10 ways cities are tackling the global affordable housing crisis

Research finds that only 10% of cities worldwide are affordable.

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.

Affordability is not just about the ability to buy or rent a home, but also about being able to afford to live in it. This definition of affordability goes beyond meeting expenses related to operations and maintenance, taking into consideration transport, infrastructure and services. If a home is economical enough to buy and maintain but located too far from work or school, it cannot be said to be affordable.

The factors contributing to a lack of affordability vary from city-to-city, but broadly include housing costs rising faster than incomes, the supply of houses not keeping up with demand, scarcity of land, and demographic changes such as population growth, ageing and shifts in household composition.

To understand the challenge more holistically, the World Economic Forum on 6 June launched a new report, Making Affordable Housing a Reality for Cities. It provides a comprehensive overview of affordable housing challenges across the housing value chain. The report identifies factors that affect housing affordability beyond the direct costs of purchase and maintenance – including location, housing type, access to social infrastructure, the legal and regulatory environment and the state of financial markets.

The report recommends a systematic approach to addressing the affordable housing crisis, while highlighting how a range of cities are finding solutions. Here are ten ways that cities around the world are addressing the housing challenge:

1. Land Acquisition: Tradeable Land Quotas – Chengdu and Chongqing

In China, local governments have limited authority to expropriate rural land for new housing. Chongqing and Chengdu are experimenting with "tradable land quotas", through which developers are permitted to construct new housing on the periphery of a city in return for opening up additional land for cultivation beyond city boundaries.

2. Land Use: Communities Plus Program – Sydney, New South Wales

The state government of New South Wales, Australia, is partnering with the private sector and non-governmental and community housing groups to develop or renovate 23,000 social housing units in neighborhoods that need renewal, along with 500 affordable- and 40,000 private dwellings. Proceeds are re-invested in social housing, community facilities and public space. Housing assistance is linked to participation in education, training or local employment.

3. Repurposing Vacant Property: Motel Conversion Ordinance – Los Angeles

Los Angeles recently passed a law allowing motels to be converted into "permanent supportive housing" for the homeless, regardless of current zoning requirements. This is typically quicker and cheaper than new construction, as it involves only adding small kitchens to the motel rooms.

4. Financing: Urban Wealth Fund – Hamburg and Copenhagen

Hamburg and Copenhagen have improved housing supply by pooling publicly owned assets into an "Urban Wealth Fund" that partners with the private sector to deliver projects. Sharing risks and benefits aligns the interests of these stakeholders and can streamline infrastructure development, planning and land-use regulations.

5. Construction Productivity: Mayor's Construction Academy – London

Shortages in construction skills can drive up labour costs and, in turn, housing construction costs. London has established the Mayor's Construction Academyto accredit training providers, strengthen coordination between training providers and construction employers, and provide funding to upgrade training equipment and premises – making the city's skills training more useful to the construction industry, and more attractive for young people.

6. Design: Green Roof Initiative – Denver

Denver's "Green Roof initiative" requires buildings taller than 25,000 square feet to have green roofs or solar panels – including affordable housing projects. While upfront costs will increase, lower-income communities should benefit in the long term from lower levels of air- and water pollution, as well as cheaper energy bills.

7. Construction Material: Glass Fibre Reinforced Gypsum – India

After a decade of research, the Indian Institute of Technology in Madras has proposed a building system using Glass Fibre Reinforced Gypsum (GFRG) panels– low-cost, prefabricated panels made using gypsum waste from fertilizer plants – using minimal concrete and steel, and no bricks. The Indian government has approved standards for structures of up to 10 storeys high. Thermal resistance reduces the need for air conditioning. GFRG has been dubbed a green material by the United Nations Framework on Climate Change.

8. Eligibility: Criteria for Social Housing – Dupnitsa, Bulgaria

Dupnitsa, Bulgaria, constructed 150 social housing units with eligibility restricted to those who own no property and earn an income under a specified limit. Applicants were ranked based on their employment status, education level, age and number of children.

9. Tenure Systems: Multiple tenures for housing – Bristol, UK

Bristol, UK, is constructing 161 homes on a former primary school site with six different types of tenure. A housing association, community investment company and private investor have worked together to create this model, in which some houses will be sold at market price and others made available through tenures, including shared-ownership and rent-to-buy. The scheme is aimed vital workers who are being priced out of the city.

10. Home ownership: Melbourne Apartment Project – Melbourne, Australia

The Melbourne Apartment Project - The Barnett Model Development in North Melbourne is a privately-funded development supported by the University of Melbourne, Melbourne City Mission, Resilient Melbourne and the City of Melbourne. As part of the scheme, six of 34 apartments are being sold at market rate to subsidize the sale of the other 28 to social housing tenants through a "deferred second mortgage" model that reduces the necessary deposit and repayments. A similar project in Toronto, "Options for Homes", has delivered over 6,000 affordable homes in 20 years.

Addressing the housing affordability challenge requires systematic changes. City governments must streamline their regulatory landscapes and enable transparent land acquisition, emphasize property rights over title, develop a rental regulatory framework to protect tenants as well as landlords, encourage mixed-income and mixed-use housing developments, enable more innovative financing models in developing new homes or upgrading existing homes and encourage skill-building in the construction industry.

