Habitat for Humanity International – Partnering with the poor for

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					Habitat for Humanity International – Partnering with
             the poor for better housing!

                     1. Aruna Paul Simittrarachhi
         Regional Program Advisor & Country Representative (Nepal)
                     Habitat for Humanity International

            Address: c/o Habitat for Humanity International Nepal
                       4th floor, Sagarmatha Complex
                              Naxal, Kathmandu
             Tel. No.: 977-1-443 2801      Fax: 977-1-443 2949

                          2. Naresh Karmalker
      Program Advisor (Planning, Monitoring & Evaluation) – Asia Pacific
                     Habitat for Humanity International

                    Address: c/o Habitat for Humanity India
                               B-248, C.R. Park
                             New Delhi – 110 019
           Tel. No. : 91-11-414 36507 ext. 17 Fax: 91-11-414 36506
                             Table of Contents

1. Introduction                                                      2

2. The Habitat Methodology                                           2

3. New Approaches
        i.    The Savings-led Approach to Housing – Save and Build   3
        ii.    Building in Stages / Incremental Building             4
        iii.   Housing Microfinance                                  5
        iv.    Use of Appropriate Technology
               a. Bamboo Housing                                     6
               b. Steel Frame Construction                           8
               c. Disaster Response Solutions                        9

4. Empowering the Community to Create Better Housing                 10

   Habitat for Humanity International – Partnering with the poor for better


Habitat for Humanity is an international ecumenical Christian NGO with an aim to eliminate
poverty housing from the face of the earth. Since its inception in 1976, Habitat for Humanity
has built and sold more than 200,000 homes to needy people across the world by way of no-
profit loans. Currently operating in a little over 80 countries, Habitat has succeeded in
reaching out to more than a million people living in conditions of poverty housing across the
urban and rural divide.

In the last 10 years, Habitat for Humanity’s traditional approach of building single homes for
individual families has undergone a radical transformation. From a practice that was centrally
driven with a set approach and design, Habitat has moved to a more grassroots-led approach
wherein the community of need itself makes decisions about the type, design and size of its
home. Added to this is a continuous attempt to bring down house-costs through innovative
technology as well as to respect traditional architecture and forms by increased use of local
materials and practices. This learning process has led to the discovery of innovative housing
practices across the world that are based on traditional grassroots wisdom and technology that
is sustainable, replicable and affordable to the poor.

This paper will try and shed some light on Habitat’s methodology as well as highlight certain
innovative people-friendly housing solutions from a few of the countries that Habitat operates

   The Habitat Methodology

Traditionally, the methodology employed by Habitat is as follows. When a need for housing
in a neighbourhood is communicated to Habitat by a local individual or agency, a situational
analysis is carried out to ascertain the feasibility of the project. Once the project is given the
green signal, a local Habitat unit is established in the area. This unit publicizes the intent of
Habitat to provide homes to the poor in the community through no-profit loans. Applicants
are screened and selected against universal Habitat family selection criteria. Families whose
income falls within the approved range for the country and who do not have access to regular
credit channels are selected. A mortgage deed is drawn up for each individual family and
once the formalities are completed, a house is built for the family. The family commences
repayment of their loan once the house is completed and they have moved into their new

The methodology described above is based on a few core principles that are outlined below
and which still hold good:
    i.      Simple, Decent Affordable Homes
Habitat promises its home partners a ‘simple, decent and affordable’ home. It does not give
grants for house construction since it believes in giving the community a hand up instead of a
handout. Habitat houses are sold to the community through a no-profit loan repayable in easy
installments. Loan repayment periods vary from a minimum of 3 years in Asia up to 20 years
in the U.S.A. The minimum house size meets UN standards of 225 sq. ft. by area. House

sizes and designs vary from country to country based on the need of the people, the local
architectural environment and keeping within the maximum size limit decided by Habitat.
However, Habitat endeavours to provide for its home partners in each case a house consisting
of at least two rooms, a safe kitchen and a toilet.
     ii.     Volunteerism & Sweat Equity
Since inception, Habitat for Humanity has been a volunteer-led movement. People from all
walks of life can contribute to the construction of Habitat houses. A key partner in the house
construction process is the home partner herself. She is expected to provide all the unskilled
labour involved in building her own house as well as to contribute to the construction of her
neighbour’s house. In this way Habitat not only tries to build community but also provides an
avenue for the home partner to become an equal contributor to this endeavour. This principle
is termed as sweat equity.
     iii.    A house for a house
The repayment that comes in from a group of Habitat home partners is rolled back in the
community until poverty housing is completely eradicated from the area. Thus, essentially,
the repayment of a house contributes towards providing a house for another member of the
same community. In order to safeguard the cost of the house over the loan payback period, a
small inflation adjustment is made to the loan repayment amount.
     iv.     Fostering local leadership & community ownership
Typically Habitat programs are executed through locally governed structures called affiliates.
An affiliate is set up in the area where a need for housing has been established and is
governed by a board constituting local community leaders. In recent times, this model has
evolved to partnership programs with other NGOs, local GOs and other like-minded
organizations where Habitat either plays the implementing role or comes in as a technical
advisor. In all cases, the accent is on allowing the community to take charge of the program.
This principle is also reflected in the home partner community choosing their design, making
bulk material purchases to lower costs and monitoring and evaluating the construction

