Federation for
Housing and

IFHP presents: voices from the Hague Housing Conference

Beyond social housing.

Governments are almost completely unaccountable to their poorest citizens.


How can we support, assist and hasten urban life’s improvement in the poorest neighborhoods? What are the design and financial instruments to be put into place? Governments are almost completely unaccountable to their poorest citizens. How new paradigms of development that work for the poor, their communities and their cities can be developed?


For the first time ever, the majority of the world's population lives in a city, and this proportion continues to grow. Almost 1 billion people currently live in slums, and this number is expected to grow by nearly 500 million by 2020. Who will finance and design homes for the increasing majority in cities? How much are we aware of how the poor construct?


Informal shelter strategies in cities are invisible. Those who live in homes with insecure tenure, under the ever-present risk of demolition and eviction, often use soft, impermanent material for house construction. These shaky homes may have to be rebuilt after a monsoon, or on a seasonal basis, depending on the local climate.
Shack/Slum Dwellers International (SDI), the global network of grassroots urban poor federations, estimates that over 25 years, a family could build one good-quality home with those labour and material costs. This indicates there is an urgent need to measure the impact of evictions and of the destruction of habitat and livelihoods, often brought about by government agencies.


The global economic order is based on upfront capital investments that sits uncomfortably with urban-poor strategies to upgrade their lives incrementally from survival to stability. SDI’s experience shows that when the poor operates at survival levels other possibilities are hard to access and that nothing the poor needs can be put together at one time; they also highlighted how amenities created for the formal city cross the poorest neighborhoods being nevertheless banned to them.


The public authority is unprepared to dial with the growing poor households. Housing finance prefers to cherry pick 2% of the slum dwellers who can take formal loans. What about the rest?


Households consolidate their home structures and upgrade them, especially those who have de facto security of tenure. In the absence of state support, this is how almost all informal households create shelter to meet their needs. But almost all government standards for habitat and all capital-investment strategies of accessing subsidies and finance for households needs, require capital to be ‘collected’ upfront and then repaid over 10 to 20 years. This is only possible if lending institutions feel secure in the applicant’s financial situation; and they are never satisfied if the applicant is employed in informal livelihoods.


Governments are almost completely unaccountable to their poorest citizens. This is because they are disenfranchised in an underground system and the logic of cities is not easily accepted and measured. Corruption in high places is measured and quantified quite well. But the extent to which the poor pays for this in order to survive is rarely calculated in measures of governance.


What the world needs now — and urgently — are new ways to track these processes, and to develop new paradigms of development that work for the poor, their communities and their cities.


What can we in formal finance do in order to support, assist and hasten improvements in the quality of urban life? We have to agree that we are stuck.


Some suggestions to give a start:

  1. Accept what already exist unless it produces vulnerability
  2. Sort out land security and basic amenities
  3. Make interventions early so open spaces, paths can be agreed upon.
  4. Have ongoing design negotiations between professionals and residents for improved scalable solutions for for self constructed homes
  5. Facilitate collective incremental upgrading finance
  6. Develop modular building materials which can itself valuable livelihood.


Shack/Slum Dwellers International (SDI).