The United Nations reports that 1.6 billion people live in inadequate housing conditions, while at last count, more than 100 million people have no housing at all. It’s a big number that helpers are working to shrink through a variety of international affordable housing efforts.

The Institute of Global Homelessness (IGH) is one of the first international organizations to focus its efforts on homelessness as a global phenomenon, working especially to help those living on the street or in homeless shelters.

IGH believes that an innovative mix of program interventions, well-coordinated local systems, and effective policies can be scaled, connected, and accelerated internationally to reduce and end homelessness on the world stage.

“Our vision is a world where everyone has a home that offers security, safety, autonomy, and opportunity,” the IGH website reads. 

Illustration of planet earth
Earth / Illustration by Johnathan Huang for Good Good Good

Given that each country, city, and community has a different history, framework, and population to consider, organizations like the United Nations and IGH have their work cut out for them.

Zooming into individual regions can allow us to gain valuable insights into solutions and systems that have worked outside of our American perspectives. Here are a few examples of international affordable housing that can inspire us and serve as a case study for the future. 

Innovative Affordable Housing Solutions

Housing & Development Board Flats

Unique affordable housing solution
Housing & Development Board Flats / Illustration by Johnathan Huang for Good Good Good

Location: Singapore

Singapore is known as one of the world’s best when it comes to social housing. Over 80% of the population currently lives in publicly governed and developed housing, meaning the government owns most of the land and manages inflation and property management with smart policies.

These social housing units are full of mixed-income communities and prioritize “kampong” (social cohesion). Apartment blocks use “void decks,” or vacant spaces on ground levels, and common corridors, to integrate and connect diverse tenants.

Contractors are also financially incentivized by the government to build sound structures and maintain immaculate conditions for residents. Additionally, Singapore prioritizes elderly citizens through a Senior Priority Scheme that houses seniors in central and familiar environments. 

Savonnerie Heymans Public Housing

Location: Belgium

In Belgium, social housing can be provided by municipalities, public companies, co-ops, or nonprofits. The Savonnerie Heymans, a project out of Brussels, was a joint initiative by the city’s social services center and a private architecture firm. 

The Savonnerie Heymans housing project creatively adapted the use of an old soap factory to create 42 low-energy residences. It’s known for its diverse population and vibrant village-like community, with a number of shared facilities, including a game library, mini-forest garden, playgrounds, and a 3D-landscaped park. 

Ésta es tu Casa Program

Location: Mexico

In Mexico, many low-income families are met with a self-help approach to social housing, where families play a major role in building their own homes.

However, the Ésta es tu Casa (“This Is Your Home”) project was introduced to aid households whose incomes were less than five times the minimum wage to build and improve their homes. The initiative has boosted social housing and now incorporates sustainability priorities.


Tower Hatert

Unique affordable housing solution
Tower Hatert / Illustration by Johnathan Huang for Good Good Good

Location: The Netherlands

There are about 2.4 million social rental projects in the Netherlands, and the Dutch social rental sector owns about 31% of all housing stock. In big cities like Amsterdam, that percentage is above 50%. 

In the Dutch city of Nijmegen, Tower Hatert is just one example of thoughtfully designed social housing. Built in 2011, the 13-story building houses 72 apartments and a healthcare center on the ground floor.

Its unique architecture resembles a leaf, as non-aligned balconies ensure that each unit gets enough natural light, and the building is made with FSC-certified wood planks and aluminum panels.