, about 30% in the Latin and Caribbean, 28% in Asia and Pacific region. Population migrate massively to big cities in search of green pastures, which has invariably turned green pastures into ‘brown’ if not ‘red’ pastures due to overcrowding and other social menace, turning houses to mere shelters. Energy efficiency or environmental friendly housing is far from the thoughts of dwellers which still crave to have or maintain a roof over their heads. Whereas government policies are majorly jeered towards constructing houses, if sustainable, would only be affordable for a few well to do population neglecting the homeless masses. Therefore, this chapter aims to expound on the situation of housing in developing countries as well as the possibility of achieving sustainable housing.

  • carbon footprint
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  • sub-Saharan Africa

Author Information

Ibiwumi saliu *.

  • Department of Environmental Health Sciences, Faculty of Public Health, University of Ibadan, Nigeria
  • Blue-gate Public Health Initiative, Nigeria

Evangelisca Akiomon

*Address all correspondence to: [email protected]

1. Introduction

Worldwide, there has been large scale proliferation in construction of houses due to population growth, economic development, urbanization and migration, which has in turn had a ripple effect on sustainability [ 1 ]. According to the National strategy for ecologically sustainable development, sustainability is referred to as the development that improves the total quality of life, both now and in the future, in a way that maintains the ecological processes on which life depends [ 2 ]. It is about meeting human needs and improving their quality of living by minimizing negative impact on the environment. According to Queensland Department of public works [ 3 ], sustainability could either be social, which include safety, security and universal design; or environmental, for example, water, waste, energy efficiency; or even economic, which entails cost efficiency, peace of mind and resale value [ 4 ].

Meanwhile, housing in itself is referred to as the central of sustainable development [ 5 ]. It is one of those social conditions that determine the quality of life and welfare of people and places; a social necessity of life recognized worldwide as one of the most important needs of man, after food [ 6 ]. It is a basic necessity that holds a place of singular importance in the general strategy of development [ 7 ]. The daily lives of people, their health, security and wellbeing are affected and influenced by locations of their homes, its construction and design and how well they are weaved into the environmental, social, cultural and economic fabric of communities [ 8 ].

Sustainable housing offers rare opportunities to promote not only environmental conservation and economic development but also quality of life and social equality while mitigating numerous precarious problems relating to population growth, urbanization, slums, poverty, climate change, lack of access to sustainable energy and economic uncertainty [ 9 , 10 , 11 ]. Its goal is to reduce the impact of consumption of natural systems by keeping it within natural limits while simultaneously enabling human system to be optimized without impairing the quality of life [ 8 ]. It is to integrate both green agenda, which involves maintaining the natural environment and brown agenda, i.e. ensuring a well built environment [ 6 ]. However, this has always being a dilemma for many countries, especially developing countries, which are still way behind in attaining their targets of the sustainable development goal 11 of making cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient, and sustainable, and the 2030 target, which is to ensure access to adequate, safe, and affordable housing and basic services, upgrade slums and support least developed countries [ 4 ]. Sustainable housing development could be successfully achieved, if an optimal balance is ensured between sustainable housing and residents’ satisfaction [ 12 ]. It should be environmentally safe, socially inclusive and economically productive [ 12 ] according to Table 1 . Below is the table that shows the guiding matrix for the assessment of sustainable housing, Table 1 .

Guiding matrix for assessing sustainable housing.

Source: .

2. Situations in developing countries compared to other countries

Developed and developing world are facing sustainable housing and urbanization challenges in different ways but the developing countries are moving slowly or even on a negative direction towards adopting feasible sustainable strategies [ 13 ]. Developing countries are those countries whose standard of living, income, economic and industrial development remains more or less below average. According to the IMF, there are 52 developing countries with current population of 6.53 billion, which is a considerable proportion (85.09%) of the world’s population [ 14 ]. It includes the whole of Africa, central and South America, almost all of Asia countries and numerous other island states [ 14 ]. Due to low standard of living, income, among others, decent and safe housing remains a dream for a majority of the population in most developing countries, yet housing development in itself create amplified carbon footprint and negative impact on the environment if it’s not sustainable [ 8 ]. The government even considers sustainable housing as merely social burden, while the so called pro-poor housing programs provide accommodation of poor standards in remote locations with little consideration to the residents’ lifestyle and livelihood strategies [ 8 ]. Neglecting the fact that, it is through sustainable solutions that the tensions between the sporadic urban growth, climate change, access to clean energy and environmental conditions alongside other issues can be alleviated, while the potential of improved economic prosperity and social development can be further unlocked [ 8 ].

There is indeed no doubt in the magnitude of housing problems in developing countries compared to developed countries with good standard of living and industrial development [ 15 ]. Urbanization in developing countries is in sharp contrast to that of western industrial urbanization. According to the UN-Habitat 2008b, in developing countries, 1 out of 4 households live in poverty, 40% in African cities. 25–50% of people in developing cities live in informal settlement, while not further than 35% of cities in the developing countries have their waste water treated; 2.5billion people have no sanitation and 1.2 billion do not have access to clean water [ 16 , 17 ]. Half of the urban population in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean suffer from one or more diseases associated with adequate water and sanitation [ 18 ]. Whereas between one third and one half of the solid waste generated within most cities are not collected, and less than half of the cities have urban environmental plan [ 16 ]. This has in turn made slum dwellers constitute 36.5% of the urban population in developing countries, with percentage being as high as 62% in Sub-Saharan and 43% in Southern Asia [ 17 ]. This has led to increasing urban poverty from rapid rural–urban rush, alongside inability to access sustainable and affordable housing. In developed countries there is high emission of CO 2 , in terms of energy consumption, 60% of the world’s electricity is consumed by residential and commercial building. Space heating accounts for 60% of residential energy consumption and water heating for 18%, but different strategies are relentlessly developed to alleviate these issues [ 13 ].

3. Lessons from world experiences

Balancing the equation between societal, economical and ecological issues could be quite difficult but it’s not unachievable [ 19 ]. Different countries, more of developed countries, are adopting different approaches for sustainable construction and have set different priorities depending on their economic conditions. Nations with high economic growth are developing sustainable buildings making use of latest technologies and innovations [ 13 ].

