Standard housing is crucial for economic prosperity and progressive communities. However, the housing gap is increasing at an alarming rate resulting in a housing affordability crisis. This has grasped the attention of policymakers and governments around the world. Currently, one-third of the urban population lives in informal settlements that lack basic services (King, Orloff, Virsilas, & Pande, 2017). Moreover, 90% of the 200 cities worldwide were found unaffordable to live in as it cost three times more than the average income of the household (World Economic Forum, 2022). To curb this issue, governments have tried to relocate these residents to the urban outskirts, resulting in their isolation from social networks, an enlarged urban footprint, inadequate service delivery, and long commutes for residents. Therefore, the international forums are working on a set of targets to ensure adequate, secure, and affordable housing. As the scale of the housing challenge is immense, addressing this issue is significant in enhancing economic productivity, driving business activities, and achieving environmental sustainability.
What are the Issues?
There are several problems that contribute towards the housing crisis. However, the following three issues are central to the challenge of providing adequate and affordable housing.
1. Growth of Informal Settlements
The lack of affordable housing in urban cities leads to the expansion of substandard informal settlements on the outskirts and within the city premises. As urban areas offer lucrative opportunities and services, low-income individuals accommodate squatter settlements and occupy agricultural land for shelter. According to a UN report, the urban population living in slums increased from 23-24% between 2014 and 2018 (United Nations, 2021). Most slums are often located next to luxury hotels, high-rise buildings or luxury housing societies. Also, the residents of these settlements are deprived of good housing facilities, education, and basic healthcare.
Moreover, Governments have often tried to clear slums and relocate their residents far away from cities, but most slum dwellers refuse to comply. Informal settlements strain a country’s financial, social, and economic sectors and are one the leading cause of inter-generational poverty. The growth of these settlements is a symptom of unaffordable housing, the provision of which can be viewed as a worthwhile goal in its own right and as a critical ingredient in addressing the broader challenges of poverty.
2. Exclusion of the Poor from Home Ownership
Homeownership ensures financial security and well-being but is not an option for the low-income population. Billions of poor people lack not only current income but also assets with which to generate income. Moreover, improper documentation to qualify for mortgages or incentives deprives them of availing of affordable housing opportunities. While legislation may provide more secure land tenure for the poor and thus reduce poverty, this outcome is not guaranteed. Policies that do not recognise the complexity of property rights should be reverted. In South Asia, 40% of the population lives below the poverty line due to landlessness and insecure access to land (Meinzen-Dick, 2009). Therefore, ensuring housing affordability is a complex issue of strategic importance for development, social peace and equality.
3. Lack of Effective Land Policies and Regulations
Land management and urban expansion policies are crucial to tackling the housing challenge, and public land can serve as a significant source to provide shelter to poor households. However, the housing supply is mostly driven by the private sector, favouring higher-end housing and ignoring lower-income residents’ needs. Moreover, improper urban land policies and regulations do not convert under-used land and buildings into affordable housing. Instead, they focus on improving informal settlements, which is insufficient to keep up with current and future housing demands. Hence, formulating effective land policies and regulations is critical in resolving housing affordability and shortage issues.
The situation of Inadequate and Unaffordable Housing in Pakistan
Pakistan is one of the world’s most populous countries, and its urban population is increasing at a rate of 2.7% per year (Hassan & Arif, 2018). Affordable and accessible housing is in high demand in Pakistan, as 38% of its urban population lives in unaffordable housing (Ahmed, 2022). Moreover, 47% of the urban population lives in informal settlements with insufficient infrastructure and services (Meyer, Qazi, Rajashekar, & Zhang, 2022). The urban housing demand in Pakistan is 350,000 units per year, out of which 150,000 units are supplied by the state (Hassan & Arif, 2018). However, the unmet demand results in the expansion of slums on squatter settlements and agricultural land on the boundaries of cities. According to World Economic Forum, Orangi Town Karachi is home to 2.4 million people, making it one of Asia’s largest slums (World Economic Forum, 2016). To utilise the slum area government is forcefully relocating the people without having appropriate relocation plans, increasing the disparities among the dwellers. For example, demolitions in Karachi’s Gujjar nullah and Orangi nullah displaced more than 66,500 people from 6,600 homes (United Nations, 2021). To curb this issue, the government must realise that relocating settlements requires effective land policies and urban planning, guaranteeing that no one is rendered into homelessness.
