11 Sustainable Structures to Help Combat the Housing Crisis

By Rose Morrison, managing editor of Renovated

The world is in a global housing crisis. A lack of affordable homes in developed and developing countries means billions of people could be unhoused in the next few years. There are two main reasons for the lack of housing, but several solutions exist.

Part of a series: The Global Housing Crisis: Facts, Figures, and Solutions

Causes of the Housing Crisis


The United States is a prime example of how economic conditions impact the housing market. Over the past few years, the demand for houses has risen above the number of homes available. It created a “seller’s market,” making purchase prices skyrocket.

Part of the high demand for homes was the COVID-19 quarantine period, which gave homeowners time to evaluate their family’s living situation. However, high rent prices were also a major contributing factor, with home mortgages often priced less per month than a rental payment.

Global Events

War and violence throughout the globe impact housing needs as well. Refugees forced to flee their homes must go to different areas, raising market demands.

Recent data revealed refugees forced to flee Ukraine contribute to the housing crisis. However, greater community awareness can help everyone have a roof over their heads, whether temporary or permanent.

Using Sustainable Homes to Combat the Housing Crisis

The solutions to the housing crisis are in front of people, but they must work to make them accessible. Some government ordinances prohibit particular dwellings, though they make a huge difference in their communities.

As individuals and organizations raise awareness of these homes, more cities use them to aid the unhoused. Here are 11 sustainable housing solutions to combat the housing crisis.

  1. Hex Homes

Developed by a nonprofit that spans eight countries, hex houses are easy-to-install hexagonal homes that provide everything a person needs. Many can seek long-term shelter in these structures initially designed for refugees.

Each home has a living room, porch, kitchen, two bedrooms and a bathroom. Companies can connect multiple hex houses for large families to keep everyone together.

  1. AbleNooks

AbleNook homes are helping the unhoused with safe shelter. These solar-powered houses can withstand hurricane-force winds and have fast assembly. They have no bathrooms or kitchens, so having a nearby hub — such as a community center or mobile supply station — is necessary.

The homes often have protected terraces that allow occupants to enjoy time in the fresh air. Together, they provide a sense of community for those facing challenging situations.

  1. Printed Concrete

3D-printed homes provide safe shelters for those displaced due to severe weather or violence. Some of these homes can come together in around three weeks using fast-drying concrete, providing quick and easy access to housing. These structures include a kitchen, bathroom, living room, bedroom and porch.

machinery setup printing concrete onto gravel
ICON’s gantry system, known as the Vulcan, can print structures up to 3,000 square feet
Credit: ICON Team – https://3dprintingindustry.com/news/icon-unveils-plans-for-improved-next-generation-vulcan-3d-printer-190706/
  1. Eco Living Modules

These collaborations between the United Nations, Yale University, and Oranschi are sustainable and give the unhoused a chance to be self-sufficient in their home. Each module includes solar panels, batteries that power radiant heating and cooling systems, and a system that transforms humidity and rain into water safe for drinking, bathing and irrigation. The walls support plant life that can feed a family for most of the year.

  1. Fabric Structures

Fabric structures are portable, customizable and shockingly durable, able to withstand extreme weather events. They are better options than the tents many unhoused individuals live in.

There are two versions of these structures — tensile and tension-based. Tensile structures have faster assembly and use flexible building materials and technical fabrics. Tension-based fabric structures have a solid base, often made from galvanized steel. The fabric stretches over the frame, creating a long-lasting home.

  1. Tiny Homes

Tiny homes are rising in popularity again, thanks to high housing costs in many U.S. states. In California, many of these homes are going to homeless veterans.

The houses are fewer than 600 square feet and have all the features an individual or small family needs, such as bedrooms, a bathroom, a kitchen and living space. Since the interiors are so small, they often come with creative storage solutions and are easily portable. Owners can relocate the homes anywhere they can hook up water and other utilities. These homes can last several decades, making them a long-term solution.

  1. Shipping Container Homes

Another efficient shelter for the unhoused is a shipping container home. Recycled from old containers, companies and non-profit organizations breathe new life into these structures, creating durable houses.

Manufacturers create shipping containers for stacking, allowing local governments to build apartment buildings for the unhoused. With a life span of around 25 years, each container can provide a long-term solution for one family or house multiple families. The homes do require renovation, which can take a couple of months.

  1. Micro Units

These are similar to tiny homes but are fewer than 350 square feet. The structures are often found in communities or combined into buildings. Each has a functional kitchen and bathroom, making them the perfect long-term solution for unhoused individuals. These communities help residents get back on their feet and are a step up from tent cities.

  1. Micro Homes

A slightly upgraded version of a micro-unit, micro homes are between 400 and 800 square feet. These houses have at least one window and an outdoor recreation area.

While micro units can have shared floors or ceilings, micro homes are separate, providing more privacy. Thanks to their advantages, micro homes are better long-term housing solutions than smaller units.

  1. Straw Bale Homes

Homes made from straw bales became famous years ago and the building strategy allows communities to build low-cost and sustainable residences for the unhoused. The straw is an excellent insulator, making it great for cold climates. The insulation fills in a hard frame. Other sturdy materials then encapsulate the walls, creating sturdy, long-lasting houses.

Sustainable Structures to Help Combat the Housing Crisis: View of the Straw-Bale built Mattawa Community Library
Exterior view of straw bale library in Mattawa, Washington taken in 2008 (constructed 2002 by IronStraw Group)
Credit: Williamborg
  1. Schools

One of the most sustainable temporary housing solutions is utilizing schools. Old, abandoned schools host plenty of room and vital areas to keep refugees and other unhoused populations safe. Often, communities need to do very little to get the building functioning as a shelter. Some schools that are still operational open their gyms each night to provide safe gathering and sleeping places, which is excellent for families.

Final Thoughts

Society must show compassion for those without shelter. These sustainable structures are low-cost, produce few carbon emissions and can help everyone live a better life.

Rose Morrison

About the Author

Rose is the managing editor of Renovated and has been writing in the construction industry for over five years. She’s most passionate about sustainable building and incorporating similar resourceful methods into our world. For more from Rose, you can follow her on Twitter.