Well-located, secure and affordable housing is lacking in many cities and is only projected to get worse – it is estimated that 1.6 billion people will lack adequate housing by 2025. Good housing is fundamental to physical and financial security, economic productivity, healthy communities, and human well-being. Addressing the affordable housing gap should be a priority for cities, as it offers the trifold benefits of improved economic productivity, environmental sustainability and equity for cities.

The first thematic paper of WRI’s flagship World Resources Report (WRR), Towards a More Equal City, describes three challenges to providing adequate, secure and affordable housing in the global South: the growth of informal settlements, prioritization of home ownership and laws that push poor out of the city. This paper offers a new approach to analyzing housing options and offers three solutions to addressing housing challenges in urban areas.

Towards a More Equal City is a series of 15 papers that examines if equitable access to core urban services can help achieve higher economic productivity and better environmental quality for the city. Visit for more information.

Executive Summary

  • There is an acute lack of well-located urban housing that is adequate, secure and affordable. The global affordable housing gap is currently estimated at 330 million urban households and is forecast to grow by more than 30 percent to 440 million households, or 1.6 billion people, by 2025.
  • This paper defines three key challenges to providing adequate, secure and affordable housing in the global south: the growth of informal or substandard settlements, the overemphasis on home ownership, and inappropriate policies or laws that push the poor out of the city.
  • The paper presents a new approach to analyzing housing options. It moves beyond the formal/informal, public/private and individual/collective dichotomies to consider a spectrum of options that combine different elements of ownership, space, services and finance.
  • The paper proposes three scalable approaches to addressing these challenges: adopting in situ participatory upgrading of informal settlements, promoting rental housing and converting under-utilized urban land to affordable housing.
  • Addressing the challenge of adequate, secure and affordable housing within and around the city is essential to enhancing equity, economic productivity and environmental sustainability of the city.