Everyone needs a home and housing is central to creating socially just, economically viable and ecologically healthy and sustainable cities. Better-designed and well-managed cities contribute towards improved quality of life for urban residents, and more sustainable and resilient urban areas. However, access to adequate and affordable housing is a challenge in most cities around the world. We cannot build better cities if we do not address the affordable housing challenge. According to the United Nations, an estimated 1.6 billion people live in substandard housing and 1 billion people live in slums.[1] With rapid urbanization, projections are that 2 billion will live in slums by 2030.[2] Urbanization is not a new phenomenon. However, nowadays, urban areas are unable to cope with the influx of people and the provision of basic services and affordable housing. Today, one in seven people lives in slums. 

Research indicates that safe, adequate and affordable housing leads to benefits in health, education and economic opportunities. Adequate and affordable housing is a platform for household resilience and sustainability, driving Human Development Index and Multi-Poverty Index outcomes in health, education and standard of living, including indicators in nutrition, child mortality and school enrollment. Housing as a process can create a sense of belonging and dignity. It also builds community cohesion, a social and financial network, and improve assets of households and communities. The process of housing improvement itself is often a ladder out of poverty for families. These changes also benefit the larger community, and contribute toward reducing inequality and building resilience against economic and natural disasters. All of these impacts drive not only the Sustainable Development Goals, or the SDGs, metrics but also other global sustainability frameworks that use those metrics to measure their progress, such as the New Urban Agenda, the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, and the Paris Climate Change Agreement. Overall, housing is a prerequisite for safe, inclusive, resilient and sustainable cities and is in particular a driver and contributor to the SDG’s and the New Urban Agenda.


Cities are dynamic complex ecosystems and centers for innovation, employment, creativity and social and economic development.  A housing ecosystems approach is required to navigate this complexity; to address the current affordable housing crisis, and achieve greater development outcomes leading to impact that aligns with the commitments captured in the global development frameworks. Approaching the affordable housing challenge from a housing ecosystems perspective provides a deeper understanding of how to address the key constraints and optimize the opportunities that exist within the entire housing ecosystem. This includes analyzing housing market conditions, housing policy environment and the social, economic and environmental contextual factors. All these elements contribute toward the final housing outputs, typology, quality, and longer-term outcomes and impact of housing. Utilizing technology, data and evidence-based assessments are necessary to understand key constraints, gaps, opportunities and actors within the housing ecosystem. These assessments, whether a housing quality assessment, community needs assessment, hazards and vulnerability assessment or housing value chain analysis provides information and evidence for the design of appropriate community, market, and policy interventions that go beyond just improving living conditions.

These issues contribute to improved quality of life and systemic enhancements to market and policy environments. An understanding of issues such as, needs and priorities of target communities, existing socio-economic conditions, availability of land, land administration, basic services and infrastructure provision, building regulations, availability of construction materials and labor, government capacity and policy, and market actors are all required to address affordable housing. Identification and engagement of key community—public, private, and development stakeholders— to facilitate collaboration, mobilize relevant resources and support the implementation of various interventions across the housing ecosystem are also essential and should be included in the assessment process.

Habitat’s urban work in cities like Monrovia, Dhaka, and Battambang reflects a comprehensive housing ecosystems approach to address the affordable housing challenge. This includes developing evidence-based interventions at the community and market levels that tackle key constraints and optimize the opportunities that exist within the entire housing ecosystem. Therefore, beyond the narrow objective of housing delivery, there are different entry points for Habitat’s work in urban areas including WASH, community infrastructure, Participatory Approach for Safe Shelter Awareness, or PASSA, security of tenure, market development, policy development and urban dialogue platforms. The implementation of various interventions across the housing ecosystem takes into account the prioritized needs of vulnerable and low-income households, available resources, government capacity and affordability levels. Placing people at the center of the development process, working through people, public, private partnerships and contributing to systemic change are all fundamental to Habitat’s approach. 

Better assessments of the housing ecosystem are crucial to address the affordable housing challenge in any city. Utilizing technology and digital innovations whether artificial intelligence, drones, mobile technology or digital platforms become crucial in gathering and sharing information on key constraints, opportunities, gaps, and best practice to improve affordable housing delivery, urban service delivery and quality of life of all urban residents.




[1] United Nations Human Settlements Programme (2009) Slum Upgrading Facility: Land and Slum Upgrading. U.N.-Habitat. p. 1. available at: http://www.unhabitat.org/pmss/listItemDetails.aspx?publicationID=2679

[2] United Nations Human Settlements Programme (2003) The Challenge of Slums, Global Report on Human Settlements 2003. U.N.-Habitat. p. xxvi. available at: http://www.unhabitat.org/pmss/listItemDetails.aspx?publicationID=1156