Bad Housing Policies Worsening Slums Around the World

When people live in slums, the way to improve their lives is to empower the people living there rather than to attack the slums themselves. Richard Florida argues that when cities try to move or destroy slums and replace them with large-scale projects, they're attacking a symptom of the housing crisis and making the root problems worse.1

A new study by the World Resources Institute (WRI) lays out how bad policies on public housing, an emphasis on home-ownership, and problematic land use policies have worsened conditions in slums and made the global urban crisis worse.

More than 330 million households in the world suffer from a lack of secure, adequate and affordable housing, a figure that will grow by 30 percent to 440 million households by 2025. And although the percentage of the world’s population that lives in global slums has declined over the past couple of decades, the absolute number of people living in urban slums worldwide has grown from less than 700 million in 1990 to 880 million in 2014, and will expand further in the coming decades. In India and China roughly a quarter of the population live in slums, and in Africa more than half of the population is trapped in substandard living conditions. Women and minority groups worldwide are disproportionately concentrated in slums. ... The study affirms that slums cannot be successfully upgraded without the community’s participation. And community participation is amplified when governments make policy that builds on their existing capacity, and improves their access to city infrastructure.

Based on this broad perspective, the report outlines three key strategies for addressing the global housing crisis and upgrading global slums.


It’s a big mistake to see slums as a problem, when in fact they are an opportunity. And it is an even bigger mistake to locate people away from their current settlements to new government projects. Slums typically crop up around centers of economic opportunity, however rudimentary. And slum dwellers by their very nature understand how to mobilize community resources and generate opportunity.

In the words of the report, the location of affordable housing is “as important as, or even more important than, the quality of this housing.” When residents are displaced or relocated, they are disconnected from critical social and economic networks and livelihood options they themselves created. Making in situimprovements to these settlements allows slum dwellers to remain connected to their own networks and sites of economic opportunity.