Affordable Housing & Mobile Technology

If I were to ask you what you need to survive every day, what would you say?  Food?  Water? Anything else? What about shelter?

Housing has been recognized as a fundamental human right by the NEW URBAN AGENDA.  Recognizing housing as a necessity for economic opportunity and security is not always the case.  A good home provides shelter, protects from the elements, and allows households to improve their life chances by investing time in other activities.

The high-tech, productive, and advanced state of society we experience today is a product of economic security. Civilization and society are built on the accessibility of food, water, and shelter as well as healthcare and education.  The emergence of permanent shelters (alongside agriculture) thousands of years ago allowed humanity the freedom to progress into our complex urban civil societies today. The shelter has been, and will always be, a necessity for survival, safety, and progress. It is essential to everyday life.

Despite shelter’s importance, we live in a world where housing is not easily accessible or affordable for more than 330 MILLION URBAN HOUSEHOLDS worldwide. What is worse? The gap is still growing. A report by the MCKINSEY GLOBAL INSTITUTE predicts that by 2025, 440 million urban households, 1.6 billion people, will be living in substandard housing conditions. Millions of people living in inadequate housing, living with financial stress. Individuals. Parents. Children. 

HABITAT FOR HUMANITY found that in Kenya “There is a proliferation of informal settlements in urban areas with 60% of the population living in slums in overcrowded homes typically with only one room and no adequate ventilation. Families are at high health risk of diseases such as malaria, respiratory infections, and jigger infestation”. With a population of 46.79 million people that means 28,074,000 million people live in substandard housing conditions.

In today’s world, we have designed many technological solutions and mobile applications to make accessing necessities easier.  With the click of a button, we have car services that pick us up and/or can deliver our food to our homes. In developing countries, especially in tech centered countries such as Kenya, mobile applications and technological innovation are rapidly increasing their presence in society.  So much technology has been designed to address our most basic needs. But what about housing?

Our inspiration at iBUILD is focused on combining the latest innovations in payments and mobile phones to solve these housing issues.  Working with BUILDERS OF HOPE, we set out to design a mobile application that flips the model of large developers building many homes at once to achieve scale, reduce the price, and increase access.  Large Developers can’t produce a home that is cheap enough using this method in the developing world.  For example in Kenya, the cheapest formally produced home in 2016 was $15,300 (30 square meters).  This is affordable to 3.8% OF THE URBAN POPULATION.

Seeking to solve this problem, we focus on enabling individual incremental construction.  We don’t want to wait for big developers to build cheaper.  We want to help the individual build incrementally now and improve their home within budget constraints.  Over the last two years, our work has developed into this mobile application.  


Designed as a virtual marketplace connecting customers with architects, lenders, workers, and contractors iBUILD enables small scale construction markets in developing nations to scale to the exponentially growing demands by providing access in a “one-stop shop”.  The iBUILD mobile phone application is designed to lower the transaction costs of construction, whilst also providing potential home buyers with access to affordable financing and technical support services.

In the upcoming blogs posts, I want to discuss some of the issues surrounding housing accessibility and development, as well as iBUILD’s focus on improving the options, transparency, and access to affordable housing. I will look at housing globally with a specific emphasis on sub-Saharan Africa. By the end of this series, I hope to have shared some insight on the current implications of the housing problem both in Africa as well as across the globe. 

The first step in fixing a problem is recognizing and understanding it.  Let’s explore it together so we can tackle it as a community.


Nancy Welsh