Affordable, quality housing is a human right. It is one of the elements that forms the basis of cohesive, stable societies. Yet in many of the world's cities, housing affordability is slipping further out of reach for the average citizen, partly due to wages not keeping pace with the costs of housing and partly as a result of property speculation. 

However, in some parts of the world, housing is kept affordable and renters have long-term rights and protections, which means they have effectively the same tenure as homeowners. Models such as community land trusts offer more affordable options for getting into the housing market. In other places, the move to downsizing, cohousing, self-built, and tiny house options are adaptive responses to an unaffordable housing market. — Sharon Ede

These three short case studies, adapted from our latest book, "Sharing Cities: Activating the Urban Commons," show that there are viable alternatives to the many problems in the housing market. 

1. CoAbode: Matching Compatible Single Mothers for Cohousing 

Many single mothers work tirelessly to ensure they have good, affordable housing, while they hold down a job and take care of their children on their own. With around 40 percent of single parents in the U.S. employed in low-wage jobs, single mothers experience high rates of poverty even as they work long hours. Sharing the financial and practical responsibilities of housing, rather than struggling alone, can help make life easier. CoAbode is a service that matches compatible single mothers for shared housing, as well as services and support, to make parenting less challenging. Cohousing can result in the mothers sharing their food and child care — it reduces financial costs, frees up time, and enables mutual support. Membership is free, and with 120,000 members registered, there are CoAbode members in many U.S. cities including Brooklyn, San Diego, and Washington D.C. — Sharon Ede

2. WikiHouse: Open-source Home-building Project 

Cities are struggling to meet the housing needs of an urbanizing society, while also focusing on environmental and economic resilience. WikiHouse is an open-source building project that is working to make it much simpler for anyone to design, manufacture, and assemble beautiful and sustainable homes that are suited to their needs. The goal is to help cities shift from a reliance on a centralized industrial economy to a more distributed, democratic, and scalable industry. It is a way to give citizens and communities the tools to produce, procure, and operate sustainable and affordable homes themselves. — Harry Knight (WikiHouse Foundation) 

3. Babayagas House: Self-managed Cohousing for Seniors 

Many countries share the challenge of how to support an aging population. Current models of senior care can be expensive, unsustainable, and unappealing to those living longer active lives. Aging women in particular tend to have limited options. The Babayagas House, in eastern Paris, is a self-managed social housing initiative. It was established by a group of older women who wished to maintain their independence by living together in a supportive community. Residents pay an affordable rent for their own small apartments and share the cost of a monthly visit by a health care professional. There are around 21 women aged 66 to 89 living in the six-story house – a third of whom live on the poverty line. Seniors have replicated the Babayagas model in other cities across France and Canada. 

Longer versions of the above case studies can be found in our book, "Sharing Cities: Activating the Urban Commons." 

Header image by Toa Heftiba via unsplash