Beyond Four Walls: The 7 Standards All Housing Should Meet

Nearly one in every four people on the planet lacks adequate housing. That doesn’t mean every person in this population of 1.8 billion people lacks shelter.

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Nearly one in every four people on the planet lacks adequate housing. That doesn’t mean every person in this population of 1.8 billion people lacks shelter. Let’s look at a common way we see families living in shelters while lacking adequate housing.

In Latin America, it’s normal for vulnerable families to live in overcrowded spaces together. Low-income adults often share a room with multiple children, which has been proven to contribute to higher cases of domestic violence. While these families may have shelter, they lack one of many factors that make for decent housing. 

Here’s another common example. International human rights law acknowledges that housing isn’t adequate unless it comes with security of tenure. If a family lives in a shelter but experiences the constant threat of eviction, then they lack adequate housing. The same is true if a family lives in a location that excludes them from schools and healthcare services. Housing is more than four walls and a roof. 

At New Story, we adopt the United Nations criteria for adequate housing, which includes seven standards. For us to pursue a housing solution, it must meet all seven requirements.

  1. Security of tenure: Housing is not adequate if its occupants do not have a degree of tenure security which guarantees legal protection against forced evictions, harassment, and other threats.
  2. Availability of services, materials, facilities, and infrastructure: Housing is not adequate if its occupants do not have safe drinking water, adequate sanitation, energy for cooking, heating, lighting, food storage, or refuse disposal.
  3. Affordability: Housing is not adequate if its cost threatens or compromises the occupants’ enjoyment of other human rights.
  4. Habitability: Housing is not adequate if it does not guarantee physical safety or provide adequate space, as well as protection against the cold, damp, heat, rain, wind, and other threats to health and structural hazards.
  5. Accessibility: Housing is not adequate if the specific needs of disadvantaged and marginalized groups are not taken into account.
  6. Location: Housing is not adequate if it is cut off from employment opportunities, health-care services, schools, childcare centers, and other social facilities, or if located in polluted or dangerous areas.
  7. Cultural adequacy: Housing is not adequate if it does not respect and take into account the expression of cultural identity.

The United Nations' seven standards for adequate housing prove why housing is at the center of thriving individuals, communities, and economies. Proper housing solutions go beyond shelter and provide people with life-changing benefits. 

New Story addresses the housing crisis because housing has the potential to transform every aspect of a person’s life. 

  1. Security of tenure provides vulnerable populations with the security and stability they need to live in freedom rather than fear. 
  2. The availability of services makes it possible for families to stay healthy. 
  3. Affordability gives families the financial margin to pay for their basic needs outside the home and be participants in their local economies. 
  4. Habitability gives families the space and safety to endure physical threats, including climate-induced disasters. 
  5. Accessibility meets the needs of marginalized people, giving them a place to belong. 
  6. Appropriate location of housing provides families with the opportunities to gain an education and build a career. 
  7. Cultural adequacy helps families live with dignity as they have the ability to express their unique cultures.  

To achieve the fullest benefits of adequate housing, we have to pursue solutions that take into account the UN’s requirements such as affordability and accessibility. That’s why we focus on more than building homes. 

We work with the market to create an environment where vulnerable populations can secure the housing that works best for them. 

While the physical structure of housing matters tremendously, it’s not the only criteria families are evaluating when looking for housing. And it shouldn’t be the sole standard for teams developing solutions. 

The seven requirements of adequate housing serve as guidelines for sustainable housing solutions. Because when we only focus on four walls and a roof, we miss out on the greatest benefits of housing: the ability to thrive in every part of our lives. 

Learn more about our strategy for providing adequate housing here.