The subject of affordable housing in cities around the world is becoming a focus of discussion as we move into the next decade. Whether it be in Los Angeles, San Francisco, London, Sydney, or Cape Town, academics, politicians, and developers are trying to solve the growing problem.
It cannot be a solution to the demand for housing in thriving cities, to move people further away from the city in search of cheaper places to live. The cultural issue is how to bring about significant increases in supply to city precincts without resorting to building on green belts and other open areas. Various cities will require the incumbent powers and political leaders to align with housing providers, new financial models, and the market to support low-cost housing essential to creating economically successful and enduring living places.
Los Angeles’ affordable housing crisis is well documented. According to the annual report from the California Housing Partnership, LA county would need over half a million units of affordable housing to meet the demand from low-income renters. In most major cities around the world, the price of most market-rate units is out of reach for low-income earners.
Most definitions of affordable housing are homes affordable to those entering or in the housing market but unable to access current planned or available supply either because of income circumstances or the stage of their lives.
According to the California Housing Partnership, the crisis is more significant than single communities. No matter how hard local governments and citizens work, help is needed from state, provincial, and federal authorities. A report by Savills in Britain estimated that as many as 500,000 families a year are unable to access available housing supply.
In Sydney and Cape Town, demand for affordable housing far exceeds supply. A comparison between the 20 most affordable Sydney suburbs for low-income earners in 2006, and again in 2010, found dramatic reductions in the number of affordable properties. The suburb of Westmead, for instance, recorded a 90 percent reduction in affordable properties over the period. A study done in Cape Town by a prominent architect suggests that mixed-income high-rise residential developments have the potential to break the mold. Integrating private sector investment and provision of tax breaks to developers would allow a larger budget for better aesthetics in design, giving people from a spectrum of income groups the ability to be accommodated in previously exclusive city areas. Blended buildings would provide people with inhabiting social housing units more integrity and all the inhabitants a sense of value and strong dignity.
We have a way to go before viable solutions are found to this problem, but comfort can be found in the fact that some of the most qualified people are applying their minds to solving the global affordable housing crisis.