In the order of countries with best sustainability measures to the poorest, Finland among many other countries was voted best in the quality of natural environment, with very innovative and eco-friendly built environment [ 20 ]. Finland was a pioneering country of energy efficiency, after the energy crisis over three decades ago. Her goal of sustainable building was to build a house with as low energy use as possible and by utilizing the best available technology [ 21 ]. For building designs, solar heat from solar collector, geothermal heat from under building drilled borehole, solar electricity with high insulation level as well as low energy windows were adopted. Some houses adopted the use of locally available biomass to generate electricity and heat with a very low carbon footprint. Cutting edge LED application, developed through interdisciplinary research is very useful in energy saving as shown in Figures 1 and 2 . Local waste is managed with interconnected conduits that carry them away for proper disposal and recycling [ 21 ].

how to solve housing problems in developing countries

Ecofriendly house in Finland. Source: The culture .

how to solve housing problems in developing countries

House built with energy efficient materials. Source: Skimbaco .

India, a developing country, on the other hand, has 12.5% of all deaths caused environmental issues such as air pollution [ 20 ]. Most of research experts do not support government’s approach towards environmental protection policies, meanwhile more than half of the experts are of the opinion that the total population is not interested in environmental issues [ 20 ] as shown in Figures 3 and 4 . Energy resources used in India for manufacturing and transporting building materials has green high gas emission and related environmental issues. The sustainable use of these materials is also a call for concern as about 300metres depth of fertile top soil of the entire country have been said to be consumed for burnt brick clay bricks production in the next six decades if growth rate is assumed as 5% [ 22 ].

how to solve housing problems in developing countries

House in Mumbai, India. Source: India ink, New York times.

how to solve housing problems in developing countries

Aerial view of slums in India. Source: .

However there are improvements in some countries that were time past taking a down toll in sustainability. In United Arab Emirate, ABU-Dhabi as a case study, innovative technologies that are consistent with overall state expansion and growth over the years have been adopted in the creation of sustainable cities in Dubai and Abu-Dhabi [ 23 ]. A pearl rating system was established to achieve sustainability of housing throughout its life cycle from design to construction and operation. This has introduced green building norms and regulation, minimizing water and energy consumption; improving waste recycling and using local, environmentally friendly materials for construction [ 23 ].

Moreover, despite the housing crisis in the UK, environmental stewardship and long-term sustainability is the foremost in the minds of individuals, governments and businesses [ 13 ]. Environmental impact is factored in to safeguard the environment; therefore environmental sustainability is always embedded in every level of construction. Environmental stewardship is seen as not just creating great places and improving local environment, but having regard for the global climate as well by reducing energy and material consumption [ 13 ].

Since sustainability is all about meeting today’s needs without compromising the needs of future generations, sustainable housing must target economic, social and environmental sustainability ensuring that houses are affordable, accessible and posing no harm to the environment [ 24 ].

4. Challenges and way forward to sustainable housing in developing countries

Challenges plaguing sustainable housing in developing countries are numerous and diverse and will be discussed based on four dimensions of sustainability.

4.1 Social challenges

4.1.1 urbanization.

One of the greatest problems facing sustainable housing is rapid urbanization which is common among developing countries. Urbanization takes a huge toll on the environmental resources which are mostly non-renewable resulting in shortage and limited access to basic amenities such as potable water, roads, waste disposal facilities, sanitation facilities and electricity [ 25 , 26 , 27 ].

4.1.2 Slum development

The movement of growth towards metro cities and mega cities poses a greater challenge to provide housing in the already saturated urban areas, transforming them into areas of crowded habitations without basic amenities, thus giving rise to urban slums [ 28 ].

4.1.3 Policy and legislations set back

A study by Ibem and Azuh supported the fact that weak sociopolitical structure and institutional frameworks are the banes of failed housing policies and its implementation mechanisms. As a result, growth in the quantity and quality of the housing stock in the country remains poor due to non-existent or non-functional standard and norm system for accreditation of green buildings [ 29 ].

4.2 Environmental challenges

4.2.1 climate change.

Some of the resulting effects of urbanization are an overwhelming increase in the number of high energy consumption buildings, increased vehicular density, leading to more consumption and burning of fossil fuels and release of greenhouse gases. These activities are major culprits of climate change.

4.2.2 Land resource and vegetation degradation and destruction

Due to excessive pressure on land resource and vegetation arising from the need to construct more buildings, there is a huge loss of green covers leading to decrease in green belts, biodiversity loss, and loss of other green infrastructure [ 30 ].

4.2.3 Climatic conditions

Conventional sustainable housing methods may not be applicable in places with harsh climatic conditions and water scarcity.

4.2.4 Topography

The terrain of an environment can be challenging for sustainable housing. Landslides is a risk associated with mountainous and hilly areas, sudden occurrence can be very fatal for residents.

4.3 Economic challenges

Economic instability implies higher cost of living in developing countries like Nigeria, financing of housing development is a major challenge. One of the numerous reasons is that access to housing credit; mortgage or loans are associated with to high interest rates and collateral guarantees which are beyond the reach of majority of the citizens. Empirical data around the globe highlights Nigeria’s homeownership rate in urban areas is around 10% compared to 97% for Romania; 74% for Brazil; and 62% for South Africa [ 31 ].

4.3.1 Affordability

The major housing challenge in developing countries is decent affordable houses this is due to rapid urbanization caused by increasing population and rural–urban migration [ 32 ]. A major consequence of this influx in population is an intense demand for affordable housing not necessarily sustainable ones [ 31 ].

Implementation of sustainable housing in developing countries will require a relatively high initial investment, which makes it quite difficult to take off [ 2 ].

4.4 Cultural challenges

Cultural sustainability takes into consideration cultural worldviews and values, norms and traditions, as well as lifestyles and behaviors of occupants, communities and society, thus supporting the dignity of communal life. Culturally appropriate and responsive built environments are an important dimension of sustainable housing. Communities may resist sustainable housing projects that interfere with their culture and traditions.

