Building Better Housing: Cities and Pandemics Report


EchoStone Panama Affordable HousingWhen the fundamental requirements of safe and adequate housing are not met, households already suffering from health inequities may become even more exposed. This was the timely wisdom shared by UN-Habitat in their recent report, “Cities and Pandemics: Towards a More Just, Green and Healthy Future.” The report reviews how a holistic approach to recovery can support positive change in the form and function of cities, poverty and inequality, rebuilding the economy, and clarifying legislation and governance as the pandemic wanes.

With impact data collected from over 190 member states and practical stories of national response programs, the shock of this crisis has never been clearer than it is today. The report confirms that, regardless of country wealth, there continues to be inequality and an unmet need for safe and adequate housing. The existing housing crisis has been exacerbated by the pandemic and short-term responses must now evolve into long-term strategies.

Economic, social, and demographic factors are key determinants for the housing standards enjoyed by some and denied to other population groups. Additionally, low-income earners and marginalized populations are least likely to have access to adequate and affordable housing. To ensure a meaningful and measurable impact on housing access requires a high level of coordination and a targeted approach. Housing challenges highlighted in the report focus on overcrowding, tenure security and evictions, and homelessness.


Decongestion without making more land available is not always feasible. For example, building codes that increase requirements on buildings to be decongested can undermine inclusivity and affordability. Therefore, decongestion must be paired with land assembly tools that make affordable and serviced land available for the housing needs of low-income groups without triggering development-induced displacement.

Lessons from past failures in urban planning show that mono-functional residential projects in the suburbs where land was cheaper were socioeconomic disasters. Neighborhood planning should cater not only for decongesting homes but also maintain proximity between residences, jobs, services, and civic life.

A spatially targeted approach should be embedded in citywide strategies to make an inventory of settlements with the poorest living conditions. This inventory helps to understand bottlenecks in the regulatory framework that are preventing the development of affordable and adequate housing options, meaning that investments can be prioritized for improvements in the most deprived areas and thus build resilience not only for those communities, but in the city as a whole.

  • Land Administration Systems
  • A Spatially Targeted Approach to Housing
  • Resilient Design that Optimizes Living Spaces


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Access to land and housing disproportionately minorities and women. An assessment across 10 African states, for example, found that just 12 percent of women reported owning land individually, compared to 31 percent of men — an imbalance reflected in many other cities and countries, and typically exacerbated during pandemics.

On the energy needs of households, both on account of an increase in conventional demand (more space heating, hot water, cooking and so on) because of the increased time spent in the home, but also the additional demand connected to new activities such as teleworking and remote schooling. These pressures, combined with widespread loss of livelihoods, have exacerbated the pre-existing problems of fuel and energy poverty.

Beyond the short-term measures described above, long-term investment strategies for affordable housing, such as direct market investments, also have an important role to play. A major limitation of emergency policies is that, if taken in a vacuum, they do not address the broader economic drivers that leave millions of people vulnerable to eviction.

  • Longer Term Strategies to Ensure Tenure Security
  • Increase in Supply of Affordable Housing through Reassessment of Land
  • Bringing Public Housing & Social Housing Back on the Agenda


One of the key concerns around the growing risk of evictions and foreclosures is that these could in turn lead to an increase in homelessness and an accompanying rise in COVID-19 transmission.

At present there are an estimated 330 million homeless urban households worldwide, a figure projected to grow to 440 million households (a total of 1.6 billion people) by 2025 unless drastic measures are taken to address the problem.

Many cities were quick to recognize and respond to these challenges in the first months of the pandemic, rehousing their homeless populations in secure, socially distanced accommodation. However, many cities appear to be rolling back their emergency protections once the worst phase of the pandemic was perceived at the time to have passed.

  • Political Will & Flexibility
  • Build on Protections Rolled Out During the Pandemic
  • Partnering with Private Sector Housing Providers

All of these diverse planning demands put great pressure on cities, and exposed opportunities for private land owners, to find more room for development, without compromising sustainability. EchoStone seeks to enable this development through partners allied to the mission of affordable housing access. Data from this report and others has taught us that housing is at the center of sustainable development. In our mission to make the choice to develop sustainably an easy one, we can provide technology and methodologies to meet the needs of communities at large. As we look back at this year and consider our global connectedness, we look forward the the many opportunities to build back better.

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April 8, 2021 Blog, International , , , , , ,
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