An estimated 330 million urban households worldwide live in substandard or unaffordable housing. By 2025, that number is expected to climb to 440 million households, representing 1.6 billion people. This interdisciplinary research project will analyze the ramifications of accelerating urbanization and rising housing costs in global perspective. By focusing on several major cities that are responding to affordable housing shortages in different ways, this project will provide new understanding regarding the effectiveness and unanticipated consequences of different government policies. The research team will generate new data and analyses about processes of global urbanization, the relationship between housing and poverty, and the large-scale environmental impact of expanding cities. The project will produce policy-relevant findings regarding the effectiveness and unanticipated consequences of various strategies, policies, and responses. The researchers will document how the development of certain ideas and laws helped to contribute to the current crisis, which will provide lessons for planners and other decision makers. The project also will catalogue the human costs of the crisis and record how housing policies work on a day-to-day basis, offering policy makers new insights into the complex nature of the problem.

Through their analysis of four cities on four different continents (New York in the U.S., London in the United Kingdom, Lagos in Nigeria, and Delhi in India), the investigators will identify key sources of the global affordable housing crisis by exploring the historical record, present-day strategies of housing provision, and a range of social and environmental transformations taking place in territories far removed from the city. They will document multiple consequences of the affordable housing crisis, including historical processes of dispossession and land enclosure, present-day survival strategies of low-income families in high-cost cities, and broader trends of accelerated urbanization. They also will assess why cities have responded to the affordable housing crisis in vastly different ways as well as the consequences of those varied responses for low-income families, cities, and surrounding environments. The investigators will analyze infrastructure and property relations, urban poverty and housing market dynamics, migration patterns, and flows of capital and other resources. Historical geoparsing algorithms will analyze a large textual database of archival sources that document the worldwide contestation of property rights in the 20th century. Ethnographic fieldwork in the four focal cities will document the everyday lives of low-income residents and analyze how different housing policies play out on the ground level. Macrospatial and geographic methods will map large-scale data about infrastructural systems to connect cities and their hinterlands, highlighting territories and resource. This project is supported through the NSF Interdisciplinary Behavioral and Social Sciences Research (IBSS) competition.

National Science Foundation (NSF)
SBE Office of Multidisciplinary Activities (SMA)
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Thomas Baerwald
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Harvard University
United States
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