New approaches

Over the last few years, a number of exciting innovations have been made to Habitat’s
traditional methodology. A few of these are described in some detail below:

i. The Savings-led Approach to Housing – Save and Build
Since the sustainability of Habitat’s ‘revolving fund’ in the community depended on the
ability of the home partner to pay back her loan, it was difficult for Habitat to select families
with incomes below a certain level. Thus, a large majority of the poor were deprived of the
opportunity to own their own secure home. Habitat’s Save & Build came to their rescue.

The main objectives of Save & Build were as follows:
a.    Enable low income families to own a house.
b.    Make repayment affordable through building in stages and manageable through peer
      pressure as well as peer strength
c.    Make the program community-owned through its active involvement.
d.    Build more houses with less capital input to make the program more sustainable

How does it work?
Save and Build begins with a group of low income families, typically 12 in a group, coming
together to cooperatively generate cash income, set aside savings and contribute labor and
materials. Saving at the rate of about 16 US cents1 per member per day, the group saves
enough over six months to build the first house. At this stage, Habitat and its collaborative
partners provide matching funds for the construction of two additional houses. These first 3
houses go to the neediest families in the group chosen by the group itself. At the end of 24
months all families in the group have had their housing needs met. Thirty-month loan
payback periods are the norm in this methodology.

Save and Build has proved to be an ideal methodology even for families reliant on seasonal
work who otherwise would not meet conventional income criteria. Groups elect their own
leaders, often women, who manage /monitor members’ savings, decide which families are
housed in what order, and provide sweat equity. Repayments are made to the group account
and later forwarded to Habitat. The Save and Build approach has enabled Habitat to serve
more than 10 times the families it would have served through its conventional model.

ii. Building in Stages/ Incremental Building

While Save & Build succeeded in allowing Habitat to reach out to a poorer segment of
society not served by its traditional model, this approach still excluded a large segment of the
population that was too poor to save even US 16 cents a day. Habitat’s Incremental Building
approach or Building in Stages provided a way out.

How does it work?
In this approach, the family is initially assisted in coming to a decision as to which part of the
house is the first priority for them to move towards better housing conditions, without the
loan being a burden to them. In Vietnam, for example, the families are assisted in water and
sanitation solutions or home improvement first and the journey starts from there towards a
complete house. In Nepal, in the Lankathari Village Development Council (VDC) where the
community consists of very backward and low caste “untouchables”, the first improvement is
limited to a good roof and pillars to hold the roof.


                                                 Completed house with
                                                 the 2nd stage

                        Better conditions with
                        ththe 1st Stage

    Current situation
                             Fig 1 : A typical ‘Building in Stages’ approach
  Figures pertain to the Save & Build program in Sri Lanka. In other countries, this figure would vary but within
a similar range.

                      Fig 2: Incremental Building

iii. Housing Microfinance

Learning from the experiences gained through the Save & Build and Building in Stages
approaches, Habitat for Humanity decided to partner with Micro Finance Institutions (MFIs)
who already had a history of forming and managing savings and credit groups. These MFIs
had huge membership but had hitherto never looked at including housing in their portfolio.
The result has been that Habitat for Humanity has managed to reach out to many more
families without having to invest in the group formation and management process which was
never its core competence but was so for the MFIs. Through this, the poor have truly taken a
leading and active role in the program. For example among the families served through this
approach in Nepal, not only have the most neglected amongst them been catered to, but 62%
of the investment for the housing has come from the very same members of the community.

