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A housing policy that could almost pay for itself? Think retrofitting

Luis Triveno's picture

Photo by Laura Avellaneda-Cruz via Flickr CC

The demand for decent, affordable – and safe – housing for growing urban populations is a nagging problem for financially strapped governments throughout the developing world. According to McKinsey & Co., a third of the world’s urban population – 1.6 billion people – will be hard pressed to obtain decent housing by 2025.
 
Housing policymakers, however, have undermined their capacity to increase the supply of good housing, quickly, by strapping themselves inside the myth that it is always better to build new homes rather than strengthening existing ones.
 
In Colombia, for example, 98% of all housing subsidies fund the acquisition of a new house or apartment; almost nothing goes to retrofitting existing homes to withstand the forces of nature and the tests of time.
 
While new construction may be a more attractive way to create schools, hospitals, and other public infrastructure, housing is a bigger, more pressing and complicated problem that may have a simpler solution: Bringing existing housing up to a decent standard of safety through retrofitting.
 
It’s not only a more efficient way to deploy limited government subsidies, but also a strategy to leverage these public funds with another private source in reach of governments: homeowners.

To build resilient cities, we must treat substandard housing as a life-or-death emergency

Luis Triveno's picture

Also available in: Español

Damaged houses in Long Island, New York after Hurricane Sandy. Photo by UNISDR.

The scene is as familiar as it is tragic: A devastating hurricane or earthquake strikes a populated area in a poor country, inflicting a high number of casualties, overwhelming the resources and capacity of rescue teams and hospital emergency rooms. First responders must resort to “triage” – the medical strategy of maximizing the efficient use of existing resources to save lives, while minimizing the number of deaths. 

But if governments could apply triage to substandard housing, medical triage would be a much less frequent occurrence – because in the developing world, it is mainly housing that kills people, not disasters.
 
Worldwide, most injuries and deaths from natural disasters are a result of substandard housing. In Latin America and the Caribbean, for example, one-third of the population – 200 million people – lives in informal settlements, which are densely packed with deadly housing units. In 2010, when the 7.0-magnitude Haiti earthquake killed 260,000 people, 70% of damages were related to housing. Similarly, it’s estimated that if an 8.0-magnitude earthquake hit Peru, 80% of the economic losses would be to housing.
 
But the story in rich countries is different. In the past 10 years, high-income countries experienced 47% of disasters worldwide, but accounted for only 7% of fatalities.

Building more affordable and disaster-resilient housing in Latin America and the Caribbean: a few policy ideas

Julian Palma's picture
Photo by C64-92 via Flicker Creative Commons

Between 2010 and 2017, Chile was struck by 10 major natural hazard events. These disasters affected as many as 340,583 houses and cost $3.6 billion in reconstruction (Ministry of Housing and Urbanism of Chile). Post-disaster assessments point to housing as one of the most affected sectors in the wake of climate-related and other natural hazards—most commonly floods, earthquakes, landslides, and fires. In a 22-year period between 1990 and 2011, minimum losses in the housing sector for 16 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) amounted to $53 billion.

In the LAC region, one quarter of the population lives in slums, characterized by the prevalence of substandard housing quality as well as incremental and self-construction of homes. Families living in these informal settlements are at greatest risk to natural hazard impacts. Programs providing new housing do not always reach families in the lowest quintiles; and without access to affordable and well-located housing alternatives, households have no other option than to build informally, and in areas most prone to natural disasters.

In China, conserving the past helps the poor build a brighter future

Ede Ijjasz-Vasquez's picture
How cultural heritage and sustainable tourism help reduce poverty
 
China has seen a booming tourism industry during the last few decades, thanks to a fast-developing economy and growing disposable personal income. In 2015 alone, the travel and tourism sector contributed to 7.9% of China’s GDP, and 8.4% of the country’s total employment. Not surprisingly, cultural heritage sites were among the most popular tourist destinations.

But beyond the well-known Great Wall and Forbidden City, many cultural heritage sites are located in the poorer, inland cities and provinces of the country. If managed sustainably, tourism in these areas can serve as a unique opportunity to help local communities—especially ethnic minorities, youth, and women—find jobs, grow incomes, and improve livelihoods.
 
“[Sustainable tourism] is not only the conservation of the cultural assets that are very important for the next generations to come, but, also, it’s the infrastructure upgrading, it’s the housing upgrading, and it is the social inclusion to really preserve the ethnic minorities’ culture and values – it is an interesting cultural package that is very valuable for countries around the world,” says Ede Ijjasz-Vasquez, a Senior Director of the World Bank.
 
To help reduce poverty and inequality in China’s lagging regions, the World Bank has committed to a long-term partnership with China on cultural heritage and sustainable tourism—with the Bank’s largest program of this kind operating around 20 projects across the country. These projects have supported local economic development driven by cultural tourism.
 
“Over the years, the program has helped conserve over 40 cultural heritage sites, and over 30 historic urban neighborhoods, towns, and villages,” according to Judy Jia, a Beijing-based Urban Analyst.
  
Watch a video to learn from Ede Ijjasz-Vasquez (@Ede_WBG) and Judy Jia how cultural heritage and sustainable tourism can promote inclusive growth and boost shared prosperity in China, and what other countries can learn from this experience.



