Day One Highlights from the Ninth Asia-Pacific Housing Forum: Bridging the Gap for Sustainable Housing

Day One Highlights from the Ninth Asia-Pacific Housing Forum: Bridging the Gap for Sustainable Housing

The first day of the 9th Asia-Pacific Housing Forum brought together experts and thought leaders to discuss critical topics that are shaping the future of housing and urban development in the region. Here’s a glimpse of the key takeaways and insights:

Opening Plenary: Focus on Integrating and Empowering Communities

In this opening discussion, Dr. Renu Khosla, Director at the Centre for Urban and Regional Excellence India, highlighted the potential of integrational infrastructure as a housing catalyst and as a way to empower communities to have a sense of care and ownership of the spaces they live in. She stressed that it is more cost-effective, affordable, self-replicable, and provides a dignified experience for women.

The discussion then moved to encourage a shift towards in-situ development rather than resettlement, emphasizing the importance of balancing scale and localization in housing initiatives.

Track 1a: Impacts of Upscaling Informal Settlements on Human Development

This panel focused on the societal and economic benefits of investing in informal settlements – the hidden value of informal settlements that is untapped due to lack of basic services, secure tenure, and security against climate impacts.

Panel participants shared their perspectives on:

  • Government-led slum upgrading.
  • Private sector drivers for informal settlement investment.
  • Incremental upgrading versus relocation to new settlements.
  • The factors that make up a good housing condition.

“Affordable housing for informal settlers is important to build sustainable urban development.”

Norliza Hashim – Chief Executive – Urbanice Malaysia

Track 2a: Climate Change Adaptation on a Settlement Level

This session covered different types of improvements, including nature and ecosystem-based solutions, that can be implemented in settlements to make them more resilient to various climate hazards such as wind, flooding, and heat.

Hyojung Kim, Team Manager at Junglim Architecture, stressed the gravity of climate change, emphasizing that even a temperature increase of 1.5 degrees Celsius is a significant concern. He warned that the resilience of the planet is at stake. In Korea, they have set ambitious goals, aiming for carbon neutrality by 2050.

Kim outlined strategies to achieve this objective by 2030, including the mandatory implementation of net-zero buildings starting from 2023-2024, with public buildings expected to follow suit by 2025. He also highlighted the concept of zero energy building (ZEB), which involves adapting houses to be energy-neutral. Kim discussed the successful commercialization of ZEB projects and the potential for buildings to produce and distribute energy.

Dao Harrison, representing the World Bank Group, brought attention to an upcoming study in Indonesia, analyzing a government grant of $2,000 per household for retrofitting. She noted that the quality of retrofitting doesn’t always consider the crucial aspect of resilience in design.

Harrison emphasized the need to keep resilience in mind when investing in homes, whether funded by the government, communities, or households. She also touched on the complex issue of land distribution and policy changes required for more inclusive housing.

Dao harrison and panel

The session also touched upon the distribution of land, which has broader policy implications. The speaker noted that high-income individuals can afford to buy land and invest in amenities like air conditioning, while low-income households have to deal with urgent and immediate shelter needs.

Changing such policies is a gradual process, requiring a thorough reevaluation of a country’s approach. While it may not be possible to make a sweeping change all at once, incremental changes, such as addressing land distribution and home sizes, can contribute to the broader vision of sustainable development.

Track 3a: Trends and Opportunities in the Housing Microfinance Space in Asia-Pacific

This session discussed the role of housing microfinance in meeting the housing needs of low-income households. It cited case studies, best practices, and opportunities and challenges in the housing microfinance industry. Key focus areas included:

  • Role of capital markets is development of pro-poor mortgage and microfinance ecosystems.
  • Case Studies from Habitat’s interventions and technical support for the development of people centered housing microfinance products.

Without proper title documents for their land or existing home, many are ineligible for affordable mortgage solutions. As a result, it can take up to 30 years for some families to complete their home.

Discussions also revolved around the role of government intervention in creating affordable housing, emphasizing that the public sector cannot achieve it efficiently alone.

Track 4a: Leaving No One Behind in the Digital Era

The session covered the risk of potentially exacerbating the inequity in the housing ecosystem brought about by rapid urbanization and digitization.

Digitalization—the use of automated digital technologies to collect, process, analyze, distribute, use, and sell information—is spurring fundamental change in the way housing is produced, marketed, sold, financed, managed, and lived in.

The widening digital divide where poor and low-income homes and communities have little to no access to digital solutions might accelerate and deepen if not addressed immediately in the context of rapid urbanization and digitalization in Asia-Pacific.

Curt Garrigan, Chief of the Sustainable Urban Development Section at UNESCAP, highlighted the growing digital divide and the need for accessible digital solutions. He stressed the importance of developing the infrastructure that supports these digital innovations. The potential of satellite technology to pinpoint pollution sources and the use of satellite imagery for post-disaster and informal settlement analysis were also discussed.

Rushil Palavajjhala, co-founder and CEO of Bandhu, drew attention to the challenges faced by women and families from rural areas moving to urban environments, including the need for improved housing, economic opportunities, and social services.

“In India, renting informally is often times 3 – 4 times more expensive than renting formally […] Can we create a system where we solve for housing as a utility instead of an asset?”

Rushil Palavajjhala, co-founder and ceo, Bandhu

Vijay Jagannathan, Secretary-General of CityNet, called for a transformation of governance through Digital 2.0, emphasizing the need for real accountability in urban development.

Dr. Renu Khosla expressed her desire for digital tools to empower community voices and enable them to provide solutions to their cities.

Track 4b: Influencing Reduction in Housing Deficit Through Policy and System Change

The session covered promising and failed housing policy and systems changes that have emerged in and outside of Asia-Pacific since the last APHF.

Johann Baar, speaking on behalf of The Hilti Foundation, highlighted their efforts to modernize vernacular construction technology by conducting research in this field. This approach aims to bring traditional construction practices into the 21st century.

Johann further emphasized the importance of viewing housing as a comprehensive system and identifying the gaps that need to be filled. He described the foundation’s role in funding and collaborating with partners to determine how these gaps can be addressed. As a private foundation, their efforts are focused on encouraging collaboration, orchestration, and the facilitation of systems where all stakeholders can work together effectively. This holistic approach is seen as essential in influencing and driving changes in housing policies and systems.

Mounia Tagma, an International Housing Policy Expert, emphasized the need for government intervention in the housing market to produce affordable housing. She pointed out that this intervention doesn’t necessarily require direct provision or supply of housing but should be a strategic involvement to ensure affordability. The public sector alone cannot efficiently address the housing deficit.

The first day of the Asia-Pacific Housing Forum was filled with thought-provoking discussions, emphasizing the need for inclusive, sustainable, and resilient housing solutions in the region.

We hope the insights from these sessions will help shape the future of housing and urban development in the region to create more sustainable and inclusive homes.

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