Microfinance offers much better repayment terms than do informal sources of money lending
(loan sharks) and such a loan (MF) can be a supplement or an alternative to saving toward
shelter improvement. Our experience has gone to demonstrate the truth of a fundamental
expectation of microfinance that “…economically active poor people can finance their
housing needs incrementally, affordably, and under conditions that allow the financial
provider to cover all associated costs.” (Daphnis & Ferguson, p1)

The impact on sustainability is seen when we make a comparison of the program in Sri Lanka
and in Nepal

With every $ 1000 within 10 years Families served –Sri Lanka (statistics from 1997 to

                                          Prior to             With
                                      Save and Build     Save and Build
                                                       1               32
# of families served with every
$1000 (In 2002)
 # of houses constructed in 5 years                 962                4000
(Up to 2005)
External Investment (US$) (Up to                 962,000           800,000

Habitat Nepal, within the first year of operation, was able to reach 630 families through this
model as against 870 in eight years under the conventional method.

                               1997 -2005               2005-2006
# of families served                        870                    630
External     Investment               1,740,000          198,702 (38%)
(US $)
Investment by local (                         00         324,198 (62%)
home partner groups)

Our discovery supports what Ferguson explains in the following “…the home is the most
important asset poor people ever own. Sometimes it can be a productive asset, for instance in
the case of home-based micro-entrepreneurs. Even in the cases where the home is not
systematically used as a place of business, microfinance institutions have long observed that
clients use loan proceeds to improve their living conditions. … (Therefore) … such a loan
can be a supplement or alternative to saving toward habitat improvements. This suggests a
fundamental expectation of micro finance– that economically active poor people can finance
their needs incrementally, affordably” (Ferguson, p3)

iv. Use of Appropriate Technology

In recent times, Habitat has exceedingly explored the approach of using local materials and
employing traditional building approaches. As much as this has been due to the ever-present
necessity of lowering the house cost, this decision has also been influenced to a great deal by
the demands of the community itself.

Bamboo Housing
For example, Habitat Nepal has switched from the traditional brick and cement block houses
to building mostly bamboo houses. In Nepal, the indigenous bamboo is suitable for building
houses because it is easy to use, environmentally friendly and durable. The rural community
can also turn to growing and harvesting bamboo as an income generating activity. Moreover,
Habitat provides value addition by teaching the community to treat bamboo properly and, on
occasion, plaster it with cement or clay, causing these houses to last longer.

HFH Nepal employs bamboo technology by using weaved bamboo strips plastered with
cement or clay for the walls of a house. Six bamboo pillars support the roof and the walls,
providing added resistance to earthquakes. Building earthquake-resistant houses is vital as
Nepal lies in a seismically active zone, and major earthquakes in 1934 and 1988 caused
thousands of deaths and left hundreds of thousands homeless. Since the bamboo is treated to
prevent termite or other insect attacks, the bamboo pillars and walls can last for a good 30

The pictures below show two models of the bamboo houses built by Habitat for Humanity in
Nepal as well as the bamboo treatment training provided to a group of architects visiting the

Fig 3: Bamboo house in Nepal with concrete Fig 4: Bamboo house with bamboo pillars
pillars and plastered with cement

Fig 5: Training architects to treat new    Fig 6: Training architects to treat old bamboo

In places where bamboo is not available, sun burnt clay bricks are used and these are made by
the community. In cases where home partners do not have enough land to make bricks, other
members often offer any surplus land to do so. The Construction Committees formed by the
members of the MFIs or Village Banks, together with HFHI, provide support in drawing up
estimates and also delivering materials to the site. The Committee buys the material in bulk,
reducing the cost of material and transport and further easing the burden on the poor.

In some countries like Papua New Guinea, timber from community forests is used for
building. Members spend days cutting and sawing enough timber for the houses to be built
within the community. They themselves come up with policies on how to protect their forest
by replanting and using less timber.

Steel Frame Construction
One of the challenges encountered by Habitat for Humanity, especially when working in the
urban areas, has been the difficulty in sourcing raw materials locally in enough quantity and
at a good price. This has led to other options being sought. One such option is the Steel
Frame Construction technology perfected in New Zealand that has been adopted in the
Philippines for an urban shelter development initiative. This cutting-edge technology
promises a typhoon and earthquake-protected structural design. It is volunteer-friendly and
cost-efficient with a typical unit costing Philippine Pesos 50,000-55,000 (US$1,000).
Other characteristics of the methodology:
    • Uses Galvanized Aluminum for the frames and roofing offering rust and heat
    • Used extensively for both commercial and residential use
    • A Row of 8 Units can be built in 15 days with minimum paid skilled labor

Fig 7: Different phases in constructing steel frame houses in the Philippines

Disaster Response Solutions:
A recent addition to Habitat’s portfolio is its foray into disaster response. This endeavour has
been a learning experience for Habitat, given its history of traditional complete home-
building solutions. However, through diverse experiences with handling disaster programs
over the last few years, right from Hurricane Mitch in the US, to earthquakes in Gujarat
(India) and in East Timor right through the recent tsunami, Habitat has succeeded in
developing diverse models in keeping with local needs and resources. For example in the
Pakistan earthquake last year, the response was in the form of temporary shelters as we see in
the pictures below. These kit houses, constructed with GI sheets, could be assembled within
40 minutes. Besides this, the materials used in these shelters can be reused for the permanent
shelter. This is in keeping with Habitat for Humanity’s philosophy that keeps a long-term
perspective of providing permanent housing even to those affected by disasters after the
initial emergency solutions have been provided.

