Responses To Housing Emergencies That Put Housing Access In Local Hands

A small winter cottage glowing with light beneath forest branches and northern lights in the sky

This post is about two remarkable women who are reframing how we think about housing emergencies. Yasmeen Lari and Marie McGregor Pitawanakwat are from different parts of the world. They both confront housing emergencies in their countries (Lari in Pakistan and McGregor Pitawanakwat in Canada). Their approaches are quite different.

Yasmeen Lari has practised as an architect in Pakistan for decades. She’s had commissions for very large and dramatic buildings. The thing she finds most rewarding these days are her projects to build emergency housing. With global warming, the annual monsoon season has brought floods and homelessness to millions of people in Pakistan. Lari has been working with the people who have lost their homes.

Lari’s emergency homes are built of durable local materials and can be completed very quickly. Home construction uses the train the trainer model: people who have experience building homes are training the people who are building their own homes.

The Royal Institute of British Architects has awarded Lari with the 2023 Royal Gold Medal for Architecture for her emergency housing work. This is a big deal because it is the first time the award has been given for architectural work that helps local people to get back on their feet.

At first glance, Marie McGregor Pitawanakwat’s work couldn’t be more different from Yasmeen Lari’s. The flooding in Pakistan is an instant emergency. The housing emergency in Canada that McGregor Pitawanakwat is confronting is longstanding. It is part of the legacy of the European ‘discovery’ of North America, which has created multiple barriers between Indigenous people and decent housing. In Canada, the emergency has been created by laws and policies. The following three examples illustrate some of the ways that laws and policies contribute to the housing emergency for Indigenous people in Canada:

    • The housing on Indian Reserves, which were established by Treaties, is inadequate and contributes to poor health.
    • Canadian law that governs Indigenous people systematically discriminates against Indigenous women. As McGregor Pitawanakwat experienced herself, this can include being denied access to a family home on a Reserve.
    • The child welfare system is more likely to place Indigenous children in care. The experience of being in care is highly correlated with experiences of homelessness.

McGregor Pitawanakwat is deeply engaged in overturning the laws and policies that contribute to the housing emergency that affects Indigenous people in Canada. Her approach is informed by Indigenous world views, which prompts her to see problems differently than the way they are normally framed.  At workshops, conferences and webinars, she draws on these views to talk about new ways to think about and solve the housing crisis.

As well, the National Housing Strategy Act, which was proclaimed in 2019, breaks new ground by creating a system for the government to own up to housing discrimination and to change the laws and systems that are responsible. Canadian residents can draw the government’s attention to housing discrimination by submitting human rights claims.  McGregor Pitawanakwat is part of a team that has submitted two rights claims, which lay out how policy and law create discrimination that women and Indigenous women experience when accessing and living in housing.

Although Lari has set up a non-profit organization to build homes and McGregor Pitawankwat has focussed some of her work on law and policy, both see the need to build on local knowledge, skills and materials to end the housing crisis. Each woman’s experience has much to offer policy makers, decision makers, advocates, community groups and housing providers.

You can read more about Yasmeen Lari at archdaily: Yasmeen Lari Sets Out to Build One Million Flood-Resistant Homes in Pakistan by 2024,

The Guardian: Architect Yasmeen Lari: ‘The international colonial charity model will never work’, and

CNN: Yasmeen Lari, ‘starchitect’ turned social engineer, wins one of architecture’s most coveted prizes

Marie McGregor Pitawanakwat discusses housing solutions at a workshop of the NIAM, which is are posted on the youtube channel of the Women’s National Housing And Homelessness Network: Even the beaver has a home

There are links to two rights claims on this page at the Women’s National Housing and Homelessness Network: Human Rights Claims