Urban Transformation

4 practical solutions to the world's spiraling housing crisis


The future of real estate requires a four-point approach to better housing standards, according to the World Economic Forum. Image: Unsplash/Jon Tyson

Michael Purton
Senior Writer, Forum Agenda
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This article is part of: Centre for Urban Transformation
  • Around 1.6 billion people worldwide lack adequate housing – and this could rise to 3 billion by 2030.
  • There are a number of practical initiatives happening right now to address the global housing crisis.
  • The World Economic Forum’s Framework for the Future of Real Estate provides an action-oriented roadmap for rethinking our approach to buildings, based around four pillars of liveability, sustainability, resilience and affordability.

We are in the grip of a global housing crisis.

Around 1.6 billion people worldwide lack adequate housing, according to a United Nations report – and experts say this could rise to 3 billion by 2030.

In order to house those 3 billion, the world will need to build 96,000 new affordable homes every day, UN-Habitat says.

In his report to the UN’s General Assembly last year, Balakrishnan Rajagopal, the Special Rapporteur on the right to adequate housing, said “the underlying factors driving the affordability crisis are rooted in structural shifts spanning recent decades". He cited rapid urbanization, a decline in public housing and lack of state intervention as some of the causes.

Rajagopal also pointed to the financialization of housing as a key to the crisis, saying it had “transformed housing from a fundamental social necessity into an investment tool, stripping it of its intrinsic function to provide secure and dignified living spaces”.

Against this backdrop, there are stories of individuals finding their own solutions. In the United Kingdom – which tops the chart below for the highest proportion of people reported as homeless in the OECD – a former drug addict has provided hundreds of homeless people with a free bed in his small flat since 2020.

Homelessness rate, 2023
A look at homelessness in the OECD. Image: Our World in Data

But, of course, these unique individual measures are not enough to tackle a global crisis: what's needed are co-ordinated, systemic solutions.

The Framework for the Future of Real Estate - a publication by the World Economic Forum - provides an action-oriented roadmap for rethinking our approach to buildings, based around four pillars of liveability, sustainability, resilience and affordability.

Other initiatives are also underway. Here are four examples of real-world solutions to the housing crisis.


How is the World Economic Forum supporting the development of cities and communities globally?

1. Community Land Trusts (CLTs)

CLTs are non-profit organizations that acquire land and remove it from the speculative real estate market, typically through renewable long-term ground leases.

The CLT retains ownership of the land, while homes on that land can be rented, owner-occupied, or cooperatively owned. Any profits from the housing are reinvested into the community rather than going to private developers or landlords.

The aim with CLTs is to ensure permanent affordability, with resale restrictions on the units to keep them within the financial reach of people on low and middle incomes.

An example of a CLT is Dudley Neighbors Incorporated (DNI) which protects over 30 acres of community-controlled land in the Roxbury and North Dorchester neighbourhoods of Boston, in the United States. The CLT was created by the Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative (DSNI) in 1988 and now stewards 228 permanent affordable housing units, commercial properties, urban farms and community gardens and playgrounds.

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2. Public-private partnerships (PPPs)

Affordable housing PPPs are a collaboration between governments and private sector companies to finance, develop and manage affordable housing projects. Typically, the government provides land, development rights and tax incentives or subsidies, while housing developers and investors contribute financing, architectural design, construction expertise and operational management.

One example of a PPP to create affordable housing is the Ivanhoe Estate redevelopment in Sydney, Australia. The $2.2 billion project is a joint venture between the New South Wales (NSW) government and private developers Frasers Property Australia and Mission Australia Housing, and aims to transform a former public housing estate in Macquarie Park into a mixed-tenure residential precinct.

The 3,000-home development will include at least 950 social housing dwellings and an additional 128 affordable housing units for low-income households. The NSW Government contributed the land and will retain ownership of the social housing component, while Frasers Property Australia and Mission Australia Housing are responsible for financing, designing and constructing the development. The social and affordable housing will be owned and managed by community housing providers.

3. Low-cost construction materials

A number of countries around the world are constructing homes from low-cost materials instead of bricks and mortar, to bring down the price of housing and speed up the building process. One such nation is India, where experts estimate there is a housing shortage of 34 million units.

The Indian government is in the process of constructing thousands of homes using glass fibre reinforced gypsum (GFRG) which combines gypsum, a common mineral, with glass fibres to create a strong yet lightweight panel which can be used for walls, floors and roofs.

GFRG panels can be prefabricated and then transported to the construction site, to minimize construction time and reduce labour costs.

The cost of constructing a GFRG home can be 20-30% cheaper than that of a bricks-and-mortar property, due to the low prices of gypsum, the reduced need for cement and steel, and the aforementioned reduced labour costs.

4. 3D-printed homes

In 3D-printed homes, the primary structural components like walls and foundations are constructed using industrial-sized 3D printers which follow a digital blueprint to "print" the property layer-by-layer using cement, concrete and other building materials.

After the 3D printing of the core structure, builders add other parts like the windows, plumbing and electrical wiring through traditional construction methods.

The main benefits of 3D-printed homes are reduced construction time – ‘printing’ the foundations and walls can take 24-48 hours – and lower costs as the properties are estimated to be at least 20% cheaper than traditionally built homes.

In Texas, the world’s largest community of 3D-printed homes is being built, with 100 such properties being constructed as part of a wider development in Georgetown called Wolf Ranch. The development is a collaboration between Texan construction firm ICON, homebuilding company Lennar, and Danish architecture practice Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG). The 3D-printed homes range in size from 1,500 to 2,100 square feet, have three to four bedrooms and are being sold at $475,000 to $599,000.

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