As the culmination of a two years research project UN-HABITAT has published a 250 page study entitled “Rental housing: An essential option for the urban poor in developing countries”. The study notes that despite the fact that a large proportion of residents in cities and towns of developed and developing countries are tenants, the number of governments actually trying to support rental housing development is rather small. In fact, the important role played by the rental sector is barely, if at all acknowledged in many national housing policies. A major reason for this bias against rental housing is the general ideology that homeownership is essential for housing development and that owners are better citizens than renters.
The study demonstrates that most of the arguments leading to this bias against rental housing are highly flawed. It is true that owner-occupation offers families a great deal, but the advantages are often exaggerated. Criticisms of rental housing are equally exaggerated – ignoring both the advantages that rentals offer tenants and landlords alike, and perpetuating false myths about landlords.
The report does not claim that renting is anything but a partial answer to the world’s housing problems. It does not deny that rental accommodation is often inadequate, or contest that many of the buildings in which tenants and sharers live would fail any conscientious inspection of housing conditions.
What the report argues is that Governments should not close their eyes to reality. They should accept that millions of households live in rental housing and that at some point in their lives most people need rental accommodation. The report thus argues that Governments should modify regulatory frameworks, 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 bluntly, policy makers should change their attitudes on current housing policies and strategies, and should instead do something practical to help those members of their societies who live in rental housing, as well as those who provide the dwellings.
The report is available in hard copy and electronically.