Improving access to adequate and affordable housing for the urban poor through an integrated approach

Adequate & Affordable Housing for All

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Date Published
Version 2004
Primary Author Michael Majale
Other Authors
Theme Housing Finance Education and Research
Country Bangladesh


The South is urbanizing at an unprecedented rate. Occurring concurrently with the accelerated urban growth is what is now commonly referred to as the “urbanization of poverty”—the fact that a rapidly increasing proportion of the world’s poor are to be found in cities and towns. An ever-rising number of urban poor households are thus seeking low-cost housing within their means. This has resulted in a proliferation and expansion of densely populated and overcrowded informal settlements characterized by inadequate infrastructure (water, sanitation, drainage, waste management, and access roads and footpaths), and poor building and housing conditions. In many cases, more than half of the population live and work in these unhygienic, hazardous environments where they face multiple threats to their health, well being and security. Moreover, most Southern nations cannot provide sufficient employment opportunities for the rapidly growing number of new entrants to the urban labour market each year. A substantial proportion of women and men living and working in informal settlements are thus unemployed or underemployed in the informal sector, earning low incomes for long hours of work. And a majority consequently find themselves unable to afford the cost of adequate shelter. Early interventions by Intermediate Technology Development Group (ITDG) aimed to improve poor people’s shelter conditions in rural areas through the use of appropriate building technologies. However, recognizing that poor households in cities and towns were facing an even bigger housing problem, ITDG shifted its focus to urban areas. Subsequent participatory action research projects have substantiated the complexity and multidimensionality of urban poverty, and shown that a single sector approach cannot sustainably improve the shelter conditions of those living in poverty in cities and towns. ITDG has learned that improving urban poor people’s housing (physical capital) through the use of alternative building materials in urban areas involves not only a review of standards and regulatory frameworks, but also building human capital through skills upgrading, strengthening community based groups and empowering local communities (social and political capital), and facilitating access to credit (financial capital).The paper reviews the evolution of ITDG’s interventions from a single sector, appropriate building technologies perspective to an integrated sustainable livelihoods approach to improving access to adequate and affordable housing for the urban poor.

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