5. Benefits of sustainable housing in developing countries

environmental benefits

Economic benefits

social benefits

5.1 Environmental benefits

Reduced environmental footprints from housing, in terms of energy and associated GHG emissions, water, land and material use [ 33 ]. Entec in his study for Defra (2004) reported that with excellent standard sustainable houses about 200 million tonnes of CO2 emissions per year could be avoided, eliminating external costs of the order of £2.9 billion. Also, with improved housing, the pressure on environmental components such as water, air and soil in slums are considerably reduced to minimal levels [ 33 ].

Water Efficiency: In regions where water availability is a limiting factor to development, the scale and pace of development could increase if less water is used. There is therefore a greater likelihood of more homes being constructed more quickly and easily if they are water efficient [ 18 , 25 ]. Sustainable buildings manage water in a more effective and environmentally friendly manner. Such as systems that recycle water e.g. harvesting rainwater for toilet cleaning. Rain water harvesting associated with aspirational standards would have additional environmental benefits of controlling storm-water run-off and reducing flood risk.

Reduced waste going to landfill or being incinerated: The use of renewable sources and materials employed in the construction of sustainable housing minimizes waste generation. In a study for Defra, it was reported that £19 million can be saved from waste going to landfills, if standard sustainable homes are built. Products such as demolition debris, sand and burnt coal can be used with excellent environmental and esthetic results [ 25 ].

Mitigate environmental hazards and promote biodiversity by improving green spaces: If developments incorporate more green spaces, there will be minimal effect on biodiversity thus, promoting diversification. Green areas also help in carbon sequestration, mitigate heat waves through their cooling effect, prevent soil erosion and the need for piped drainages by acting as soil covers [ 34 ].

5.2 Economic benefits

Employment generation and improved standards: New employment can be created through the housing sector, which is especially important in the context of developing countries. Jobs can be created through new construction and retrofitting, production of energy efficient or recycled materials and though renewable energy and technologies related to it [ 35 ]. In 2014, Canada’s green building industry generated $23.45 billion in GDP and represented nearly 300,000 full-time jobs [ 36 ].

Through energy and water efficiency, household can save costs on utility bills. Energy efficient buildings are the most cost-effective way to battle fuel poverty in households [ 37 ].

5.3 Social benefits

Reduce medical bills: use of sustainable materials, safer building materials, design and components increases the quality of life of individuals and the community and reduction in cases arising from sick buildings [ 19 ].

Increase homeowners’/users’ productivity: Qualities such as better indoor air quality, effective noise control mechanisms can improve performance and enhance productivity. Various studies have shown that sustainable buildings increase occupants’ performance and wellbeing [ 38 , 39 , 40 ]. A recent study in Australia also showed that occupiers’ cognitive scores were 61% higher for green buildings compared to standard buildings [ 38 ].

More sustainable and socially inclusive urban growth: sustainable environment promotes cultural and neighborhood integration. Communities create a sense of place, neglected or abandoned locations will result in neighborhood instability and a loss of economic activities [ 40 ].

6. Recommendation and conclusion

The best approach to achieve sustainable and affordable housing is to embark on a comprehensive approach spearheaded by appropriate standards and regulations and capacity building schemes which will oversee and ensure Strategic planning, cooperation and participation of stakeholders, supportive institutions, economic instruments and financial incentives.

6.1 Strategic planning

Strategic planning is important for ensuring efficiency and effectiveness in policy design and implementation. It enables the aspirations of different stakeholder groups to be included in a common vision that gets translated into objectives [ 1 ]. A comprehensive and clear cut plant would determine the success of a sustainability project. Goals, targets, key performance indicators and deadlines are indices that will help measure level of progress. Also, it is imperative that pilot studies are carried out which will be scaled up following their success.

6.2 Participation and cooperation of stakeholders

It is important to educate and thoroughly sensitize all stakeholders on the necessity of sustainable housing and involve them in every stage from the planning phase to scaling up. A city based approach which is a combination of “bottom up” approach which borders on self reliance and “top down” approach bordering on support will be ideal because it encourages learning and knowledge sharing platforms between stakeholders and communities, motivates communities to take “ownership” of finished products and reduce conflict between groups [ 1 ]. Sustainable housing implementation requires strong support from the government (leaders), communities and the housing industry.

6.2.1 Leadership

It is imperative that sustainable housing initiatives are backed by a clear and strong leadership and political will, as they are essential components to successful public interventions. Strong leadership is required to bring the various groups and stakeholders together also to initiate a process for collaborative decision-making, Review and adapt existing planning legislation and regulatory planning controls.

6.2.2 Communities

It is very important to involve the communities from the planning phase to the implementation phase. Such approach will build learning and knowledge sharing platforms between stakeholders and communities, encourage communities to take “ownership” of finished products and ensure that the ideas, beliefs and traditions of the communities is taken into account. All these enhance occupants’ feelings of belonging. Other actors such as built environment professionals and manufactures are responsible for ensuring that housing design criteria, materials or product specifications are environmentally responsive [ 41 ].

6.3 Regulation and standards

Sustainable housing should be long term, requiring a healthy and clear institutional setting that allows all stakeholders to play their part without fail [ 35 ]. To achieve this, the government which is the key stake holder by virtue of the crucial position which they occupy in the country has to introduce a national housing strategy and a strong legislative framework. Policies and governance structures as it pertains to various developing countries has to be reformed, strategic investment, research and training programmes launched. All these will help full institutionalization of sustainable housing policy in both governmental and non-governmental structures that is not subject to changes in government [ 34 ].

6.4 Financial incentives and economic instruments

Mobilization of financial resources by advocacy with government institution, involving the private and public-private partnership for the implementation of sustainable housing projects.

Provide funding to support emerging businesses and innovative technologies.

Low-income households, especially in developing countries, often do not have the initial capital needed for building sustainable housing or can face problems of paying back loans [ 10 ], therefore it is important to make available financial support that provide cheap credit [ 42 ].

Creating jobs for locales through sustainable construction projects.

