No doubt access to financing is one of the serious issues for the three million homes that are inadequate in our country. But financing alone will not solve the severe housing crisis.
Many social housing programs fall short of their goals, or fail entirely, because they lack an understanding of the style of dwelling of the target population. Research has shown the effect of a house on the quality of life of a family: illnesses that are related to lack of sanitation, humidity, contaminated walls. Psychological damages which can be traced back to overcrowding, lack of intimacy or the everlasting disorder of living in a house under construction — but there is less written about the positive effects of a dwelling which not only provides a roof, healthy water and lighting, but also an understanding of the culture and nature of life of a family and community. There are, I believe, certain truths regarding housing which apply to rich and poor alike. The houses we live in affect our wellbeing. The houses we buy or build, reflect our wellbeing. The future of the houses we build or live in will be conditioned by the degree to which they fulfill us, reflected in the love we put into their maintenance and improvement.
Habitat para la Humanidad Argentina has been privileged to work alongside very different communities in Argentina. In the historic center of the city of Buenos Aires, we learned to understand the reality of families living generation after generation in “paying-squatter” conditions. Excluded from the rental market in a city with far higher demand than supply of flats to rent, these families learn to seek the best “conventillo,” hotel or abandoned house, in which to live, paying an informal landlord. A housing solution, to them, is an adequate place to rent. Would they prefer to be a homeowner? No doubt! Wouldn’t we all! But with a quarter of the population of Latin America choosing to rent, rather than buy or build, there are nuances and realities of the inner-city style of dwelling which we need to understand in order to offer sustainable solutions.
Far from the bustle of La Boca, we recently had the opportunity to work alongside a very different style of dwelling: in Gran Chaco. For over 9 months we sat in workshops, visited families and got to understand the priorities, fears and abilities of the remote criollo and Wichi families around El Quebracho in Formosa. To them, a home is a group of “shaded areas,” and a roof to collect rainwater. In the following 6 months we provided loans, technical assistance and encouragement to 50 families to improve their “shades” and their rain water collecting roofs. Today, they continue to build and improve their homes and communities without our presence.
And in our largest program we work alongside families self-building their homes in urban settlements, on the outskirts of large cities such as Buenos Aires, Salta, Santa Fe or Bahía Blanca. Here the reality is again very different. Building a house is not simple. It is a long, laborious process. From the first shack quickly set up on a plot of land, to the final full house, it is a long road which, in Argentina, can take an average of 20 years. Over the years, our Seed House program learned to address some of the flaws in the social production of housing. Through financing, technical assistance and encouragement, we ensure sustainable houses in shorter timeframes.
For all of these very different contexts, sustainable development needed financing, technical assistance and encouragement. In writing this article, it took a great deal of consideration to find a word for this last, crucial ingredient, that would be acceptable. Habitat for Humanity is a widely respected global housing organization participating and sponsoring forums and conferences seeking to revert the cycle of poverty and have an impact on the severe housing deficit worldwide. And Habitat for Humanity encourages people to put their faith and love in action. Loans for housing are essential, but not enough. Vulnerable families living in a context of poverty also need encouragement to see the long process through, and this encouragement is only effective if it comes from that feeling of understanding and love we are all capable of.
Hábitat para la Humanidad Argentina welcomes volunteers and donors, who finance the loans and the human and community development in our programs.