Four Pillars and a Roof: Building cohesive plans for making adequate housing universal

 Four Pillars and a Roof: Building cohesive plans for making adequate housing universal

This article is part of the Forum Network series on New Societal Contract and International Co-operation and will feed into upcoming discussions at OECD Forum 2019.

Those who have always lived in adequate housing have not seen firsthand the struggles that many people in the world endure every day just to survive. Because it is a relatively invisible problem, housing often gets left off the table in the discussion of social concerns. We can no longer allow shelter issues to be unseen. Around the world we are experiencing an all-out housing crisis, as one in four people lack a decent, affordable place in which to live.

Photo by John Moeses Bauan on Unsplash

Creating opportunities that enable people to improve their living conditions can lead to positive changes like improved health, better education outcomes and the ability to make forward-looking choices. Housing is not the only issue, but if you pull it out of the equation, it becomes much more difficult to get those other outcomes that we want for everyone in our society.

Most housing decisions are made at the local level, but we also must keep the issue of housing at the forefront of national, regional and global policies if we are to make adequate housing accessible to all people.

We have realised some significant successes in the last four years. In 2000, the United Nations adopted a set of ambitious Millennium Development Goals designed to cut extreme poverty in half. Incredibly, however, none of the MDGs focused specifically on housing. A more recent agreement adopted by UN countries in 2015 holds more promise as the Sustainable Development Goals now include shelter as a top priority. Habitat for Humanity had a direct role in creating the emphasis on housing. In 2016, global leaders also gathered for Habitat III to rethink the way we build, manage and live in cities.

Habitat III Conference
Image: Habitat III Conference

But we must keep looking forward. Rapid urbanisation is only going to make things more difficult on those with the least. Cities have infrastructure and housing stock for only a limited population, so those who flock to cities to find jobs crowd into informal developments and slums. This is not just a problem for the world’s largest cities. Places with a population of half a million or less are the fastest growing cities around the globe. Developing and implementing a sustainable urban approach is critical.  

Housing is also a challenge in smaller communities and in rural settings, so creating adequate housing solutions must involve all sectors and address a wide variety of issues. There is no silver bullet that will solve home affordability challenges within any local community, and certainly not more broadly. However, the four pillars of the United States advocacy campaign that Habitat for Humanity will launch next month offer critical strategies that can inform housing decisions in various contexts.  

Habitat for Humanity
Image: Habitat for Humanity

1. Supply and preservation

Policies are needed in every community to stimulate new development and ensure access to affordable housing opportunities. It is also vital to create funding options for the preservation of existing homes. 

For example, the booming tech industry has been at the center of years of discussion concerning affordability and livability in Seattle. Habitat for Humanity formed part of a large coalition that advocated for a measure adopted last month to provide more housing opportunities. Developers, who will be allowed to build larger buildings with increased density, must either include affordable housing units as part of these projects or pay into a fund to develop affordable housing elsewhere. This was a win for developers, who anticipate greater profits; for families and employers since the labor force can live closer to work and transit; and for the environment and the larger community that will benefit from fewer cars on the road.

2. Access to credit

Many lower-income households around the world are unable to access safe and sound credit. Therefore, updating policies for underserved populations is key. Purchasing, improving or renting a home, no matter what the income level of the buyer, ought to require fair and reasonable terms that are fully understood by those signing agreements. Lending policies and practices must protect consumers from discrimination and abuse that unfairly increase debt and place families into a continuous cycle of financial distress. Other critical supportive measures include financial education programmes, savings plans, tax policies and funding opportunities for lower-income households.

Photo by Fabian Blank on Unsplash

3. Optimising land use for affordable homes

Land is often among the greatest costs encountered in developing homes, whether for rental or for ownership. Habitat for Humanity is advocating for the adoption of policies to reduce land and development costs and ensure long-term equity, affordability and asset building in land use.

4. Ensuring access to and development of communities of opportunity

Affordable homes must be built in areas with access to economic and social opportunity and viable transportation. Systems must be in place and funding available to preserve affordability and prevent the displacement of current residents, allowing homeowners to age in place, strengthen secure land tenure and ensure proper construction that mitigates against disasters.  

Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash

Governments must be more aggressive in following through with affordable housing commitments. Habitat III was extremely promising, but the lack of action and focus afterward has been disappointing. World leaders must also design and follow specific strategies for reaching Goal 11.1 of the Sustainable Development Goals: By 2030, ensure access for all to adequate, safe and affordable housing and basic services and upgrade slums.

SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT GOAL 11 Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable

Until we change policies and create an enabling environment, the need for affordable homes and challenges it presents will continue to escalate. We are encouraged by the progress we have seen, but we must do more. 

  • How do we open the eyes of more people to recognize the escalating problem of poverty housing around the world?
  • What specific policy changes are needed to stimulate new development and ensure access to affordable housing opportunities? To ensure that lower-income households have access to credit? To optimize land use? To ensure access to and development of communities of opportunity?
  • How can we connect policymakers from the local to the global level to create an environment that supports affordable housing?

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Related Topics

Housing Sustainable Development Goals
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Go to the profile of André Weil
over 4 years ago


I was managing a social housing company in Paris & I now retired. When they hired me this company

was almost bancrupt, the properties half empty & the flat in extremely bad conditions.

I visited all the units belonging to the company and, with the help of an architect drafted a 15 years rehabilitation plan . I was hard to convince the board to vote for this plan & I threatened to resign, so they voted for the plan.

The bank accounts were empty & debts were very high. I visited all the bankers who had lent money to

the company & obtained substancial reductions on interest rates which enabled the company to return

to normality. All the buildings & flats were rehabilited & new tenants flowed in. The accounts became normal & we made enough cash to build several high buildings for poor tenants. About 15 years later the buildings remained in perfect conditions & the tenants like & respect them.

It is very important to refuse bribes from building companies & to establish an honnest relationship with good architects & serious suppliers.