6.5 Capacity building

Building capacities of institutions and actors is crucial for scaling up sustainable housing practices. Capacity development refers to the development of the whole housing sector whereas capacity building is targeted at improving skills of stakeholders through education, skill acquisition programs, collecting and sharing data bank of best practices. This is important for recognizing crucial needs, develop capacities to implement housing that takes care of these needs and scale up sustainable practices [ 34 , 35 ].

6.6 Pilot studies and scaling up

Embarking on pilot projects addressing sustainable housing is very important to test the viability of the project before executing it at full scale. It helps manage risk and reveal serious deficiencies or errors in the plan before committing major resources to the project. However, it is crucial to scale up sustainable housing practices to meet the massive housing demand that exists, and that will be in demand over the coming decades as expected of developing countries. Scaling up requires three key ingredients; a supportive institutional and regulatory environment, timely monitoring and evaluation mechanisms, and appropriate capacity development of the housing sector and capacity building of housing sector actors [ 35 , 43 ]. Achieving sustainable housing in developing countries could still remain a mirage if necessary measures such as the recommendations listed above still remain out of place.

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  • 24. Choguill CL. (1994) Sustainable housing programmes in a world of readjustment. Habitat International. 18:1-11.
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  • 30. United Nations. (2017). New urban Agenda third world conference on housing and sustainable urban development, Ecuador.
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  • 35. UN-Habitat. (2012). Going green. A handbook of sustainable housing practices. Nairobi. United Nations Human Settlement Programme.
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  • 39. Hamilton, A. B. (2015). USGBC Green Building Economic Impact Study. Available at
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  • 42. Throsby D. (2005), On the Sustainability of Cultural Capital, Research Papers 0510, Macquarie University, Department of Economics.
  • 43. UN-Habitat (2012). Going Green: A Handbook of Sustainable Housing Practices, UN-Habitat: Nairobi.

© 2021 The Author(s). Licensee IntechOpen. This chapter is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License , which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

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Innovative Solutions for the Housing Crisis

Six pathways to making housing more affordable and available from the Ivory Prize for Housing Affordability.

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By Abby Ivory & Kent W. Colton Dec. 1, 2020

how to solve housing problems in developing countries

The nation is experiencing a major housing shortage coupled with a crisis of housing affordability. “New housing supply is not keeping pace with rising demand,” warns Sam Khater, Freddie Mac’s chief economist, citing a shortage of about 300,000 units a year. And innovation can have a significant impact. But as Matt Ridley recently stressed in the Wall Street Journal , we need to rethink the incentives for innovation, “to expand the use of prizes, to replace the reliance on grants, subsidies, and patents.” Prizes provide the opportunity to identify innovations that are already underway, as well as recognizing creative successes that can be expanded or repeated by others. To this end, the Ivory Prize for Housing Affordability was established in 2018 to advance projects and reward innovators for their efforts to develop affordable solutions to tackle housing affordability.

Through the Ivory Prize, significant innovation and creativity have been identified: Not one solution, but a number of solutions are emerging, with a great deal of energy and creativity at the grassroots level. Based on the innovation underway and recognized through the Ivory Prize process, this article will highlight six innovative paths that will help us move towards affordability in housing.

1. Removing Regulatory Barriers at the Local, State, and Federal Level to Allow More Homes and Apartments to Be Built and Reduce the Time and Cost of Building

If the nation, and state and local communities, are going to make significant progress in addressing housing affordability, one of the key policy levers is to reduce or remove regulatory barriers to building new homes and apartments. Work is underway in the private sector and the public sector to achieve better regulatory policies for housing affordability.

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An excellent example of private sector innovation is Symbium, located in San Francisco, which has developed a computational law platform that mechanizes the rules and regulations of a planning code, to help homeowners, design professionals, and planners quickly determine if an Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU) is allowed on a property. Automating the legal analysis for the planning code enables anyone to access what is possible in a certain jurisdiction or on a given parcel, and it reduces the processing time from multiple months or weeks to an immediate response. This kind of computational capacity is an important breakthrough in reducing the administrative and regulatory barriers, and demonstrates the potential for other processing innovations related to planning and zoning.

In the public sector, the City of Minneapolis and the State of Oregon have made important steps to break down the regulatory barriers to housing affordability by essentially eliminating single-family zoning. While nearly 75 percent of the housing in Minneapolis was previously zoned single-family, now, up to three units are allowed on any residential plot of land throughout the entire city. “By rezoning lots that currently accommodate only one single-family house to allow duplexes and triplexes,” says Andrea Brennan, Minneapolis’s Housing Policy and Development Director, “Minneapolis effectively triples the housing capacity of some neighborhoods.”

In Oregon, the state legislature passed HB2001 in June 2019, with bipartisan support, historic legislation that effectively ended single-family zoning in the state. States hold the legal authority to establish the parameters for zoning at the local level, and the State of Oregon has made a bold move to assert that authority to encourage local jurisdictions to allow more housing to be built in their state.

2. Innovation to Build Faster, Increase Productivity, and Lower Costs

Entekra, located in California and focused on off-site framing, focuses on increasing home building productivity and reducing time and costs. Stick-built framing of a typical 2,500-square-foot house generally takes a crew of five workers about 15 days (71 man-days) to complete, but with Entekra’s Fully Integrated Off-Site Solution (FIOSS) and a crane, the framing can be accomplished in just four days by a crew of four (14 man-days). This represents a productivity increase of more than 500 percent and reduces total build time by an average of 30+ days, with estimated savings for each house up to $25,000. FIOSS also contributes to a reduction in errors and reduces on site skilled labor needs.

In the area of multifamily housing, FullStake Modular, located in New York City, merges modular housing with new construction technologies to bring a higher level of control, predictability and scalability to multifamily development. FullStack Modular built the modules for 461 Dean Street in Brooklyn, New York, which is the tallest modular building in the world, with 33 stories and 363 units. They use structural frames to build each of their units and verify that all tolerances are within 0.25”.

New technologies are also contributing to the effort to fight homelessness. For example, New Story Charity, based in San Francisco, has built more than 2,700 homes globally, affecting 12,000 lives, in part by partnering with a company called ICON in Mexico to use 3D printing to drive down costs.

