Author: Aman Mehta

Partnerships to deliver affordable housing to developing countries

The increased land pressure in urban areas has resulted in increased densification and marginalisation of the informal settlements. However, the high land values and the attraction of land to be used for commercial interest has brought about opportunities for partnership between the private sector, government and communities in supply of affordable housing.

In most cases, commercial development rights on plots were granted to private sector enterprises that would in return build affordable housing on a specified percentage of the total land under development. E.g. include:

· Revitalization of the rivers Fu and Nan in Chengdu, Sichuan Province, China
· Private developers build a minimum of three middle-class houses and six basic or very basic
ones for every high-cost house, National Housing Policy, Indonesia
· Transfer of Development Rights (TDR) in Mumbai

Land sharing has emerged as a successful alternative to compulsory acquisition. Under land sharing arrangement, the landowner (public or private) and the occupiers (squatters) reach an agreement whereby the landowners retain the economically more attractive parts of the land parcel and the dwellers are allowed to build houses on the other part, usually with full tenure rights.  The slums dwellers benefit by getting security of tenure and proper housing while the private landowners gets waiver on development controls allowing for intensive exploitation of the commercial part of land.

This success partnership approach has significant weakness in terms of the type of housing, quality of life and in some cases economic opportunities for communities. Most of such affordable housing is multi-storeyed with no limited flexibility of using streets as a place for interaction, running a small enterprise and cohesiveness of being a community. It is critical to explore incremental housing improvement approaches along with the partnership approach to ensure preserving the vibrant community cohesive that exists in the marginalised communities.

Our Navigator Partner Aman Mehta is an experienced urban development, shelter and disaster management professional having worked in more than ten countries.

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Learning in making housing finance accessible to all

It is worth emphasizing that in developing countries, the most effective mechanisms that have led to improvement in security of tenure and housing quality are attributed to the efforts by civil societies.

Asia has pioneered the people led process of housing provision as spearheaded by dedicated civil society groups. These are strong in the region and have gained ground in many cities as a result of efforts by various organisations. Civil society has promoted community led housing development in Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Mongolia, Nepal, Pakistan, the Philippines, Sri Lanka and Thailand. Asia is also testament to the fact that while the private sector is able to meet the housing requirements of the rich, the ‘people sector’ has been able to cater to the low income.

In Asia, formal market failure to cater to the low-income has spawned many innovative alternatives for housing, infrastructure and community development finance for low income groups.  With their combinations of savings loans and subsidies, these innovations have had broad-ranging benefits, including negotiated land tenure security, housing construction and improvements, as well as water and sanitation.

As part of the “enabling” role of the public sector, and as advocated by international agencies with regard to housing, many public agencies have shifted operations from housing to finance. As a result, housing has become a significant part of the microfinance portfolio of many agencies, although borrowings are for house improvements and extension rather than new buildings.

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Key readiness factors that influence mainstream disaster risk reduction in the housing sector

Housing is often the sector severely impacted by both hydro-meteorological and geophysical disasters. On a macro scale, housing sector accounts for 10-50% of total disaster losses and often have significant impact on the livelihoods of especially the poor in developing countries.

Mainstreaming disaster risk reduction in the housing sector would mean that all housing related interventions have considered the effect of natural hazards (current as well as future risks magnified by climate change) and of the impact of those interventions in turn, on vulnerability to natural hazards, and accordingly have adopted risk reduction measures (RCC Guidelines 2011).

This requires evaluation of hazards, vulnerability and risks and impact on housing and addressing it through appropriate mitigation measures.

Mainstreaming means incorporating disaster risk reduction measures at various levels including at the policy, legislative, operational and the community level.

Key entry points for mainstreaming disaster risk reduction are:

Housing Policy: This is the key national strategic requirement that emphasises the need to address housing issues faced by the country. Within the context of disaster risk reduction it often emphasises the need to have a regulatory framework in place to ensure resilience of houses, as well as recommends an approach that embraces hazard and vulnerability responsive housing.

