The shortage of adequate housing is a global problem – one likely to be exacerbated as governments struggle to deal with the added impacts of climate change. Some global success stories show that targeted intervention, good planning laws and a humanistic approach will help.
THE UNITED NATIONS identifies adequate housing as a fundamental human right, which includes rights to security of tenure, adequate conditions, protection against forced evictions and access to affordable housing. By this marker, a country’s success can be measured in terms of how well it is able to house its people.
Soaring property prices are forcing people all over the world to abandon hope of owning a home, and the fallout is shaking governments of all political persuasions.
And it’s not just buyers – rents are also soaring in many cities. The upshot is that perennial issue of housing costs has become one of acute housing inequality, with the young and the elderly at risk of being left behind.
Successfully housing their population
What’s the answer? It is useful to look at countries that have successfully addressed the imbalances between a growing population and a shortage of housing stock to find practical solutions.
Singapore home building scheme
Singapore is one. In the early 1960s, with most households living in overcrowded slums and squatter settlements, the government embarked on a massive home building scheme. Residents could access funds from their social security accounts for down payments and to assist in servicing their mortgages. Today, the city state has one of the highest home ownership rates in the world at 90%.
And while most Singaporeans live in concentrated, high-rise housing estates, they are well maintained by the government and supported by good transport links and other services.
Simple regulations in Japan
Japan, too, has successful urban planning and house building policies, established following hyper-inflation problems after a property boom in the 1980s. Regulations controlling land use and buildings are straightforward and uncomplicated.
Housing policy centres on promoting home ownership, which stands at around 61% of the population. Recently, tax breaks have been given for building new homes that include energy-saving features.
Stability a feature in Germany
Germany’s housing market is similarly successful and has been described as the best in Europe. It has maintained stable house prices for decades, largely due to the dominance and security of its rental market, which means there is not the same pressure to buy as in other countries.
A permanent home in Finland
Returning to housing as a fundamental right, Finland is one country that has largely stamped out homelessness – an intractable problem in much of the world. Its secret is giving people homes as soon as they need them and doing so unconditionally.
Under a policy called Housing First, the country got rid of the night shelters and shortterm hostels as they were failing to get people out of homelessness by the traditional route of moving from temporary to permanent accommodation – the so-called staircase model.
The provision of housing was made unconditional. People weren’t expected to solve their problems before they got a home.
With state, municipal and NGO backing, flats were bought, new blocks built, and old shelters converted into permanent, comfortable homes. Housing First’s early goal was to create 2,500 new homes. It has created 3,500, and since its launch in 2008, the number of long-term homeless people in Finland has fallen by more than 35%. Rough sleeping has been all but eradicated in Helsinki, the capital city.
There, one in seven residents live in cityowned housing. The city also owns 70% of the land within the city limits, runs its own construction company and has a current target of building 7,000 more new homes – of all categories – a year.
In each new district, the city maintains a strict housing mix to limit social segregation – 25% social housing, 30% subsidised purchase and 45% private sector. Helsinki also insists on no visible external differences between private and public housing stock and sets no maximum income ceiling on its social housing tenants.
Facing up to climate change
While the pandemic has added to housing woes, another challenge governments must now successfully meet is that of climate change. Sea-level rise and floods are already impacting communities, forcing some to shift or put in place mitigation strategies.
The need to meet global carbon targets is also calling traditional energy supplies and conventional building materials and methods into question.
Some countries are embarking on forwardthinking programmes that should increase their success in combating the worse impacts of climate change.
Denmark secures its energy future
Denmark is tackling energy use head on – approving a plan to build an artificial island in the North Sea that will be a hub to hundreds of 260 m tall offshore wind turbines that will generate enough energy for the whole of the country. The spare capacity will be used both to sell on to other nations and to create green hydrogen from seawater.
Ambitious projects like this are needed if the EU wants to hit its renewable electricity targets and increase offshore wind energy capacity 25-fold by 2050.
UK reduces new-home emissions from June
The UK is moving swiftly to bring in climatefriendly policies. New homes and buildings in England will have to produce significantly less CO2 under new rules that will come into effect in June 2022.
Under the new regulations, CO2 emissions from new build homes must be around 30% lower than current standards, and emissions from other new buildings, including offices and shops, must be reduced by 27%.
All new residential buildings, including homes, care homes, student accommodation and children’s homes, must also be designed to reduce overheating, ensuring they are fit for the future. Improvements to ventilation will also be introduced in new homes and to prevent the spread of airborne viruses in new non-residential buildings.
The changes will pave the way for the Future Homes and Buildings Standard in 2025, which will mean all future homes are net-zero ready and will not need retrofitting.
Articles are correct at the time of publication but may have since become outdated.