3. Creative Finance to Allow More People to Qualify for a Mortgage and Buy a Home, and to Provide More Affordable Rental Housing

Rhino, located in New York City but licensed to operate in all 50 states, partners with building owners and managers to offer low-cost insurance as an alternative to cash security deposits. When a renter inquires about a unit where Rhino is an option, they can choose between low-cost insurance or a traditional security deposit, and the transaction is made directly with the renter. The renter receives information about the premium immediately, and then they can decide whether to pay the premium in lieu of a security deposit. The cost of insurance varies but tends to average between $4-7/month.

Several companies have developed “crowdfunding” approaches to help future home buyers and to seek investors. For example, HomeFundIt in Baltimore, Maryland, is an online crowdfunding platform that allows home buyers to use gifts from family and friends for the down payment on a home. Using a different approach, Small Change in Pittsburgh connects investors with developers to build better cities. On Small Change, anyone over the age of 18 can invest in affordable housing projects, community-centric projects, transit-oriented projects, and projects that make better places for everyone.

4. Assist Renters to Improve Their Financial Position and Credit Scores to Help Them Achieve Homeownership

Renters face a number of financial and other barriers, especially minorities and those with lower incomes, and overcoming these barriers is one of the essential paths to housing affordability. Till, located in Alexandria, Virginia, has established a platform that transforms a renter’s ability to pay, stay, and thrive in their home by using real-time data to develop payment solutions to address their needs. These personalized structures reduce the avoidable costs of delinquency and eviction. In addition, as rent is often a renter’s largest household expense, Till helps to drive meaningful improvements across a renter’s entire financial landscape.

Less than 1 percent of credit reports include rent, yet for many people it is their largest and most consistent payment. ESUSU, which is located in New York City, offers a rental data reporting service that includes rent as a factor of credit scores. This reporting service builds credit reports for renters by partnering with property managers and public housing authorities or working directly with landlords. That renters have not received credit for their payment history prevents many low-to-moderate income renters from qualifying for a mortgage, or qualifying for a higher-priced home. By using rent payment data to establish creditworthiness, ESUSU can dramatically lower the cost-of-capital for a renter who becomes a homeowner.

5. Using Existing Housing and Land to Provide Greater Housing Opportunities

One way to accommodate the unmet housing demand is to better utilize existing housing and land. Starcity, located in San Francisco, is an owner, operator, advocate, and builder of co-living communities with a mission to make great cities accessible to everyone. They accomplish this by creating comfortable community homes that inspire people to live what they feel is a more intentional life. In Boston, Nesterly has developed an innovation that tackles two big housing affordability challenges with one solution, connecting senior households and students. Students are looking for affordable places to live while they are going to school in the Boston area and senior households have homes and space but need additional income to live and pay their expenses. Nesterly provides an electronic platform that matches the students with the senior citizens, and the added benefits are often companionship for the seniors and friendly support for the students.

Another example is Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) built on the lot of a new or existing home. The Casita Coalition in San Francisco fills a unique need in California by encouraging the construction of small homes, such as ADUs, throughout all types of neighborhoods. In addition, the City of Boston provides gap funding for those approved for an ADU through a zero-interest loan, which have no monthly payment until the owner either sells or refinances.

6. Preserve and Produce Affordable Housing in Neighborhoods, Building on the People and Strengths of That Community

Century Partners in Detroit, Michigan is noted for their work to help revitalize the neighborhoods on Detroit’s northwest side through renovation, new construction, the provision of green infrastructure, and creative work with the community. They have hired more than 40 neighborhood residents to perform lawn maintenance, demolition, and eventually construction rehabilitation.

ROC USA, located in Concord, has worked over the past decade to convert mobile home parks to resident-owned communities in 17 states nationwide. ROC USA, LLC is a nonprofit social venture with a mission to make quality resident ownership viable nationwide (generally for lower-income families or individuals) and to expand economic opportunities for homeowners in manufactured (mobile) home communities. As a cooperative non-profit business, ROC USA targets lower-income people who live in mobile home parks and helps the residents with financing and technical assistance to purchase and then successfully manage their own manufactured home park as a co-op or Resident Owned Community (ROC). A recent Freddie Mac study on Resident Owned Communities found that: “ROCs are one of the few sources of unsubsidized naturally occurring affordable housing in the country not subject to market-based rent increases.”

Focus on the Solutions, Not the Problem

There are no simple nationwide solutions to housing affordability, but it’s a mistake to spend all our time talking about the problems. With the focus on solutions and innovation, it is possible to identify marvelous creativity at the “grassroots level” which is already underway throughout the country. As we recognize the innovation that is in progress, it helps highlight the directions and paths that should be followed to improve housing affordability.

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As climate risks increase, developing countries aren't getting the help they need: UN

Shortfall for poorer countries now 50% greater than previously estimated, un agency says.

how to solve housing problems in developing countries

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This summer, powerful rains flooded Haiti , forcing tens of thousands of people from their homes and killing more than 40 people.

Crops were damaged, businesses shuttered and roads washed out, with the greatest damage reported in the Port-au-Prince area and the western part of the country.

Kénel Délusca, a Haitian researcher who specializes in climate adaptation, said there's an urgent need for better infrastructure to handle extreme weather.

Haiti is particularly vulnerable to heavy rain and powerful storms, made worse by climate change , because of deforestation and poor land management. Even now, months later, the country is still trying to recover, he said.

  • At least 42 dead in Haiti after heavy weekend floods
  • More political leaders are directly linking fossil fuels to climate change

"We have destroyed roads, destroyed infrastructure, so it will be difficult for people and also for goods to be moved from one place to another, exacerbating also the issue of food security and even the social and economic stability of the country," Délusca, who holds a PhD in climatology from Université de Montréal, said in an interview.

A report released Wednesday highlighted the urgent need for assistance to help developing countries prepare for the challenges ahead.

Promises by wealthy countries to help poorer ones to adapt to climate change have slowed, despite more frequent extreme weather, with a shortfall now 50 per cent bigger than previously estimated, according to the UN Environment Program.

how to solve housing problems in developing countries

Disease could cause another crisis in flood-ravaged Libya | About That

Un head appeals for solidarity.