Balakot (Pakistan) Earthquake Response:

Fig 8: Installation of corrugated GI sheets        Fig 9: Fixing of Foam Insulation

Fig 10: Family moving into almost                  Fig 11: Portable sawmills solution for future
complete house                                     permanent shelter in remote areas

   Empowering the Community to Create Better Housing

The core of Habitat’s housing philosophy is the involvement of the home partner, and
virtually anybody who wishes to get involved, in the housing program. The insistence on the
home partner providing sweat equity, working on their neighbour’s houses as well as
providing whatever raw material they can makes them equal partners in the project and goes
a long way towards their empowerment. Again, every effort is made to source the skilled
labour as well as the raw materials from within the community thus emphasizing the concept
of self-reliance.

The next step is to get entire communities to take responsibility for and undertake steps
towards a better habitat for everyone in their village. One example of how Habitat is
attempting to empower the community and build capacity within is that of Virtual Habitat
Resource Centres. Virtual Habitat Resource Centres are mediums of taking simple house
construction and repair methodologies to the community without the need for a physical
structure to house the effort.

In Nepal, the Virtual Habitat Resource Centre takes the shape of a number of Village
Orientation Programs. Through the Village Orientation Program group committee members,
the selected home partners and the masons drawn from the local community are informed
about their roles in the housing program as per the Program Implementation Approach. This
details out how the housing micro finance system will work within the community and the
different roles that will be played by the partners. The designs of the houses and the
technology adopted will also be explained and training imparted by Habitat to make this
design work. For example, in the eastern part of Nepal, within the period from 17 Nov 2005
to April 2006 a total of 87 Village Orientation Programs have been conducted.

As a result
       106 masons have been trained within this period.
       27 executive members of partner organizations and 60 Construction Committee
       members have been made aware of the community housing program.
       10 program staff have gained better knowledge and skills on the community housing
       12 Group Promoters, 90 percent of them women from within the same locality, have
       been trained. At least 4000 women from 80 women’s micro finance and village bank
       groups (each M/F Group consists of 50 members) have been informed about the
       community housing program.

The most appropriate design for their houses, based on the available raw materials and their
own saving capacity, is decided by the members themselves with technical assistance from
Habitat. To facilitate this, a booklet titled “My Dream House” has been designed. One of the
leading members of the group or the appointed Group Promoter within the village assists the
home partners to understand the estimates and the commitment required of each partner to
make the dream house possible. An extract from the same booklet that shows the Bill of
Materials with the contribution of all partners is shown below.

                                                      Contribution made by
                                       Quantity        Me (H/O) Habitat      Others   Cost
Rubble                                 1 cubes
Sand                                   ½ cube
Cement                                 2 bags
Masonry                                2 days
Doorframe                              01
Window frames                          02 numbers
Bricks/                                2000/
Cement Blocks ( 16"x4x8")              650
6mm steel bars                         03 numbers
¾" metal                               11 cubic ft
Masonry                                6 days
Shuttering planks                      70 feet
Binding wires                          250 gr.
Wire nails                             250gr.
sand                                   1 cube
cement                                 8 bags
2"4" coconut Timber (main Beams)       5x12
Asbestos Sheet                         12'x8 sheets
Tiles (+ then rafters and reefers)     650 +
Ridge tiles                            18
L. Hooks 7"                            20
Nails                                  01 kg
Carpentry                              01 day

Rubble for paving                     1/4 cube
Cement                                3 bags
Sand                                  ½ cube
Masonry                               01 days
Door and window panes with fittings all
Carpentry                             1 day
construction supervisory charge (10% of the cost)

Foundation Details

                      Fig 12: An extract from the booklet “My Dream House”


Habitat for Humanity has come a long way since its inception in 1976 when the thrust was on
providing complete houses to individual families. Today, thirty years down the line, Habitat
is continuously seeking ways of reaching out to even poorer families, involving entire
communities in decision-making processes and providing technological solutions that are
environmentally friendly and build on local traditions and resources.

This journey truly promises to be an exciting one and we invite you along for the ride!

                                       *      *       *


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