The private sector must embrace innovative mechanisms to finance development and help establish the creditworthiness of those looking to improve their housing situation. Employers need to work with communities to provide affordable housing for employees, or help with housing costs through loans, subsidies or mortgage deals. Private developers need to invest in sustainable design concepts to create energy-efficient housing, and improve productivity by mainstreaming 3D Printing, prefabricating components, and using alternative materials and advanced automated equipment.

The non-profit sector also has a key role to play in working with housing providers to implement alternative tenure models, while supporting advocacy efforts, formulating policy and providing technical support, information and know-how to developers and homeowners.

Reprinted with permission of The World Economic Forum. Read the original article.

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The 'People Map of the United States' zooms in on America's obsession with celebrity

Image: The Pudding
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  • Replace city names with those of their most famous residents
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Chicagoland is Obamaland

Image: The Pudding

Chicagoland's celebrity constellation: dominated by Barack, but with plenty of room for the Belushis, Brandos and Capones of this world.

Seen from among the satellites, this map of the United States is populated by a remarkably diverse bunch of athletes, entertainers, entrepreneurs and other persons of repute (and disrepute).

The multitalented Dwayne Johnson, boxing legend Muhammad Ali and Apple co-founder Steve Jobs dominate the West Coast. Right down the middle, we find actors Chris Pratt and Jason Momoa, singer Elvis Presley and basketball player Shaquille O'Neal. The East Coast crew include wrestler John Cena, whistle-blower Edward Snowden, mass murderer Ted Bundy… and Dwayne Johnson, again.

The Rock pops up in both Hayward, CA and Southwest Ranches, FL, but he's not the only one to appear twice on the map. Wild West legend Wyatt Earp makes an appearance in both Deadwood, SD and Dodge City, KS.

How is that? This 'People's Map of the United States' replaces the names of cities with those of "their most Wikipedia'ed resident: people born in, lived in, or connected to a place."

‘Cincinnati, Birthplace of Charles Manson'

Image: The Pudding

Keys to the city, or lock 'em up and throw away the key? A city's most famous sons and daughters of a city aren't always the most favoured ones.

That definition allows people to appear in more than one locality. Dwayne Johnson was born in Hayward, has one of his houses in Southwest Ranches, and is famous enough to be the 'most Wikipedia'ed resident' for both localities.

Wyatt Earp was born in Monmouth, IL, but his reputation is closely associated with both Deadwood and Dodge City – although he's most famous for the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, which took place in Tombstone, AZ. And yes, if you zoom in on that town in southern Arizona, there's Mr Earp again.

The data for this map was collected via the Wikipedia API (application programming interface) from the English-language Wikipedia for the period from July 2015 to May 2019.

The thousands of 'Notable People' sections in Wikipedia entries for cities and other places in the U.S. were scrubbed for the person with the most pageviews. No distinction was made between places of birth, residence or death. As the developers note, "people can 'be from' multiple places".

Pageviews are an impartial indicator of interest – it doesn't matter whether your claim to fame is horrific or honorific. As a result, this map provides a non-judgmental overview of America's obsession with celebrity.

Royals and (other) mortals

Image: The Pudding

There's also a UK version of the People Map – filled with last names like Neeson, Sheeran, Darwin and Churchill – and a few first names of monarchs.

Celebrity, it is often argued, is our age's version of the Greek pantheon, populated by dozens of major gods and thousands of minor ones, each an example of behaviours to emulate or avoid. This constellation of stars, famous and infamous, is more than a map of names. It's a window into America's soul.

But don't let that put you off. Zooming in on the map is entertaining enough: celebrities floating around in the ether are suddenly tied down to a pedestrian level, and to real geography. And it's fun to see the famous and the infamous rub shoulders, as it were.

Barack Obama owns Chicago, but the suburbs to the west of the city are dotted with a panoply of personalities, ranging from the criminal (Al Capone, Cicero) and the musical (John Prine, Maywood) to figures literary (Jonathan Franzen, Western Springs) and painterly (Ivan Albright, Warrenville), actorial (Harrison Ford, Park Ridge) and political (Eugene V. Debs, Elmhurst).

Freaks and angels

Image: Dorothy

The People Map of the U.S. was inspired by the U.S.A. Song Map, substituting song titles for place names.

It would be interesting to compare 'the most Wikipedia'ed' sons and daughters of America's cities with the ones advertised at the city limits. When you're entering Aberdeen, WA, a sign invites you to 'come as you are', in homage to its most famous son, Kurt Cobain. It's a safe bet that Indian Hill, OH will make sure you know Neil Armstrong, first man on the moon, was one of theirs. But it's highly unlikely that Cincinnati, a bit further south, will make any noise about Charles Manson, local boy done bad.

Inevitably, the map also reveals some bitterly ironic neighbours, such as Ishi, the last of the Yahi tribe, captured near Oroville, CA. He died in 1916 as "the last wild Indian in North America". The most 'pageviewed' resident of nearby Colusa, CA is Byron de la Beckwith, Jr., the white supremacist convicted for the murder of Civil Rights activist Medgar Evers.

As a sampling of America's interests, this map teaches that those aiming for fame would do better to become actors, musicians or athletes rather than politicians, entrepreneurs or scientists. But also that celebrity is not limited to the big city lights of LA or New York. Even in deepest Dakota or flattest Kansas, the footlights of fame will find you. Whether that's good or bad? The pageviews don't judge...

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