"Housing is also central in our battle against COVID. Without adequate housing, social distancing and hygiene are simply impossible. Adequate housing is now a matter of life and death at this moment and in the future."
Maimunah Mohd Sharif,
Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations and Executive Director of UN-Habitat.
“There should be no evictions of anyone, anywhere, for any reason. We can call that a logical extension of the #StayAtHome policy. We know protecting the most vulnerable and informal settlements residents can be done. This is all consistent with the right to housing.”
Leilani Farha,
Global Director at The Shift and former UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Housing
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Set of houses on a hill


Ensuring access to adequate housing is one of the greatest challenges of urbanization. Although the lack of adequate and affordable housing in worldwide cities was a global phenomenon before the pandemic – a consequence of rising real estate prices due to financialization, low regulatory capacities and the proliferation of informal settlements  –  housing-related inequalities and vulnerability have become particularly evident with the COVID-19 outbreak. As recalled by UCLG’s Cities for Adequate Housing Declaration (2018), access to housing is a precondition for accessing human rights and the right to the city, including employment, education, health, and social services. But even being such a basic need, UN-Habitat estimates that around 100 million people worldwide are homeless and one in four people live in harmful conditions to their health, safety and prosperity. The UN agency estimates that in order to achieve the SDG 11 on cities by 2030 (“Ensuring access to adequate housing for all”), 3 billion people – which represents about 40% of the world population – will need access to adequate housing. 


By 2030, 3 billion people will need access to adequate housing.


100 million people worldwide are homeless.


Compounded by rapid population growth and remaining high levels of poverty, cities are facing persistent challenges to meet inhabitants’ housing needs. While the most common problem is the shortage of adequate housing, specifically related challenges to this issue lay in the poor quality and location of the stock, usually far from job and livelihood opportunities, lack of accessibility and services, unaffordable costs and insecurity of tenure. Lack of regulatory capacities and financial resources are among the most recurring challenges faced by local governments when trying to address housing-related challenges. The UCLG Report Rethinking Housing Policies offers a good review of housing challenges and emerging policies by local and regional governments in the last years. 

In the context of COVID-19, addressing these challenges has become even more urgent. On the one hand, this is so because one of the main measures to curb the spread of the virus is by promoting staying at home policies. On the other, housing vulnerability has also become a major catalyst of the social crisis caused by the pandemic, as the sudden decrease of households’ livelihoods and day-to-day income across the world is bringing millions to the verge of eviction or sleeping rough. Particular attention must be put also into guaranteeing the safety of vulnerable groups and communities. A key example of these exacerbated vulnerabilities is that of women, as reports indicate an increase in domestic violence since the outbreak. 

Learn more about the challenges being faced by cities and regions


Housing needs to be a central element of social and economic policies, both at the national and local levels. Public action on housing should encompass the development of comprehensive strategies based on the adequate housing framework (as recalled in the A/HRC/43/43 Report by the UN Special Rapporteur on Adequate Housing), including the development of non-speculative public housing and fostering  affordable housing at scale, based on renewed public-private partnerships and community initiatives. 

In the context of the pandemic, it is critical that local governments think of effective health solutions to those living in informal settlements, which in many cases are not benefiting from formal economic support measures. Other measures taken by local and regional governments in the field have focused on the enforcement of moratorium of evictions, freeze of rent increases, establishing rental assistance programs, mobilizing emergency housing or promoting social housing initiatives, such as the creation or increase of social rental housing. 


Discover how Barcelona has developed new private sector partnerships to mobilize vacant housing units for people at social risk

Bogotá is making unconditional monthly transfers to vulnerable citizens to support them in their rents and mortgages

Learn how Iztapalapa is ensuring access to water and sanitation so that people do not have to leave their houses during the quarantine


Discover how Barcelona has developed new private sector partnerships to mobilize vacant housing units for people at social risk

Bogotá is making unconditional monthly transfers to vulnerable citizens to support them in their rents and mortgages
Learn how Iztapalapa is ensuring access to water and sanitation so that people do not have to leave their houses during the quarantine:

Learn more about other responses and initiatives in terms of Housing:

Key Takeaways

  1. Both during and after the pandemic, housing must be positioned at the center of national and local urban agendas.
  2. Especially during the health crisis, local governments must ensure access to proper housing conditions for all as a basic element to guarantee the health of its citizens. Support can come in many forms, such as mobilizing emergency housing, loans or subsidies.
  3. Housing and informal settlements upgrading policies at the local level should be accompanied by nationwide, long term strategies.
  4. Sustainable development requires building on territorial equality, an area in which policy development still needs to be advanced.
  5. We must promote civic solidarity and multi-stakeholder partnerships to address the impact of the COVID-19 crisis on housing.
  6. There’s no one size fits all: different solutions must be provided to people who are homeless or lack proper housing conditions.

the Press Release

The Outbreak

Several participants of UCLG’s Live Learning Experience highlighted that rethinking the real estate market will be critical in the aftermath of COVID-19, especially in areas facing large risks of increased gentrification following the pandemic. The sector was already under close scrutiny before the crisis due to the massive impact of housing financialization over urban life, with housing being treated as a commodity of choice rather than a key component of the right to an adequate standard of living. Building a new model, which puts the interests of the citizens in the center, will be key to provide the much-needed improvements in access to housing in the long run. 

A street with colorful houses in Capetwon

Back Better

The UCLG Decalogue

“Ensuring the right to adequate housing for all, and inclusive housing systems are key for disaster preparedness and beyond. If we are able to guarantee the right to housing to people in the midst of the pandemic, we cannot afford to go back to business-as-usual after the crisis.”


For further information on the topic of Housing and its impact on cities and regions, please refer to the related resources included below.


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