Economists have long been urging to give more emphasis to adequate housing as they recognise it as an important component to public health and social justice. Poor housing quality and lack of access to basic services have been proven to contribute to the proliferation and spread of communicable diseases, especially during Covid-19 spread. While the relationship between housing quality and the transmission of disease has long been established, the spread of COVID-19 in marginalized and underserved communities illustrates that the issue has not received due recognition in the development agenda for decades. When the fundamental requirements of safe and adequate housing are not met — sufficient living space, safe and affordable basic service provisions, thermal comfort, accessibility for functionally impaired persons, safety from preventable injuries and exposure to harmful substances such as smoke, asbestos and lead — then households already suffering from health inequities may be even more exposed as a result of the pandemic.
Long been neglected, the correlation between health, social and economic inequities has become even more pressing to address, now, in the midst of a global pandemic. In fact, now these issues extend beyond housing to land supply and the broader urban environment. It should be noted that the per capita land consumption in our cities is highly unequal and have already reached unsustainable levels. Reshaping the urban fabric should be based on principles of mixed land use, social diversity and connectivity to work places and markets, maintaining compactness of space through a balance of high-density but habitable housing with sufficient open public spaces. However, its easier said than done as our cities face mammoth task of balancing between limited space availability and ever-growing population. All of these diverse spatial planning demands put great pressure on cities to find more room for development, without compromising sustainability through urban sprawl.
However, one of the likelihood situations that may emerge while tackling this problem is the overcrowding of cities – a condition where excess of people are concentrated in a particular space, such as dormitories or prisons. Besides being a key indicator of social vulnerability, overcrowding can have adverse impacts on infectious disease transmission, including COVID-19. Migrant populations are a case in point: with large numbers housed in substandard conditions. With new waves of coronavirus still sweeping across the world, concerns about what will happen if people living in crowded environment are required to comply with lockdown procedures that trap them indefinitely in close living quarters. Therefore, decongestion must be paired with land assembly tools that make affordable and serviced land available for the housing needs of poor people.