Housing is critical for wellbeing. It provides safety and security. It is the place for family life. It is also the place where, for the most part, people take care of themselves and their families, and sleep and eat. It is the location from which people access essential services including water, sanitation and energy. For many people, it is also a place of work.

There is limited access to adequate housing particularly in the global South where an estimated one billion people live in informal settlements. Their homes have inadequate access to basic services, and their dwellings may be built of rudimentary materials. Many households (one third or more of the residents in many cities) are renting a single room.

The risk of eviction is very real, frequently because incomes are too low to pay the required rent. Other risks include fire – particularly in high density neighbourhoods – and flooding, which have been exacerbated by adverse climate change.

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance of housing for citizens' health and wellbeing. It has shone a light on the essential nature of public service provision in high density areas, where good health can't be secured without adequate access to water and sanitation. The crisis has also highlighted the multiple difficulties faced by those living in over-crowded homes where social distancing cannot be achieved and where high-risk individuals may not be protected.

To coincide with World Habitat Day and the publication of the latest issue of Environment & Urbanization (E&U), this online event on Monday, 5 October 2020 will bring together E&U contributors to discuss the nature of the current housing crisis and its impact on households, primarily in the global South.

What have we learned from COVID-19 about the challenges and risks for households in informal settlements? In order to do more, what can we learn from previous efforts to address housing needs?