Housing is one of basic requirements for human survival. For a normal citizen, owning a house provides significant economic security and dignity in society. For a shelterless person, possession of a house brings about a profound social change in his existence, endowing him with an identity, thus integrating him with his immediate social milieu. According to the 1991 Census, the rural housing shortage was 13.72 million consisting of  3.41 million households without houses and 10.31 million living in unserviceable kutcha houses. It has also been estimated that another 10.75 million houses would be needed to cover the population growth during 1991-2002, at the rate of an annual growth of 0.89 million houselessness.
The 1991 Census further indicates that about 40.82% of the total of 112 million rural households remain in one-room tenements, 30.65% in two-room houses and 13.51% in three-room units or more. In terms of roof type, the percentage of houses having grass, straw and thatch is about 33%, mud and unburnt bricks 6.05% and tents 4.22%. Apart from this, in terms of quality of walling, 47.27% of the total households have grass and straw walls and about 4% have tent and cloth walls. Nearly 70% of the rural houses are either unserviceable kutcha (9%) or serviceable kutcha (25%) or of semi-pucca (35%) category as per Census 1991. Over 90% of the rural houses have no provision for toilet as per the Census 1991. This suggests that there is a clear correlation between poverty and housing: a poor person either does not have a house or lives in an unserviceable kutcha house.
According to the last census conducted in India, the country had a population of 846.3 million out of which 217.6 million lived in cities and towns. The total number of households was estimated at 153.2 million for the same year. As against this figure, the housing stock in the country was of the order of 148 million – 39.3 million units in urban areas (26.6%) and 108.7 million in rural areas (73.4%). During the period 1971-1991, while the number of households increased by 58%, the number of housing units went up by about 59%. Although India has been facing the problem of housing shortage for a long time, the increase in housing stock in recent decades has been more than that in the number of households.
Approximately 40% of households in 1991 were in single room tenements; about 30% lived in two-room units. Only about 15% of households had four or more rooms. Table 2 shows the percentage break-up of households by the number of rooms occupied. 
At the 1991 Census, more than 95% of the households living in rural areas had buildings of their own whereas the figure for urban areas was much lower – at 63.1%. However, over the period 1971-91 though the percentage of households owning buildings rose in both rural and urban areas, the rise in case of the latter was impressive – the figure going up from 47.1% in 1971 to 63.1% in 1991. In addition to improvement in ownership status, there has also been a steady upward trend in the quality of housing units in the country. During the decade 1981-91, the number of pucca (permanent) housing units increased by 64.64%, which is much higher than the growth of 53.39% occurring during the decade 1971-81. Over the period 1981-91, the number of semi-pucca houses declined by about 8% (from 6.80 million in 1981 to 6.23 million in 1991), while the number of kutcha (thatched, huts, etc.) houses showed only a marginal increase of about 6% (from 3.1 million in 1981 to 3.2 million in 1991). 
Insofar as the provision of civic amenities is concerned, there have been considerable improvements in the access of people to such amenities over the years although shortages in housing and infrastructure do continue. Table 4 shows the percentage of households in the country as a whole having access to safe drinking water, toilet facilities and supply of electricity during the decade 1981-1991. 
Housing shortage is estimated in terms of excess households over houses including houseless households, congestion (number of married couples requiring separate room/house), replacement/upgradation of kutcha/unserviceable kutcha houses and obsolescence/replacement of old houses. Table 5 shows the components of housing shortage in the country at the beginning of 1991. Table 6 shows the estimates of housing shortage in urban areas based on the Report of the Ninth Plan Working Group of the Government of India, Ministry of Urban Affairs & Employment.