The gap is now estimated to be between $194-366 billion US per year, while adaptation planning and implementation appear to be plateauing, according to the report.

The report notes that a failure to put more money into adaptation will "inevitably lead to more unabated climate impacts" and much bigger costs to fix the resulting losses and damages.

The Canadian government has tried to quantify that dynamic, estimating that every $1 invested in adaptation saves $15 in costs.

United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres tried to set an urgent tone on climate change on Monday as the COP27 conference in Egypt began in earnest.

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said the failure to adapt has grave implications for losses and damages, particularly for the most vulnerable.

"My appeal to the international community is to show effective solidarity that there is much more funding for adaptation, to build resilience, to protect the communities," he said.

UNEP estimated that developing countries required $215-$387 billion per year until 2030 to adapt to climate impacts, with the figure set to rise significantly by 2050.

  • Provinces and territories sign on to Ottawa's national climate adaptation strategy

The current commitment, made in 2009, is for $100 billion annually, and even that is not guaranteed.

"The numbers are not that big: if you compare the $100 billion to the money that the United States spends on its military, and that was spent on COVID or to save its banks, this is peanuts," said Pieter Pauw of the Eindhoven University of Technology in the Netherlands, one of the authors of the report.

"It is time for developed countries to step up and provide more."

how to solve housing problems in developing countries

'The needs have grown so much'

Money for adaptation will be high on the agenda at COP28, the United Nations summit scheduled for later this month in Dubai.

"The needs have grown so much," said Pratishtha Singh, a policy analyst with Climate Action Network Canada.

"We are now in the era of losses and damages like we are seeing, [with] impacts all over the world, including Canada, like this year. So I think this whole conversation has altogether shifted."

Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault, who will lead some of the talks at COP28, said current goals are not enough and that he hopes discussions in Dubai will help unlock more money to increase climate resilience.

"We fully recognize the needs of developing countries to mitigate and adapt to climate change are greater than ever. We've all seen heart-breaking stories from around the world this past year," he said in a statement to CBC News.

A man wearing a suit speaks in front of a microphone.

In the case of Haiti, Délusca helped prepare a report outlining the country's needs over the next decade. The top 21 priorities include better irrigation equipment and water management systems. The estimated budget for those improvements is $980 million US.

But Délusca said the actual need is far greater (the report lists 340 specific areas of improvement).

"The financial needs for developing countries when it comes to adaptation are far, far beyond what is what is available right now," he said.


how to solve housing problems in developing countries

Benjamin Shingler is a senior writer based in Montreal, covering climate policy, health and social issues. He previously worked at The Canadian Press and the New Brunswick Telegraph-Journal.

With files from Jill English, Carly Thomas and Reuters

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As climate risks rise, funding for poor countries declines

A man searches for documents in his home during a flood in Sikkim, India.

Climate aid to poor countries is dwindling at a time when developing nations are facing mounting risks from storms, floods, wildfires, drought, extreme temperatures and other environment-related climate crises , according to a report released Thursday by the United Nations.

The report, published by the U . N . Environment Programme , estimates that developing countries will need $215 billion to $387 billion a year this decade to cope with the realities of a warming world — a range that is 10 to 18 times higher than what wealthy countries committed in aid in 2021, the most recent year for which figures are available.

That gap in funding for climate preparedness is leaving the world exposed, according to the report.

“Lives and livelihoods are being lost and destroyed, with the vulnerable suffering the most,” U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres said in a statement. “Yet as needs rise, action is stalling. Today’s report shows the gap in adaptation funding is the highest ever. The world must take action to close the adaptation gap and deliver climate justice.”

The assessment was released ahead of the 2023 United Nations Climate Change Conference, commonly referred to as COP28, which will be held from Nov. 30 to Dec. 12 in Dubai. Climate funding is expected to be part of negotiations at the summit.

Funding to developing countries stood at $21 billion in 2021, a 15% decline over the previous year. As a result, the gap in funding for climate adaptation and resilience is widening as needs are also rising precipitously, the U.N. report found.

“We are in an adaptation emergency. We must act like it. And take steps to close the adaptation gap, now,” Guterres said.

The report's authors also detailed how global progress on adaptation is slowing rather than accelerating in addressing the urgent threats posed by climate change.

Arguments for increasing climate aid to developing nations are rooted in the fundamentals of climate justice. Countries that have historically emitted the smallest share of the greenhouse gas emissions that are to blame for global warming are already disproportionately affected by rising seas and other climate crises.

Last year, a separate U.N. report warned of the increasing risk that climate change poses to human health, infrastructure and the stability of food and water resources. In it, 270 scientists from 67 countries issued a stark message: urgent action on climate change is needed "to secure a liveable future."

Last year’s assessment found that while climate change will affect every corner of the planet, people in Africa, Asia, South America and Central America are particularly vulnerable.

“Any further delay in concerted global action will miss a brief and rapidly closing window to secure a liveable future,” Hans-Otto Pörtner, a climatologist and one of the authors of the 2022 report, said at the time.

how to solve housing problems in developing countries

Denise Chow is a reporter for NBC News Science focused on general science and climate change.

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As climate threats grow, poor countries still aren't getting enough money to prepare

Michael Copley

how to solve housing problems in developing countries

A man walks over his collapsed mud house after heavy monsoon rains in Pakistan in 2022. Climate change makes heavy rain more common, because a hotter atmosphere can hold more moisture. Fida Hussain/AFP via Getty Images hide caption

A man walks over his collapsed mud house after heavy monsoon rains in Pakistan in 2022. Climate change makes heavy rain more common, because a hotter atmosphere can hold more moisture.

The world is facing more extreme weather that scientists say is fueled by human-driven climate change. The poorest countries have done the least to cause the problem, but they are being hit the hardest by more intense droughts and floods and storms. Yet as the threats from a warming planet grow, the United Nations says in a new report that less money is being sent to developing countries to help them adapt.

