The government says it wants a million homes built in England by 2020, as the scale of the housing crisis is revealed in a BBC Inside Out investigation.
The National Housing Federation estimated 974,000 homes were needed between 2011 and 2014. But figures from 326 councils showed only 457,490 were built.
Housing minister Brandon Lewis said the government aimed to see one million new homes over this Parliament to combat a "decades-old deficit".
The federation said about 245,000 new homes were needed each year in England.
Gill Payne, director of policy and external affairs, said: "In some areas, there is a drastic shortage causing prices to soar, putting homes out of the reach of many people.
"Families and young people across the country are crying out for genuinely affordable homes so they can put roots down and achieve their dreams of owning a home.
"Skyrocketing rents and ballooning house prices are eating up more and more of people's wages and forcing people out of their local communities or into smaller, lower quality housing.
"We haven't built enough homes in this country for decades, and if the gap between the number of households forming and the number of new homes being built continues to grow, we are in danger of not being able to house our children."
Numerous factors have been blamed, ranging from planning procedures being too slow to developers sitting on large tracts of empty land instead of building on it.
In 2012, the government introduced changes to the National Planning Policy Framework, aimed at making the planning process simpler and quicker. Some 240,000 planning applications have been given detailed permission in 2014 compared with 158,000 in 2011.
But critics say the change has also made it easier for "inappropriate and unwanted" developments to progress. They also say the rise may be simply a response to low numbers of applications caused by the 2008 financial crash.
A shortage of land has also been cited by homelessness charity Shelter, while criticism has been levelled at developers who sit on land and build slowly rather than progressing quickly.
By keeping the number of new homes available at any one time low, the price of those houses can be kept high, said Matthew Pointon, property economist at Capital Economics. "By building them more slowly it means they can maximise the value of their assets
A shortage of skilled labour, a big drop in the number of councils building new homes and regulations restricting housing associations have also been blamed.
Mr Lewis said he wanted to make it "easier" for people to develop "especially on brownfield sites".
He said further changes to planning rules would create a "principle of development" on brownfield sites to help councils determine applications quicker.
The Campaign to Protect Rural England estimates there are enough brownfield areas to accommodate 1.8 million homes.
Mr Lewis said: "Ultimately, it is up to local authorities to look at what their housing needs are and where they feel it is appropriate to build. "I trust local people to get that right."
He said schemes such as Help to Buy, which sees the government assist buyers, should give developers the confidence that their builds will be sold.
Ms Payne said the federation wanted housing associations to build more.
She said: "Last year housing associations built 50,000 homes, 40% of all new homes across the country, and they have ambitions to work in partnership with government to vastly increase this."
Dr Philip Oldfield and the Sustainable Tall Buildings Design Lab at the University of Nottingham have been attempting to predict what new houses will look like in 2050.
From vertical villages and flat pack housing to eco homes, they have devised alternative schemes to solve future housing problems.
"We need the ability to provide housing en masse, there is a huge housing crisis at the moment," said Dr Mark Gillott from the university.