Rental housing: an essential option for the urban poor in developing countries (UN-HABITAT 2003)

A large proportion of residents in cities and towns of developed as well as developing countries are tenants. Despite this, the number of governments actually trying to support rental housing development is rather small. Multilateral agencies are little better. Although some agencies at least recognize the importance of the rental housing sector, the majority are mostly remiss and virtually never mention rental housing nor develop loan programmes to encourage it. In 1989, a meeting of experts organized by UN-HABITAT concluded that governments should review their housing policies and devise appropriate strategies for rental housing which remove biases against nonowners. Unfortunately, little has actually happened since, and recognition of the important role played by the rental sector still constitutes the greatest hole in many national housing policies.This report does not make an attempt to claim that renting is anything but a partial answer to the housing problems that so many people in so many human settlements both in developed and developing countries are facing. Nor does it deny that rental accommodation is often inadequate, or contest that many of the buildings in which tenants and sharers live would fail any conscientious housing inspection. The report is in fact pragmatic rather than visionary. Governments should not close their eyes to reality. They should not perpetuate the myth of the achievability of universal homeownership. Instead, they should accept that millions of households live in rental housing and that at some point in their lives most people need rental accommodation. Governments should thus modify the regulatory framework, develop credit programmes and other forms of assistance to support housing production, with a view to creating more rental housing and to improve the existing stock. To put it directly, many politicians should change their attitudes regarding current housing policies, and should try to do something practical to help those members of their society who live in rental housing, as well as the ones who can provide those dwellings.