Developing countries, which have less wealth than developed countries like the United States, were promised $100 billion a year from their richer neighbors to help pay for cutting climate pollution and coping with the impacts of rising temperatures. Developed countries didn't deliver on their pledge . In 2021, they actually gave poorer nations 15% less money for climate adaptation than they did the year before. That meant less money for things like flood defenses, drought-resistant crops and early warning systems to help people evacuate emergencies.

The UN estimates the gap between how much money developing countries need to pay for adaptation projects, and the amount of public funding they're getting directly from wealthier countries and from institutions like the World Bank now stands at between $194 billion and $366 billion every year. Put another way, poorer countries need at least 10 times more money for climate adaptation than the $21.3 billion in public funding that they received in 2021.

The longer that gap persists and countries are forced to put off investments that could help blunt the impact of climate change, the more damage they're going to suffer . That reality led to the creation of a "loss and damage" fund at last year's annual UN climate negotiations, and the talks at COP28 later this year in the United Arab Emirates will focus on how to get the fund up and running.

"People do want to adapt, do see climate change coming, do know what to do — but there's no finance available to actually do it," says Pieter Pauw, a researcher at Eindhoven University of Technology in the Netherlands who was one of the authors of the UN report.

"So, we'll see things like we saw last year in Pakistan, where almost a third of the country was flooded," Pauw says, "partly because people are not adapted to climate change."

The flooding in Pakistan last summer killed at least 1,700 people and caused an estimated $14.9 billion in damage . Climate change makes heavy rain more common , because a hotter atmosphere can hold more moisture.

The UN released its report on climate funding days after an international group of scientists said countries probably won't hit a target they set to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius compared to average temperatures in the late 1800s.

Beyond that point, scientists say it is more likely that the world will suffer catastrophic climate impacts, like mass extinctions and a significant rise in sea levels. Earth's average temperature over the past decade was about 1.1 degrees Celsius higher than pre-industrial temperatures.

Global warming is "hitting some of these developing countries already quite hard," says Paul Watkiss, a climate change consultant and another author of the UN funding report. "By not providing adaptation finance, or countries not being able to put sufficient resources to do adaptation, it means it's impacting [their] development."

It isn't clear if the funding gap can be quickly filled. Developed countries previously said they would at least double their adaptation funding to around $40 billion annually by 2025. That's still just a fraction of what developing nations need.

While countries have another year to set new targets for climate finance , the UAE, which is hosting this year's UN climate summit, seems to be making the issue a priority, says Adrianna Hardaway, senior policy advisory for climate at Mercy Corps, a humanitarian group.

"I think that perhaps compared to previous years, we are seeing more attention dedicated to the fact that not only is there not enough climate finance, but that it's really not reaching the people and the places that it has to go most," Hardaway says.

Researchers say companies have also shown more interest in helping to make poorer countries more resilient to climate change, in part to protect their own supply chains. Efforts are also underway to get more climate funding to developing countries by changing how institutions like the World Bank and International Monetary Fund operate.

"We've done the least to cause this problem, but it's still us who stands to suffer the most," says Wanjira Mathai, managing director of Africa and global partnerships at the World Resources Institute. "And so we have to put in place — quickly and swiftly — all of the adaptation strategies that we can and focus on making sure that we build resilience against the immediate danger of climate change."

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  • 20 October 2021

The broken $100-billion promise of climate finance — and how to fix it

  • Jocelyn Timperley 0

Jocelyn Timperley is a freelance climate journalist in San José, Costa Rica.

You can also search for this author in PubMed   Google Scholar

A damaged temporary home near the Meghna River in Bangladesh, in a coastal area threatened by erosion and rising saltwater levels in soil. Credit: Zakir Hossain Chowdhury/Barcroft Media/Getty

Twelve years ago, at a United Nations climate summit in Copenhagen, rich nations made a significant pledge. They promised to channel US$100 billion a year to less wealthy nations by 2020, to help them adapt to climate change and mitigate further rises in temperature.

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Nature 598 , 400-402 (2021)


Independent Expert Group on Climate Finance. Delivering on the $100 Billion Climate Finance Commitment and Transforming Climate Finance (Independent Expert Group on Climate Finance, 2020).

Google Scholar  

Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. Climate Finance Provided and Mobilised by Developed Countries: Aggregate Trends Updated with 2019 Data (OECD, 2021).

Multilateral Development Banks. 2020 Joint Report on Multilateral Development Banks’ Climate Finance (Multilateral Development Banks, 2020).

Carty, T., Kowalzig J. & Zagema, B. Climate Finance Shadow Report 2020 (Oxfam, 2020).

Bos, J. & Thwaites, J. A Breakdown of Developed Countries’ Public Climate Finance Contributions Towards the $100 Billion Goal (World Resources Institute, 2021).

United Nations Environment Programme. Adaptation Gap Report 2020 (UNEP, 2020).

Naran, B. et al. Global Landscape of Climate Finance 2021 (Climate Policy Initiative, 2021).

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Here are five policies to help solve the global housing crisis 


Housing prices have skyrocketed worldwide for the past few decades, impacting the youngest generations the most. Image:  UNSPLASH/Toa Heftiba

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  1. Issues and Trends in Global Housing

    how to solve housing problems in developing countries

  2. Housing for Developing Countries

    how to solve housing problems in developing countries

  3. Housing problems in developing countries

    how to solve housing problems in developing countries

  4. Gallery of Four Steps to Fix the Global Affordable Housing Shortage

    how to solve housing problems in developing countries

  5. Urbanisation in developing countries

    how to solve housing problems in developing countries

  6. Lesson 1 solving housing problems

    how to solve housing problems in developing countries


  1. The housing crisis is getting worse

    Crowdsource Innovation Stay up to date: Real Estate The housing crisis could impact 1.6 billion people by 2025, the World Bank says. Shortages of land, lending, labour and materials are some of the factors fuelling the housing crisis.

  2. 10 ways cities are tackling the global affordable housing crisis

    Cities and Urbanization The unprecedented rate of urbanization across the world has led to increased demand for good, affordable housing. A recent survey revealed that of 200 cities polled around the globe, 90% were considered unaffordable when applying the widely-used standard of average house prices being more than three-times median income.


