The Bartlett Development Planning Unit


DPU Working Paper - No. 164

Affordable housing: Chimera or oxymoron?

20 January 2014

“If there is one problem in the world to which no satisfactory answer exists it is housing in the developing countries,” (Agarwal, 1981) a conclusion that unfortunately, still remains true, some 33 years later.

A “satisfactory answer”, would be one that was affordable, acceptable and sustainable, not just to the household (which goes without saying) but also to the society, economy and environment – at a rate and scale that was commensurate with the need. The real irony is that no answer has yet been found that satisfies even one of the above – and that despite years of trying (1.) it leads one to wonder whether “Affordable Housing” is really possible, or is it merely a chimaera, an artificial construct, that does not exist, or perhaps an oxymoron: if it is affordable then it can not be (acceptable) housing, and if it is housing it can not be affordable?

This paper reviews some of the attempts to develop affordable housing for developing countries, especially for lower-income households, and analyses the reasons why acceptable solutions are so hard to come by. It concludes that the reason affordable housing remains so elusive is because of the way it has been approached and suggests ways to successfully develop affordable housing.

1. For example, Moore (2013) wrote: “The British dream of property ownership (articulated in her first speech as Conservative Leader by Margaret Thatcher in 1975) has turned into a nightmare, with many unable to afford a mortgage and others struggling to find any sort of shelter”.