Also available in: 中文

How can Kenya achieve a sustainable urban future?

Ede Ijjasz-Vasquez's picture
Cities in Africa are growing at unprecedented speeds. In Kenya, about 12 million of the country’s over 40 million people live in urban areas today. However, a child born in 2017 will see Kenya’s urban population double to 24 million by 2035 and more than triple to 40 million by 2050. A World Bank report titled “Kenya Urbanization Review” projects that by that time, about half of Kenyans will be living in cities, and Kenya’s urban population will be nearly as large as the country’s entire population today. Kenya’s urban transition has begun.
 
Despite many advantages including an ambitious program for devolution, the challenges for a smooth urbanization process remain multifaceted for Kenya:
  • Access to services remains low;
  • Informality of human settlements and jobs predominate; and
  • Poorly functioning land markets make investing in housing and infrastructure expensive and inefficient. 
The Kenya Urbanization Review points to some policy recommendations that can help Kenya ensure the smoothest transition possible during its ongoing urbanization process.

In this video, Senior Director Ede Ijjasz-Vasquez weighs in on Kenya’s urbanization challenges, focusing on urban finance, land and planning institutions, and urban governance, as he discusses the main messages of the Kenya Urbanization Review.

Video: Courtesy of Arimus Media

Three misconceptions in the way of better housing policies

Luis Triveno's picture
Also available in: 中文

Photo by Dominic Chavez / World Bank

​While the need for housing is widespread, individually people have different needs—depending on whether they are single, married, senior citizens, families with children, or members with disabilities. Despite the best of intentions of policymakers, "a roof overhead" remains an elusive goal for a large majority of the world’s people. Most households cannot afford even the cheapest house that fits their needs and qualifies as “decent,” and no government alone can close this gap with subsidies. Nor are we on track to build the 300 million new houses needed to close the housing gap by 2030.

What’s missing? At least three misconceptions stand in the way of better housing policies: 
 

Two ways to make Africa’s cities more livable, connected and affordable

Ede Ijjasz-Vasquez's picture

Urban population in Africa will double within the next 25 years and reach 1 billion people by 2040, but concentration of people in cities has not been accompanied by economic density.

Typical African cities share three features that constrain urban development and create daily challenges for businesses and residents: they are crowded, disconnected, and therefore costly, according to a new report titled “Africa’s Cities: Opening Doors to the World.”

Postcards from Quito on the New Urban Agenda

Sameh Wahba's picture
Also available in: Español

Photos: World Bank

More than two months have passed since the whirlwind that was Habitat III, the UN’s once-every-20-year summit on cities and urban development. From big data to climate change, public spaces to municipal finance, the conference truly seemed to have something for everyone. Long queues to enter the conference aside, what was striking was also the sheer number of young participants at the event, many of whom were students, planners and architects from Quito.

So what did people in Quito really think about the future of cities? We asked visitors to the World Bank’s booth at the Habitat III exhibition to tell us, by writing on postcards, what they thought was needed to create sustainable cities for all. Of the more than 200 postcards received, several recurring themes were clear:

Postcards from Quito on the New Urban Agenda (World Bank Group)

What the New Urban Agenda tells us about building inclusive cities

Charlotte McClain-Nhlapo's picture
 
Over a billion people—about 15% of the world’s population—have disabilities. Almost 80% of them live in the developing world, which is undergoing rapid urbanization.

While urbanization brings people closer to new economic and sociocultural opportunities, persons with disabilities still face a range of constraints in many cities, such as inaccessible buildings and public spaces, limited transportation options, inaccessible housing, and barriers in using technology-enabled virtual environments.

These urban constraints have a significant impact on those living with disabilities in terms of mobility, ability to engage in education and skills development, employability and income generation, and larger social and political participation.

Therefore, urban development must acknowledge and plan for the needs of a diverse population which includes persons with disabilities. And there is no better time than now to make that happen. 

Let’s build the infrastructure that no hurricane can erase

Luis Triveno's picture
Hati after Hurrican Matthew
Hurricane Matthew destroyed an estimated 90% of homes in Haiti's Grande Anse department. Stronger public knowledge infrastructure can help better facilitate post-disaster recovery.
(Photo: EU Delegation to the Republic of Haiti)
The news from Haiti about the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew is a familiar story: more chaos, rubble, and loss of life from another natural disaster. Though recent improvements to Haiti’s infrastructure at the local level kept the death toll at 534—3,000 died in the 2004 hurricane; more than 200,000 in the 2010 earthquake—the number is still way too high.
 
Worldwide, natural disasters claimed 1.3 million lives between 1992 and 2012, with earthquakes accounting for 60%of disaster deaths in low- and middle-income countries, where the preponderance of sub-standard housing increases the risks. Today, 1.2 billion people live in substandard housing. By 2030, this figure will almost triple.
 
The good news is that most of those deaths and property losses can be prevented. In 2003, for example, within three days of each other, earthquakes of similar magnitude struck Paso Robles, California and Bam, Iran. The death toll in Bam was 40,000—nearly half the city’s population. Two people died in Paso Robles.
 
Even when destruction does take place, proper planning and measures can ensure a speedy recovery.

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