    Integrating these two aspects helps to capture the status of housing conditions in both developed and developing countries thus addressing the fundamental principle of leaving no one behind with regards to the right to adequate housing.

  4. Solving the global housing crisis

    Solving the global housing crisis The global housing crisis has continued to deepen this year, with cities being most affected, and the pandemic has only worsened this crisis, writes Natalie Keffler Aerial view of high rise housing in Hong Kong, the least affordable place in the world Infrastructure | Real Estate

  5. Affordable housing in developing countries

    More generally speaking, housing can be considered affordable if its cost (mortgage or rent) is below the 30 percent of the household income: according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), if a family pays more than 30% of their income for housing, it is considered a cost burden.

  6. Addressing the Housing Affordability Challenge: A Shared Responsibility

    In the wake of COVID-19, though, several countries (for example the UK and the Netherlands) have mobilised additional funding for social housing. To increase the social housing supply, strategies could include also purchasing and repurposing empty buildings, including offices and housing units on the market as a result of the economic crisis.


    renting is not the panacea to solving the housing challenge in the developing world, it does constitute a significant and vital housing tenure option that should be promoted alongside, not in competition to, home ownership. This guide clearly illustrates the need to place rental housing on the urban housing agenda.

  8. Housing demand in developing countries

    This paper reports on research conducted to increase understanding of developing country markets, particularly housing demand behaviour. The objectives of the paper are: (.

  9. Affordable Housing, Inclusive Economic Policies Key to Ending

    Homelessness is a global problem that affects people in both developed and developing countries, regardless of economic, social and cultural backgrounds, and addressing it in the context of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development will require both innovative policies and inclusive partnerships, the Commission on Social Development heard today as it opened its fifty-eighth session.

  10. The world's housing crisis doesn't need a revolutionary solution

    For decades, policy makers and private-sector leaders have tried to solve the affordable housing problem, yet it has only grown more severe and is on track to expand dramatically as urbanization plays out in developing economies. We believe that there is a plausible alternative, because there are clear solutions that—under proper management—can narrow the affordable housing gap ...

  11. Solving the Housing Crisis in the Developed World

    Solving the Housing Crisis in the Developed World What solutions and long-term objectives are being created to deliver housing that considers both supply and demand-side challenges? We take a look at cities and organisations leading the way globally. By ING Mediaon July 15, 20190 Comments

  12. Housing problems in developing countries

    Housing problems in developing countries There are housing problems in developing countries, mainly due to rapid population growth. These include unplanned housing (squatter...

  13. Can We Create Affordable Housing in the World's Fastest-Growing Cities?

    More than half the planet's population lives in urban areas, and cities are absorbing most of the world's population growth, putting pressure on the limited supply of housing. Ira Peppercorn '85, a consultant on international development, says that creating affordable housing in the developing world requires truly understanding how people ...

  14. PDF Housing Policy in Developing Countries: The Importance of the Informal

    economy in developing countries, as well as the high proportion of housing that is informal, substantially alter the housing policy design problem, so that policies that have succeeded in developing countries may not work well in developing countries. Table 1, which reproduces part of table 6.1 of United Nations Habitat (2003),

  15. PDF Housing Finance Across Countries

    in many countries will increase the number of independent households and again increase demand for housing. Additional housing, however, requires financing—as house prices are often a multiple of annual income—and mortgage finance systems in many developing countries currently do not satisfy the housing needs of these societies.

  16. Housing problems in developed countries

    Housing problems in developed countries Social and demographic changes are leading to a greater demand for housing in developed countries. People are living longer, choosing partners later in...

  17. Shelter Strategies for the Urban Poor in Developing Countries

    rent, thereby exacerbating the very problem controls were supposed to solve. How Housing Markets Work in Developing Countries In developing countries, those who make housing policy are often planners by training. Planners tend to see housing in terms of "hous-ing needs," defined as minimum acceptable physical standards of housing and ...

  18. PDF Housing the Urban Poor in Developing Countries

    A review of the magnitude of their housing deficits discloses the growing need for low-cost shelter. Public housing, sites-and-services, slum upgrading, and government assisted self-helpprograms have failed to provide sufficient housing to meet the needs of the poor.

  19. Housing Problems In Developing Countries

    Housing Problems In Developing Countries Ljubinka Pjanic Chapter 62 Accesses 1 Citations Part of the International Economic Association Series book series (IEA) Abstract D welling conditions are one of the basic elements of social development.

  20. Sustainable Housing in Developing Countries: A Reality or a Mirage

    Developing countries are those countries whose standard of living, income, economic and industrial development remains more or less below average. According to the IMF, there are 52 developing countries with current population of 6.53 billion, which is a considerable proportion (85.09%) of the world's population [ 14 ].

  21. Innovative Solutions for the Housing Crisis (SSIR)

    1. Removing Regulatory Barriers at the Local, State, and Federal Level to Allow More Homes and Apartments to Be Built and Reduce the Time and Cost of Building

  22. As climate risks increase, developing countries aren't getting the help

    UNEP estimated that developing countries required $215-$387 billion per year until 2030 to adapt to climate impacts, with the figure set to rise significantly by 2050. Provinces and territories ...

  23. As climate risks rise, funding for poor countries declines

    Funding to developing countries stood at $21 billion in 2021, a 15% decline over the previous year. As a result, the gap in funding for climate adaptation and resilience is widening as needs are ...

  24. Developing countries need more money to protect themselves from climate

    Put another way, poorer countries need at least 10 times more money for climate adaptation than the $21.3 billion in public funding that they received in 2021. The longer that gap persists and ...

  25. The broken $100-billion promise of climate finance

    The UN estimates 6 that developing countries already need $ ... real challenge now is how to ensure that the wider universe of private finance is spent on projects that address the problems of ...

  26. Quora

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  27. Here are five policies to help solve the global housing crisis

    Here are five policies that can help solve the problem: upzoning, financial incentives, revised immigration policies, more favourable mortgage terms and increasing tax revenue. The world was already experiencing an acute housing shortage, both in the rental and sales markets , prior to the pandemic.