Why everyone needs a home

and how the XPRIZE is challenging us to fulfil this need.

Calyn Pillay
Published in
7 min readNov 4, 2019


Photo by Romain MATHON on Unsplash (Bo Kaap, Cape Town, South Africa).

In 2016, Jennifer Dean devised a working concept of ‘the virtuous hierarchy of housing needs’ as part of her research on healthy and socially inclusive environments. Jennifer’s hierarchy of housing needs is intended to apply to all societies and peoples, and seeks to provide a focal point for to support our ability to identify why housing is vital to us. This article outlines Dean’s hierarchy and couples it with the United Nations’ (UN) adequate housing principles. These two pieces of work form the foundation from which we seek to explore — what now? If we know housing is vital and we know what adequate entails, what next? How do we disrupt current housing trends to realise adequate housing? To scout the answers to this question this article draws on the XPRIZE’s Future of Housing Impact Map.

“When we consider housing needs in a ‘Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs’ perspective, we shift our thinking from a house as simply a physical dwelling to a more meaningful concept of “home”. At its highest level, a home, whether rented or owned, becomes a structure that supports occupants who have a strong sense of place, and who have the confidence to creatively engage in their community.” — Jennifer Dean.

Jennifer Dean in ‘Room for All — Simple ways that accessible, adequate housing builds the best communities’ articulated why we value housing by adapting Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.

Housing caters for each of the needs in the hierarchy in the following ways:

Physiological need: housing provides physiological needs like providing warmth and safety from natural elements. Additionally, unaffordable housing can compete with other physiological basic needs such as food.

Safety and Security need: Quality and suitable housing that is not overcrowded or in need of repair contribute to an individual’s health, personal security and financial security. The most serious of crimes such as murder, rape, and robbery are rife in informal settlements where housing is largely unsuitable for human beings.

Love and Belonging need: There is a shift that occurs between housing as a physical object that provides physiological and security needs to a nuanced and meaningful concept of home, and more broadly, community. Physical homes exist in neighbourhoods, they facilitate our access to schools, work, and places to buy things to meet our other needs. Most importantly they are where our friends and family are — our communities.

Esteem needs: When a house is given positive meaning, it becomes a home. It is the place of family, connection, privacy and culture. For example, remembrance of a childhood home incites feelings of nostalgia, self-identity, rootedness, and attachment. Families who are evicted or lose a home often feel ashamed of this and there is a social stigma that stops them from asking for help earlier, when intervention may save them from homelessness

Self-Actualization need: This is the process in which an individual reaches their potential. While housing is not directly linked to this need, without a stable home (by having all the above needs fulfilled) it is very difficult for people to reach their potential.

What is adequate housing? not all homes are created equal.

“The Right to Adequate Housing,” Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, 2009, http://www.ohchr.org/Documents/Publications/FS21_rev_1_ Housing_en.pdf.

International human rights law recognizes everyone’s right to an adequate standard of living, including adequate housing. The right to adequate housing is relevant to all countries around the world, as they have all ratified at least one international treaty that includes adequate housing. In addition, several constitutions protect the right to adequate housing (including South Africa’s see Chapter 2 of Constitution, Bill of Rights, Section 26: Housing) or outline the governments’ general responsibility to ensure adequate housing. (UN-Habitat, Factsheet 21 on Housing).

What does housing look like in the world today?

Just last year, it was estimated that over 2 billion people still live in inadequate housing situations around the world. The XPRIZE creates incentive competitions to entice ‘the crowd’ (that’s us) to take action, and bring us closer to a ‘world of Abundance’.

We do this because we know that the solutions to the world’s problems won’t come from one person or one country or one industry’.We will only reach these solutions if everyone can make their voices heard. — XPRIZE.

They have identified six major housing challenges that require our disruptive innovation. I’ve summarised these six below.

The 1st aspect of our housing challenge is demographics

Increasingly we’re moving towards a future where two-thirds of the world’s population will live in cities. This increasing urbanisation will place tremendous pressure on housing stocks within cities. Cape Town is suffering from many of the negative externalities associated with rapid urbanisation without accompanying structural changes.

