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OPINION: Affordable housing as a response and to rebuild economies after the pandemic

Monday, 6 April 2020 14:39 GMT

General view shows densely-built houses in Nigeria's commercial capital Lagos, Nigeria March 16, 2020. REUTERS/Temilade Adelaja

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* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Accessible housing is an important factor in fighting the effects of the coronavirus, and in countering future public health challenges

Georgie Davis is Reall’s head of communications and external affairs.

We have a grandstand view of an unfolding humanitarian catastrophe rolling towards the urban centres of Africa and Asia. As industrialised countries grapple with their response, the one billion people currently living in slums in poor countries lack the most basic necessities, such as toilets, handwashing facilities, space and access to medical care. They will be at the epicentre of the Coronavirus disaster.

As the global Covid-19 pandemic escalates and tightens its grip, the need for affordable housing at scale is more urgent than ever – not only for this emergency but also for preventing future pandemics from tearing through poor urban communities and to resuscitate economies decimated by the disease.


It’s clear that a global response that requires staying at home, washing hands and social distancing simply will not work for those people currently living in inadequate shelter. At present only one in five slum residents in urban Africa have access to clean and safe water.

This crisis is global and can only be addressed with global efforts. However, the effects of the pandemic will not be equally felt. In the context of Coronavirus and quarantine the relationship between housing and health has never been more acute.


Covid-19 demonstrates just how interconnected the world really is. We are all in this together. An uncontrolled pandemic in the slums of Africa and Asia is as much the world’s problem as one in Italian ski resorts or downtown New York. Our collective response must support those on low incomes for the benefit of us all.

This is an urgent time for innovation and finding new and better ways to tackle our global challenges. Today there is a deficit of 50 million houses in Africa and 70 million in South Asia and 300 million new homes will be needed by 2030. Affordable housing has long been side-lined but is the most comprehensive and sustainable humanitarian response we have in the face of the current pandemic and future public health catastrophes.


Investing in the widespread construction of decent, affordable housing needs to be a top priority now more than ever. It’s clear that investing in affordable housing solutions delivers on many fronts - for healthcare, pandemic protection and prosperity. Creating an asset that futureproofs and builds in resilience ahead of unanticipated crisis will buffer families living on low incomes against such shocks. 


Coronavirus is a disaster like no other. The first wave is the disease - then in its wake a second disaster – the decimation of fragile emerging market economies which will leave poor communities reeling.

While we don’t know for sure how quickly the pandemic will take to recede, the lessons of history suggest that a substantial economic recovery will require global economic cooperation. Affordable housing must be a foundational part of any post-Corona economic recovery plan.

The combination of Covid-19 and the escalating housing crisis in Africa and Asia, is one of humanity’s greatest challenges. Yet affordable housing could hold the key to solving and preventing both crises.


Reall estimates that building affordable housing at scale represents an untapped $17 trillion marketplace - dwarfing America’s $2 trillion coronavirus aid bill - the largest economic stimulus package in US history.

Big infrastructure projects in the form of affordable housing could kick start more resilient economies helping people on low incomes manage the direct fallout of Covid-19 on their livelihoods. Reall have proved we can build decent, sanitary homes at an average cost of $9,200 per house. And every house built creates at least five direct jobs.


Solving this crisis in the form of affordable housing will drive macroeconomic growth, stimulate job creation and financial sector deepening, mitigate climate change, and enable billions of people to escape the poverty cycle.

Covid-19 reinforces the crucial importance of Reall’s mission of building a movement that improves the life chances of 100 million people in urban Africa and Asia. A safe and sanitary home with running water, clean energy and enough space is the future frontline defence against pandemics.