Housing waiting lists in England will reach record levels by 2011, according to a body of housing associations.
An extra 200,000 families over the next two years will push the total to a new high of around two million, the National Housing Federation said.
It predicts that 80,000 will lack a home as a result of repossessions and unemployment, and the rest because of the shortage of social rented housing.
Meanwhile, house building will fall by 50% next year to 70,000, it added.
Director Ruth Davison said: "We are currently witnessing a dramatic surge in the demand for social housing, as the recession really starts to bite.
'Range of support'
"The housing crisis is now so great that, unless dramatic action is taken, it may take decades for the nation to recover... we simply have not produced the number of homes we so desperately need."
The Federation says there has been a 55% rise in waiting lists over the past five years and predicts a doubling from one to two million between 2001 and 2011.
It wants the government to fund a crash programme of house building to provide 100,000 new social homes over two years.
That would boost the economy and help meet the housing need, it argued.
The government's target is to build 240,000 new homes each year from 2016.
A spokesman for the Department of Communities and Local Government said: "Along with an £8bn programme to deliver more affordable housing, we're providing a range of support to keep up the delivery of the homes this country needs.
"We recently announced how we want to make it easier for councils to build more homes on top of action we are already taking, including buying up unsold homes to use as social housing."
The spokesman added that £550m would be brought forward to provide thousands more social homes sooner for families.
Shadow housing minister Grant Shapps said: "The government's record on social housing is embarrassing - the average annual number of social rent properties delivered has halved since 1997 and the waiting list is at a record 1.8 million families."
Liberal Democrat housing spokeswoman Sarah Teather said: "The government allowed the bubble in the housing market to get out of hand for many years. We are now seeing the results of that bubble bursting... ministers should now allow councils to borrow money to buy up cheap land and empty properties to save construction jobs and rebuild Britain's dwindling stock of social housing."