Why is Habitat Needed

A core issue for global poverty: The state of the world’s housing
The world is experiencing a global housing crisis. About 2 billion people live in substandard housing and 100 million are homeless, according to the United Nations.(1) These people are increasingly urban residents, and every week more than a million people are born in, or move to, cities in the developing world.(2) Today, a billion people, 32 percent of the global urban population, live in urban slums. If no serious action is taken, the United Nations reports that the number of slum dwellers worldwide will increase over the next 30 years to nearly 3 billion.(3)

In the United Sates alone, 95 million people, one third of the nation, have housing problems including payments too large a percentage of their income, overcrowding, poor quality shelter and homelessness.(4) Throughout the world, people live in inadequate housing, and Habitat for Humanity is dedicated to providing decent, affordable homes for those in need.


Importance of clean, decent, and stable housing
Habitat for Humanity has shown that building homes does more than put a roof over someone’s head. In clean, decent, stable housing:

  • Families can provide stability for their children.
  • A family’s sense of dignity and pride grow.
  • Health, physical safety, and security improve
  • Educational and job prospects increase.

Through our own programs we have witnessed the transformational ability of good housing, and recent scholarly research confirms what Habitat for Humanity has known for so long. A 2006 report issued by the Planning and Development Collaborative International stated, “Clean, warm housing is an essential input for prevention and care of diseases of poverty like HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, diarrhea, and malaria.”(5) An Emory University research study on Habitat for Humanity’s work in Malawi found Habitat housing improved the health of young children as much as water and sanitation programs. The study found that children under 5 living in Habitat for Humanity houses had 44 percent less malaria, respiratory or gastrointestinal diseases compared to children living in traditional houses.(6)

The future rests in the decisions made today because bad housing has its greatest impact on children. As Lisa Harker, a British housing expert, explains, “Childhood is a precious time when our experiences shape the adults we become; but children who grow up in bad housing are robbed of their future chances….” Those chances are stolen by the detrimental impact poverty housing has on everyday life.

Housing is also a great means of wealth creation. For families, especially those with a lower income, who are able to own a home, ownership is an important means of wealth accumulation in the form of equity and forced savings resulting from mortgage repayment.(7) In low-income countries, housing construction creates job opportunities for migrants to cities and stimulates the creation of small business. The process of securing land tenure for informal settlements helps to increase access to credit.(8)

Good housing in communities attracts economic investment and development, and contributes to thriving school systems and community organizations. Good housing is a catalyst for civic activism and a stimulus for community-based organizations. Safe homes and neighborhoods, in which residents are satisfied with housing conditions and public services, help to build social stability and security.(9)


Housing must become a priority
If action to decrease poverty is to be successful, increasing the housing supply across the globe is essential. Adequate housing is vitally important to the health of the world’s economies, communities, and populations, yet the percentage of people without access to decent, stable housing is rising. The United Nations projects that by the year 2030 an additional 3 billion people, about 40 percent of the world’s population, will need access to housing.(10) If we are to prevent such a dramatic escalation of the housing crisis, and if we are to succeed in the fight against poverty, we must support the expansion of housing both as policy and as practice.


Learn how Habitat is making a difference
Habitat for Humanity surpassed its 600,000 house milestone during its most recent fiscal year. Since the nonprofit organization was founded in 1976, its self-help, hand-up model has resulted in rehabilitated, repaired or new housing for more than 3 million people worldwide. Continue reading the Habitat for Humanity International December, 2010 PSA…

Additional resources on poverty housing


  • (1) Miloon Kothari, UN Press Briefing by Special Rapporteur on the Right to Adequate Housing, November, 2005.
  • (2) D. Kissick, et al, Housing for All: Essential for Economic, Social, and Civic Development, a 28 page manuscript prepared for the World Urban Forum III by PADCO/AECOM.
  • (3) UN-Habitat, Global Report on Human Settlements 2003: The Challenge of Slums.
  • (4) National Low Income Housing Coalition, America’s Neighbors: The Affordable Housing Crisis and the People it Affects, 2004.
  • (5) Kissick, op. cit.
  • (6) Christopher G. Wolff, et al., The Effect of Improved Housing on Illness in Children under Five Years Old in Northern Malawi: Cross-Sectional Study, BMJ vol. 322, 2001
  • (7) Thomas P. Boehm and Alan M. Scholttmann, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development: Office of Policy Development and Research, Wealth Accumulation and Homeownership: Evidence for Low-Income Households, December 2004
  • (8) Kissick, op. cit.
  • (9) Kissick, op. cit.
  • (10) UN-Habitat, Financing Urban Shelter: Global Report on Human Settlements 2005.