The Case for Incremental Housing

    The issues

      Informal settlements accommodate more than 50 percent of the population of many cities. They are characterised by flexible, responsive, and affordable housing processes that enable families to extend and improve their dwellings over time. At the same time, their legal status is usually insecure, they are under-serviced by urban infrastructure, are often unhealthy living environments, and in some cases are physically unsafe.

      Government efforts to address these problems through the construction of subsidised completed dwellings for low-income groups are seriously limited by cost and management capacity. By comparison,slum-upgrading programmes can provide security of tenure, adequate infrastructure, and local management capabilities to households and communities in existing informal settlements, at a fraction of the cost. In addition, sites and services (S&S) programmes can redress the growth of new informal settlements and the proliferation of slums (which are growing by 5 percent per year in many cities) by providing secure access to land and services and enabling households to construct their dwellings incrementally as their resources allow at a significantly lower cost than conventional public housing programmes.


    Incremental housing strategies in context

      Many S&S projects were implemented in the 1970s and ’80s. They went out of fashion for a variety of reasons, however, significant among which was that they were not given enough time to mature before being evaluated. The consolidation of low-income houses and neighbourhoods is a slow process.

      Projects were often sited on the urban fringes where land was cheap but isolated from centres of employment and urban social services and networks. The cost of services, planning standards, and mandatory building controls rendered many projects unaffordable to their target groups. The case for supporting incremental housing strategies With a better understanding of urban poverty and new approaches to urban planning and management, there is a strong case for governments to initiate and support incremental housing strategies as a major component of integrated urban development.

    The case rests on six major arguments

    • The numbers case. By engaging householders in the production and management of their own dwellings and neighbourhoods, far more legal, safe, and healthy dwellings affordable to low income groups can be procured than by conventional approaches.
    • The financial case. By providing security of tenure and access to services, even poor households are able to invest in housing and neighbourhood development through saving and borrowing, thereby sharing the cost of urban development with the government.
    • The urban management case. By recognising the most effective levels of decision-making and delegating the authority that is required for incremental housing development, partnerships that enhance the efficiency of urban management and the administration of urban services can be built.
    • The urban development case. By planning areas of legitimate low-income housing development as part of an integrated urban development strategy, governments can set strategic
    • priorities for an entire urban area rather than resorting to ad hoc measures. The governance case. By engaging households and community leaders in the incremental development of their housing and neighbourhoods, a system of good governance that helps ensure transparency and accountability in decision-making can be created.
    • The social and economic development case. By encouraging cooperation through incremental development, local communities are built and strengthened. Furthermore, by creating job
    • opportunities through the provision of training and technical support, household incomes can be increased.

    Components of incremental housing strategies

    National or citywide incremental housing strategies entail the adoption of new approaches to public sector support in seven key areas of intervention: land and location, (ii) finance, (iii) infrastructure and services, (iv) beneficiary selection, (v) site planning and building controls and supports, (vi) community organisation and asset management, and (vii) citywide strategic planning. An integrated housing policy framework must address each of these components in conjunction with the others.


    Conclusions, capacity building & the way forward

    About half the population of the developing world live and work in towns and cities and a third of them (830 million) in informal settlements or slums. Though there are many ‘slums of despair’—seemingly hopeless neighbourhoods of poverty and environmental degradation—the majority are ‘settlements of hope’—informal neighbourhoods and communities in the process of building their cities through their own endeavours and ingenuity. They demonstrate a process that has been shown to be both effective and efficient in terms of its responsiveness to their occupants’ fluctuating needs and fortunes. However, they are often constrained by a lack of official or recognised supports that would extend the effectiveness and efficiency of incremental housing processes for the development of the city as a whole. As pointed out above, the starting point for this is the understanding of the principle of subsidiarity and a political will to devolve authority down to the level of organised urban communities, coupled with the investment in innovative capacity building.