Building codes and regulations: This is a fundamental requirement to ensure compliance of the houses to a certain structural and design standard to be resilient to hazards. However, the feasibility of compliance of building codes and regulations is often limited in rural areas in developing countries due to limited technical human resources and road access. A classification system of building codes has been successful in countries like Nepal where simple incentive based compliance mechanism have been practiced.

Strengthening and retrofitting: It is evident that minor changes to the existing building stock can result in significant reduction in the building vulnerability. Mapping the nature of the existing housing typology in the most hazard prone areas and suggesting strengthening measures will go a long way in making the building stock resilient to disasters.

As an example, in Bangladesh, a post-flood housing reconstruction project introduced capping of traditional earth plinths with cement-stabilized soil, which proved effective in subsequent floods (Department for International Development and Practical Action Bangladesh 2010).

Land use planning: In order to effectively prepare construction regulations, resistant designs and building codes/safer practices, it is critical to understand the type of risk in a given area. Risk based land use planning can be an effective tool for managing disaster risks and provides the basis for authorities to strengthen regulatory framework, bye-laws, land-use plans and promotes disaster resistant design, construction and planning practices.

Disaster risk finance: There are less than 5% of houses in developing countries that have access to disaster risk insurance. There is an urgent need to create an enabling environment and raise community awareness regarding the advantages of such insurance.

In Vietnam, where Development Workshop has supported the introduction of targeted credit for poor families specifically for the preventive strengthening of their homes, the high level of demand and good repayments have shown that poor families are very ready to borrow to strengthen their homes because they recognise that by doing so they have protected their families and their income generation capacity.

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Five myths about rental housing

This article is part of series of blogs related to housing in development countries. It presents popular myths regarding rental housing.

Everyone owns their homes in rich countries. Interestingly there is little relationship between a country’s economic development and its levels of homeownership. Homeownership is actually lower in many rich European countries where well-developed rental markets cater to the needs of all income groups who prefer to rent rather than to own.

Everyone wants to be a homeowner. All over the world, people are bombarded from every direction with the message that homeownership is the best and the most desired state of tenure. There are significant advantages to owning your own home, but renting also offers its own benefits such as mobility, flexibility, lower investment and reduced commitment.

Homeownership offers people a better life. Ownership is often presented as more natural than renting — a form of tenure which makes people legitimate citizens, grounded in their neighborhoods and their country’s economic life. Rental housing, on the other hand, is projected as exploitative, sub-standard and temporary places where poorer citizens stay. But homeownership has its problems, just as rental housing has its advantages.

Nobody invests in rental housing. Investing in rental housing may not be as attractive to private-sector businesses and public sector agencies as it once was. But at the same time, in many Asian countries, investments by individual landlords in small, scattered, independent rental units have increased dramatically.

Homeownership encourages the emergence of a politically stable society. In the USA, tenants were not allowed to vote until 1860, because homeowners were considered to be better citizens, better neighbours and even better persons. This kind of thinking influences many Asian policy makers as well, who see tenants not as valuable workers who need flexibility and mobility, but as people who are transient, poor, unsettled and undesirable.

Source: Adapted from Quick Guide no. 7 for Policy Makers, UNHABITAT, UNESCAP and Rental Housing, UNHABITAT, 2003


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Rental housing: An option for housing the poor

This article is part of series of blogs related to housing in development countries. It elaborates on one of the five models for successful delivery of housing that were presented in the previous blog “5 institutional models for successful housing in Asia”.

In most places, homeownership has come to be seen as the most secure and most desired housing option. It is often associated with source of pride, happiness and stability. Governments’ have made significant efforts in promoting ownership, however, there still remains a significant gap between demand and supply. Considering the challenge of providing accessible and affordable housing, one needs to take on board multiple options.


The overall share of rentals in Asian cities is estimated at between 20-30 per cent of the housing market, which accounts to millions of people. In fact there is an increase in the tenant population. Rental housing may be only a partial answer to urban housing problems, but it is an important housing option — especially for the urban poor, and particularly in situations where people need to be close to where jobs are, are not ready or able to buy or build houses of their own.

