An Urban Housing Crisis

We look deeper into how a lack of affordable housing has the potential to create a crisis in our cities. 

The Problem

The issues facing urban residents in regards to housing in 2021 are many and varied. The main issues revolve around the core tenets of affordability, and quality of housing. Rising prices, and declining housing quality, creates a crisis in urban centres that affects the quality of life of many urban dwellers, especially amongst its younger populations. 

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Rising prices, and declining housing quality, creates a crisis in urban centres. Image by Erik Mclean.

A UN HABITAT report found that, even as early as 2016, just 13% of the world’s cities had affordable housing. This shockingly low number represents the true crisis facing urban centres as they look to the future, to how they can remain vibrant, diverse centres of a county, while still providing quality housing and community services. 

This crisis affects younger populations more than anyone, with millennials (those born between 1981 and 1996) most affected. As a generation they are spending more on housing, relative to their salaries, than any other generation (Judge & Tomlinson, 2018). This in turn has a very real knock on effect on the quality of life of an entire generation. 

The Main Problems

Within the issue of affordability there are a number of related, or consequent issues that are contributing to a possible crisis within our cities.

These include,

-Rising house costs, in relation to incomes. Young urban residents are having to pay disproportionate amounts out of their salaries for housing, which impacts on their entire quality of life. 

-A lack of land supply for both public and private property developers to increase the supply of housing. There are also related issues concerning land-use regulations hindering the development of new property. Governments need to speed up their reassignment of land for different purposes, including the converting of agricultural and industrial land to be used for residential purposes.

-A lack of affordable housing, and the often unanswerable questions of who funds it, and who qualifies to live in it. From build to rent housing, to housing tax relief, the issues are complex and require cooperation between governments and private property developers to solve them. 

-Greater demand for housing, as populations increase, and as the growing numbers of single individual households push more demand for more units. The later people marry, the more housing is required. 

-Ageing populations holding on to large family sized homes, are unknowingly and unintentionally contributing to reduced supply of housing. As life expectancies rise, and people live longer, they are holding onto homes for longer too. 

-Population increases, including increased in-city migration is leading to an increased demand for housing. What makes cities so attractive to live in, is also creating a demand for housing that they currently are struggling to meet. 

-Rising housing costs are not the only problem. As people spend larger amounts of their income on housing, it leaves them with less money to spend on maintaining their homes. This creates a secondary problem referred to as energy poverty, and can include issues such as not being able to heat a home, or to make necessary repairs and maintenance to maintain a decent quality of life. 

The Solutions

There are no quick fixes. Housing is intrinsically tied up with city planning, and involves a great many stakeholders, as well as complex issues surrounding land supply and funding that require a determined commitment to tackle them. 

There are options however. Increasing funding, from governments in the beginning, for more affordable housing including build to rent properties, is one priority. Partnering with private developers to develop affordable housing, is another option. Taking the necessary action to change land use regulations, and to be creative with how we use available land to build quality housing is also crucial to solving the problem. With this also comes a commitment to sustainable and energy efficient housing. 

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Partnering with private developers to develop affordable housing. Image by Ben Allan.


Co-living developed out of a need for a new approach to housing. One that puts residents and communities first, and understands the need for a new way to approach city living and neighbourhood planning. It is also committed to being a part of the solution, when it comes to tackling our current urban housing crisis.

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