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retrofitting

To build resilient cities, we must treat substandard housing as a life-or-death emergency

Luis Triveno's picture
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Resilient housing policies. © World Bank
Why resilient cities need resilient housing.  Download the full version of the slideshow here

The scene is as familiar as it is tragic: A devastating hurricane or earthquake strikes a populated area in a poor country, inflicting a high number of casualties, overwhelming the resources and capacity of rescue teams and hospital emergency rooms. First responders must resort to “triage” – the medical strategy of maximizing the efficient use of existing resources to save lives, while minimizing the number of deaths. 

But if governments could apply triage to substandard housing, medical triage would be a much less frequent occurrence – because in the developing world, it is mainly housing that kills people, not disasters.
 
From the 2017 Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction to the 2017 Urban Resilience Summit, practitioners and policymakers have increasingly focused their discussions on how we can boost the resilience of urban areas.

But this is a problem with a well-known solution: Resilient cities require resilient housing.

To make housing more resilient, cities need to focus on two different but complementary angles: upgrading the existing housing stock, where most the poor live, while making sure that new construction is built safe, particularly for natural disasters. After all, if floods or earthquakes do not distinguish between old and new homes, why should policymakers? It is time for resilience to become part of the definition of “decent, affordable, and safe housing.”

 

To achieve #Housing4All, don't throw the baby out with the bathwater

Luis Triveno's picture
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Mexico City. Photo by VV Ninci via Flickr CC

In a world divided over how to deal with such serious problems as terrorism, immigration, free trade, and climate change, governments agree on the urgency of solving what is arguably the biggest problem of all: supplying safe, well-located, and affordable housing for the billions of people who need it.

There is even agreement on the basic steps to that goal:  improving land management and adopting more tenure-neutral policies.

There is also consensus on the fact that government alone cannot afford to pay the bill.  According to McKinsey & Co., the annual price tag for filling the “global housing gap” ($1.6 trillion) is twice the cost of the global investments needed in public infrastructure to keep pace with GDP growth.
 
As we approach the 70th anniversary in 2018 of the declaration of housing as a “universal human right,” it’s time for governments to turn to an obvious solution for closing the housing gap that they continue to ignore only at their peril: long-term market finance. Without a substantial increase in private capital, the housing gap will continue to increase, and so will the odds of social discontent.

A housing policy that could almost pay for itself? Think retrofitting

Luis Triveno's picture

Photo by Laura Avellaneda-Cruz via Flickr CC

The demand for decent, affordable – and safe – housing for growing urban populations is a nagging problem for financially strapped governments throughout the developing world. According to McKinsey & Co., a third of the world’s urban population – 1.6 billion people – will be hard pressed to obtain decent housing by 2025.
 
Housing policymakers, however, have undermined their capacity to increase the supply of good housing, quickly, by strapping themselves inside the myth that it is always better to build new homes rather than strengthening existing ones.
 
In Colombia, for example, 98% of all housing subsidies fund the acquisition of a new house or apartment; almost nothing goes to retrofitting existing homes to withstand the forces of nature and the tests of time.
 
While new construction may be a more attractive way to create schools, hospitals, and other public infrastructure, housing is a bigger, more pressing and complicated problem that may have a simpler solution: Bringing existing housing up to a decent standard of safety through retrofitting.
 
It’s not only a more efficient way to deploy limited government subsidies, but also a strategy to leverage these public funds with another private source in reach of governments: homeowners.

Building more affordable and disaster-resilient housing in Latin America and the Caribbean: a few policy ideas

Julian Palma's picture
Photo by C64-92 via Flicker Creative Commons

Between 2010 and 2017, Chile was struck by 10 major natural hazard events. These disasters affected as many as 340,583 houses and cost $3.6 billion in reconstruction (Ministry of Housing and Urbanism of Chile). Post-disaster assessments point to housing as one of the most affected sectors in the wake of climate-related and other natural hazards—most commonly floods, earthquakes, landslides, and fires. In a 22-year period between 1990 and 2011, minimum losses in the housing sector for 16 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) amounted to $53 billion.

In the LAC region, one quarter of the population lives in slums, characterized by the prevalence of substandard housing quality as well as incremental and self-construction of homes. Families living in these informal settlements are at greatest risk to natural hazard impacts. Programs providing new housing do not always reach families in the lowest quintiles; and without access to affordable and well-located housing alternatives, households have no other option than to build informally, and in areas most prone to natural disasters.