We are seeing the development of urban slums which a lack of basic services like electricity, clean water, and sanitation. In established suburbs, we are seeing an increase in homelessness.

Analysts estimate that the affordable housing gap for the urban households worldwide will grow from 330 million households in 2017 to 440 million households by 2025 to 1.6 billion people, more than a 30% increase.- XPRIZE

The 2nd aspect of our housing challenge is affordability

The relative cost of housing, as well as the stock of affordable housing, is vastly insufficient to address the increasing population (birth rate, urbanisation, and globalisation) in both the developed and developing world.

XPRIZE research finds some of the primary contributors to the inadequate supply of secure affordable housing are high costs, an overemphasis on home-ownership, and inappropriate government policies.

Emerging technologies offer the potential to radically improve housing stock by impacting the cost of building, the environmental efficiency, as well as the functions and experiences we have of our homes. However, we still need to leverage these technologies as solutions that accrue benefits for most of humankind.

The 3rd aspect of our housing challenge is adaptability

A new concept I was introduced by XPRIZE’s research is housing ‘adaptability’. Traditionally we have adjusted to the housing. For example, we sell our houses when we move jobs or move into retirement homes when we require in-home care. The X-Prize asks us to consider what would a housing stock that adapted to human needs look like — could the homes of ageing populations be adapted with a way to support them so they wouldn’t need to move into a retirement home? Could our homes come with us when we move jobs?

The 4th aspect of our housing challenge is resilience

To many South Africans, the concept of resilience might not be as pressing of an issue as we don’t have as severe national disasters, although the drought in Cape Town over recent years should give us pause. The resilience of our homes, speaks to the house’s ability to withstand the consequences of climate change.

The 5th aspect of our housing challenge is environment

As the UN Climate Action Summit 2019 emphasised, the impacts of climate change are being felt everywhere and are having very real consequences on people’s lives and welfare.

The last four years were the four hottest on record, and winter temperatures in the Arctic have risen by 3°C since 1990. Sea levels are rising, coral reefs are dying, and we are starting to see the life-threatening impact of climate change on health, through air pollution, heatwaves and risks to food security.

Building homes is one of the most natural resource-intensive human activities, therefore we need to be thinking about the health of ecosystems and their ability to recover, as we find solutions to the housing challenges we face.

The 6th aspect of our housing challenge is technology

We are in the midst of a Fourth Industrial Revolution, which I find particularly fascinating, there are new technologies are emerging and transforming our world at an exponential pace and scale. However, we need to leverage these technologies to

  • improve the cost of building,
  • environmental efficiency of buildings,
  • function and experience of a home,
  • equity in housing.

If we start innovating around the trends, we will stand a chance of ensuring the benefits of these technologies are experienced by all.

Who do we need to be to achieve adequate housing?

Unchallenged these global trends will result in an unequal future of exponential proportions. According to the United Nations Habitat, over the next 25 years, more than two billion people worldwide will add to the growing number of houses required. To keep up with demand globally we would need to produce 4000 housing units per hour with current methods.

Do we want to live in a world with exponential inequity?

We need to be able to make an assessment about the trends and factors in our local context, then hold this current reality while optimistically look for opportunities to solve these challenges.

Will, you join us in looking at this issue with optimism and creating an abundant future in which every person has adequate housing?

Why we wrote this piece: For those of you who know our work in evictions in Cape Town, you might be confused about why we choose to write this piece. We believe it is worthwhile to look at trends shaping global housing needs and how they will continue to exacerbate local issues in housing unless, we disrupt them through innovation in tech, policy, and our societies. Evictions are a symptom of an unhealthy housing system. We know we (all of us) need to simultaneously work on the cause and the symptoms.



Calyn Pillay
Writer for

is a MSc Med (Bioethics & HealthLaw) candidate at Wits. Interested in Effective altruism, Human Rights and Parity.