South Africa’s lack of affordable housing is a well-documented problem. The country is short some 2.3 million houses, and the number continues to jump by nearly 200,000 every year. The picture is no better outside of our borders either, with 1.6 billion people – it’s estimated that, by 2025, a fifth of the world’s population will lack secure, adequate, and affordable housing.
Mixed-use developments seem to be one of South Africa’s answers to the growing crisis. As an urban living concept they offer residents comfort and convenience, but they also provide varying residential spaces – from lock-up and starter homes for those wanting to break into the property market to bigger family homes and penthouse suites. It’s by no means an overnight fix, but it’s certainly a step in the right direction.
You’d be forgiven for thinking that the affordable housing crisis is a problem for poor countries, and endemic to developing nations. However, wealthy and rapidly urbanising cities of the so-called advanced world – like New York, London, Stockholm and Sydney – also struggle to solve the growing housing challenges, in varying capacities.
The private sector continues to play a pivotal role in driving growth in the affordable housing sector. Canadian non-profit organisation Options for Home turns the usual property model on its head by making it cheaper for people earning under a certain salary bracket to own, rather than rent their condo. The organisation developed its first condominiums in 1994 in what’s now known as Toronto’s Distillery District, and has since helped 6,500 households become owners of their homes.
Responsibility also lies with developers who are being pushed into using alternative materials and construction methods. In India, developers have started to use a low-cost, prefabricated glass-fibre to replace concrete, steel and bricks, and also reduce the need for air conditioning. The gypsum panels are made from plant waste, and can be used to construct buildings up to ten storeys high.
For some countries, immediate reprieve calls for cheap and quick-fix solutions. In Los Angeles, officials have passed laws that allow unused motels to be repurposed into temporary housing while people wait for new builds. Housing projects for the homeless can also bypass the usual building processes, provided the projects meet certain requirements. They can be built taller or denser than otherwise allowed, and can skip lengthy environmental reviews.
Yet, the reality and challenge of affordability requires not just short-term fixes but also long-term strategies. London’s acute shortage of experienced construction workers forced the mayor to establish a specialist training academy to upskill locals, and to provide funding to upgrade training equipment and premises. The idea is to make the construction industry more attractive for young people and push down labour costs, which in turn has a knock-on effect on overall house prices.
A world in which only a few can afford housing is definitely not a sustainable one, but the differing approaches of countries show that there is no one-size-fits-all formula to solve this crisis. As well as market conditions, the housing market is affected by socio-political factors, environmental factors and the regulatory landscape of countries and cities, and requires solutions that involve the public, private and non-profit sectors.