Broken Cities

Inside the Global Housing Crisis

Deborah Potts


Uncovers the origins of the housing crisis across the global North and South, outlining the social challenges brought into the 21st century and the radical solutions needed to resolve it.

From Britain’s ‘Generation Rent’ to Hong Kong’s notorious ‘cage homes’, societies around the world are facing a housing crisis of unprecedented proportions. The social consequences have been profound, with a lack of affordable housing resulting in overcrowding, homelessness, broken families and, in many countries, a sharp decline in fertility.

In Broken Cities, Deborah Potts offers a provocative new perspective on the global housing crisis arguing that the problem lies mainly with demand rather than supply. Potts shows how market-set rates of pay and incomes for vast numbers of households in the world’s largest cities in the global South and North are simply too low to rent or buy any housing that is legal, planned and decent. As the influence of free market economics has increased, the situation has worsened. Potts argues that the crisis needs radical solutions.

With the world becoming increasingly urbanized, this book provides a timely and urgent account of one of the most pressing social challenges of the 21st century. Exploring the effects of the housing crisis across the global North and South, Broken Cities is a warning of the greater crises to come if these issues are not addressed.

Author Bio

Deborah Potts is an Emeritus Reader in Human Geography at King’s College London. She has written and researched extensively on issues around urbanization, migration, livelihoods and housing, with a particular focus on urban Africa. Her previous books include African Urban Economies: Viability, Vitality or Vitiation? (2006) and Circular Migration in Zimbabwe and Contemporary Sub-Saharan Africa (2010).

Table of Contents

  • Foreword
  • 1. The Dilemma of Affordable Housing and Big Cities
  • 2. Mismatches between Incomes and Housing Costs: A Global Condition
  • 3. Affordable Urban Housing and the Role of Basic Standards
  • 4. Private Sector Urban Housing Provision: Formal And Informal
  • 5. Squaring the Circle: Social Housing Programmes and Affordable Rents
  • 6. Squaring the Circle: Affordable Urban Homeownership
  • 7. Global Finance, Big Cities and Unaffordable Housing
  • 8. Broken Cities: Unaffordable Housing as the Norm?
  • 9. Broken Cities, Broken Households: The Demographic Impacts of Unaffordable Housing
  • Conclusion
  • Appendix


'Captivating analysis of the global housing crisis. Based on extensive research on housing, Deborah Potts lays bare the paradoxes of the urban housing crisis – household incomes relative to housing costs.'
George Owusu, University of Ghana

‘An evidence-based, historically informed and incisive analytical voice on one of the crucial issues of twenty-first century urban life. The breadth of insight and scope is remarkable, demonstrating beyond any doubt the value of a comparative perspective on global urbanisation. Superbly well written, accessible and supported with carefully compiled and detailed data, this book is a gift to urban residents, urbanists, scholars, practitioners and politicians. Read it!’
Jennifer Robinson, University College London


Publication Date: 15 April 2020
462 pages

Product ISBNs: Paperback: 9781786990549
Hardback: 9781786990556
eBook ePub: 9781786990570
eBook PDF: 9781786990563
eBook Kindle: 9781786990587

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