This becomes more urgent when the phenomenon of climate change is considered, given that the building sector is responsible for nearly 40 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions in cities.
This problem compels national and city governments to attend to design, planning and technology standards and norms that affect the planning of residential areas, housing design and production, and the construction industry.
Sustainable housing is, however, yet to gain its due prominence in developing countries. It is rare that the social, cultural, environmental and economic facets of housing are addressed there in an integrated policy.
In many developing contexts, the so-called pro-poor housing programmes often provide accommodation of poor standards, in remote locations, with little consideration to residents’ lifestyle and livelihood strategies.
In others, rapid housing developments create amplified carbon footprint and further negative impacts on the environment. Yet, in most developing cities, decent and safe housing remains a dream for the majority of the population, while government considers affordable housing as merely a social burden.
In order to address their housing and informal settlement issues, governments need to set up a strong national housing policy to create an enabling environment that will increase the supply of affordable housing.
This is a central requirement: only with strong political will, sound guidelines and adequate regulations will countries and cities be able to provide adequate shelter for all, reduce slum growth and ensure sustainable urban development.
Key stakeholders such as national and local government bodies, non-governmental organisations, financial institutions, as well as builders and private sector developers, have to operate within clear, given frameworks.
This will enable well-defined institutional and operational conditions in order to support the housing sector more effectively and in doing so, contribute to the provision of affordable, adequate housing for all.
National housing policies need to be closely harmonised with other development aspects such as economic, social and environmental interests.
For instance, beyond the mere provision of shelter, housing projects have to be understood as playing an active role in boosting employment and the economy, reducing poverty and improving human development.
Likewise, housing policies have to include urban planning considerations, advocating for mixed urban uses and medium to high density, ensuring small urban footprints and rationalised mobility patterns.
National and local authorities need to be at the helm of housing projects, not only to create a conducive environment for investors, developers and builders – for instance in resolving land issues, but also to ensure housing affordability that is pro-poor oriented, and guarantee provision of basic services and infrastructure.