Although a significant proportion of urban dwellers are tenants, the number of governments’ giving effective support to rental housing development is small. This is attributed to governments’ efforts to promote homeownership. When privately owned, the bulk of rental housing accommodates low-income households through informal, flexible lease arrangements, which entail lower rents but weaker security of tenure and probably lower quality public amenities (Quick Guide for Policy Makers, UNESCAP and UNHABITAT).


Some cities, like Bangkok, have seen innovative rental housing where low-income communities have evolved practical arrangements with landowners to enable them to live within reasonable distance from their place of work. Under this scheme the poor look out for owners who keep land plots vacant as they wait for these to gain further in value before developing them. The poor offer the landowners rent for lease. Landowners find this arrangement works well as a defence against third party invasion.

The next blog will focus more than the misconceptions about renting versus homeownership.

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Strengthening capacity of local government for disaster risk reduction

The Hyogo Framework for Action (HFA), a United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UNISDR) initiative in 2005 outlined five priorities for action. There has been significant progress since 2005 on disaster risk reduction, some of which include; a) allocation of separate budget by countries for risk reduction; b) better preparedness of communities against disasters; and c) significant focus of education on disaster preparedness in schools.

In the last decade, there has been a greater emphasis on mainstreaming disaster risk reduction across the housing, transport and agricultural sector into the planning and budgeting at the national level. This is a significant step to ensure that risk reduction gets priority in the national planning process. There has also been recognition of the limitations of strictly top-down approaches to disaster management, and the important role of a large number of actors – communities themselves, community organisations, local government, state governments, and national governments – in disaster management is being acknowledged.

Even though we have witnessed an upsurge in number of community-based disaster management programs over the last decade, the important role of the government, particularly the local government cannot be ignored. In most countries, the governments have an extensive network that reaches all segments. During the times of disasters local governments are best positioned to provide leadership, supervise the distribution of relief goods, medicine, manage evacuations and provide equipment and tools. Similarly, since it is the local government institutions that are most closely involved in the local development processes (e.g. the development plans for village, district and provinces), they are the ones that can most effectively play a leadership role in long-term risk reduction.

Strengthening Local Government
At present the performance of local governments in most developing countries raises concern. Some important issues that need to be addressed include: financial and human resources, strong links between need and supply, a legislative framework, collective training institutions and regular communication, clarity in jurisdiction, co-ordination in regional disasters, a sense of commitment, and maturity in priority-setting.

During the last few decades, a number of countries have adopted decentralised state structures and functions, accompanied by a re-organisation of government and civil services. Such governments will tend to define problems and assemble resources for others, while at the same time improve co-ordination between NGOs and the community. In the wake of this paradigm shift, the local governments should build their capacities to play a more effective role in disaster management. This can be achieved through the following:

Human Resource Development: This will include equipping local government officials with an understanding of prevalent hazards, vulnerabilities and risk (through the development of risk profiles and atlas) and capacities in their local area of operation, the necessary risk assessment skills and knowledge of risk management approaches.

Institutional Development: This will entail change in the organisation management and priorities with emphasis on providing an enabling environment to strengthen local government capacity to act as facilitator for co-ordination between the organisations and communities involved in disaster management and encouraging information dissemination for increased disaster awareness among communities.

Legislative and Regulatory Enforcement: There is significant work to be done in strengthening the enforcement of land use and regulations for construction activities. A more complex challenge is to strengthen the existing built infrastructure (especially the informal settlements in cities) including housing to enable them to resist potential disaster. This could be achieved by encouraging an organisation such as the Development Workshop ( that helping to strengthen the housing will enhance the community’s capacity to reduce their vulnerability.

As our understanding of the social, economic and environmental aspects of disasters has improved, the disaster management community now includes large number of stakeholders that have embarked on a wider range of activities than before. In such a context, efficient and effective risk management will be achieved only through the active participation of local government, communities and other stakeholders.