About half of city dwellers in the Third World are squatters, living in homemade shacks or mud huts on borrowed land with no electricity or plumbing.
Even in industrialized nations such as the Soviet Union, extended families live cheek by jowl in aging high-rises, and in the United States a growing number of people can barely afford housing or are homeless despite record levels of home-building during the last 40 years.``It's safe to say there's hardly a country in the world that has found a solution to adequate housing,' said Norman Flynn, president of the National Association of Realtors, which is sponsoring a Washington conference on the world housing dilemma this week.
Representatives from 350 public and private organizations from more than 65 countries will examine case studies from 13 nations describing their housing experiences and ideas for improvements.
The meeting will focus on increasing the private sector's involvement in low-income housing.
One of the major problems in developing countries is the mass migration of rural residents to cities in search of better lives, said Michael Cohen, director of the World Bank's Urban Division.
In 1950, there were 273 million people living in urban areas of less developed countries, Cohen said. By 1975, that number had swelled to 819 million, and the projection for the year 2000 is 2.1 billion.
``Mega-cities' such as Mexico City now hold 25 million people, and Sao Paolo, Brazil, has attracted 20 million, said Cohen. A vast number of these migrants have been forced to take up residence as squatters at city fringes, living in unsafe, homemade structures illegally built on someone else's land, he said.
In the Soviet Union, where people pay nominal rent to live in cramped quarters in ``monotonous' government-owned apartment buildings, attempts are being made to improve quality of life and create more individual investment, says Alexander Krivov, who coordinated a Soviet case study.
And in the United States, where nearly all housing is built by private developers, the gap between the ``haves and the have-nots' is increasing, said John Tuccillo, coordinator of the U.S. case study and senior vice president and chief economist for the Realtors association.