Recommendations to tackle the challenge of Inadequate and Unaffordable Housing
1. Improving Informal Settlements through in-situ upgrading Programs
Informal settlements can only be upgraded when seen as future opportunities rather than problems. For this purpose, the adoption and implementation of in-situ upgrading programs are crucial that work towards the upgrading of slums by the intervention of the municipality or state to create a habitable environment. This program is more effective than the relocation of settlements because it is participatory, comprehensive, financially sustainable, and provides collaborative solutions that enhance community knowledge and insight. Moreover, it drives the finances, which provide basic amenities and services to improve shelter and secure accommodation rights. Also, its creative structures and models effectively utilise limited space to meet the needs of communities.
2. Pro-Equity Approach
Governments must recognise the significance of a wide range of rental possibilities in affordable market segments. This would stimulate rentals and reduce the financial and legal partiality towards ownership, promoting equity. Hence, a pro-equity approach will highlight incentives that are well designed on both the demand and supply sides to prevent misrepresentation that go against the poverty-stricken people. To provide adequate and affordable housing facilities, governments must create effective rental policies for all income levels, improve legal policies to support the rights of both tenants and landlords, avoid financial prejudice that prioritises homeownership over renting, and provide well-structured supply and demand side subsidies to encourage home rentals.
3. Conversion of un-use land and buildings into affordable houses
Instead of forcing evictions of informal settlers, cities should convert under-utilised land and buildings into affordable housing. To generate resources for this purpose, existing land and buildings that do not contribute towards the community must be more taxed than productive spaces. Moreover, financial incentives are required to drive both supply and demand sides in the form of low-interest loans and tax abatements. This will help with the transformation of unproductive spaces into affordable residential and have the potential to buy down capital costs on new housing projects.
Successful cities are defined by adequate, affordable, and secure housing. However, in many rapidly urbanising cities, under-served individuals are forced to live in substandard housing. This puts a strain on the delivery service of the government and depresses economic prosperity. Therefore, governments must tackle this challenge by considering the recommendations mentioned above. It will raise living standards in urban cities and ensure economic growth and sustainability.
Ahmed, A. (2022, September 11). DAWN. Retrieved from https://www.dawn.com/news/1709474/over-38pc-urban-pakistanis-live-in-unaffordable-housing
Hassan, A., & Arif, H. (2018, August 19). DAWN. Retrieved from https://www.dawn.com/news/1427893
King, R., Orloff, M., Virsilas, T., & Pande, T. (2017, July 12). Confronting the Urban Housing Crisis in the Global South: Adequate, Secure, and Affordable Housing. World Resources Report. Retrieved from https://www.wri.org/research/confronting-urban-housing-crisis-global-south-adequate-secure-and-affordable-housing
Meinzen-Dick, R. (2009, December). Property Rights for Poverty Reduction? UN Department of Economics and Social Affairs. Retrieved from https://www.un.org/esa/desa/papers/2009/wp91_2009.pdf
Meyer, M., Qazi, M., Rajashekar, A., & Zhang, Y. (2022, September 8). BEHIND ON RENT OR LEFT BEHIND: MEASURING HOUSING POVERTY IN URBAN PAKISTAN. World Bank Document. Retrieved from https://openknowledge.worldbank.org/handle/10986/37989
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World Economic Forum. (2022, June 16). Retrieved from https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2022/06/how-to-fix-global-housing-crisis/
World Economic Forum. (2016, October 19). Retrieved from https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2016/10/these-are-the-worlds-five-biggest-slums/