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Housing microfinance story series: Amarilis Cortés

March 15, 2010

Monthly Income, gross: **US$400
Monthly Income, net: US$233
Monthly Remittances: US$100-305
Source of income: Remittances, husband´s income
Loan amount: US$1,500
Term of loan: 36 months
Monthly payment range: US$64-97

Amarilis Cortés’* bright pink house stands out on a main road in the community where she has lived most of her life. She spent part of her childhood in this home, and moved back into the home with her husband and family five years ago when her mother migrated to the United States. Amarilis’ mother, Ana, transferred the deed of the house to her daughter and departed for the U.S. following her separation from Amarilis’ father. Amarilis, her husband, and her son moved into the house, leaving their previous one-room home.

Amarilis and her husband, Roberto, had been living on a plot of land nearby that they had received from the municipality about seven years ago, as part of a group of families that had organized to gain access to municipal land. Once they received the plot, Amarilis and Roberto built a small, one room house of wood and block using their savings. They spent two years in the home, slowly improving it and witnessing the birth of their first child there. Now, an uncle lives in the house, which Amarilis and her husband still own.

Amarilis, is a housewife and takes care of her five year-old son Johnatan and her newborn daughter. Her husband, Roberto Somarriba, works in a nearby cattle slaughterhouse, making about 8,000 córdobas a month, or US$400. Her brother, Johnatan, is living with the family while he completes his secondary school studies. Amarilis herself reached the third year of high school.

Amarilis’ mother lives in Los Angeles and works in a supermarket. Her mother typically sends as much as US$300 a month, which Amarilis receives and distributes to her brother, grandmother, and other relatives, keeping only about US$100 for her own family. In addition, her mother recently purchased a plot of land for the eventual construction of another house for her return to Nicaragua.




The bright pink house looked much different when Amarilis and her family moved in five years ago. There was a single room, where the entire family slept. The walls were made of block. She and her husband had saved money, primarily to make incremental, cosmetic improvements to the house. The loan from Local Development Fund (FDL in Spanish) provided the first opportunity for Amarilis to make major improvements to the house.

Amarilis learned about FDL from neighbors who had borrowed from the organization. After submitted her application to FDL, she was soon visited by a loan officer, who prepared a layout for the work and estimated how much it would cost. She said that receiving the loan was not difficult, remarking that she did not need to turn in too much paperwork, one of her previous fears about taking on a formal loan.

After about two weeks, she was approved for a loan of US$1,500 in November of 2008, to which she added US$500 in savings from her husband’s earnings and the remittances sent by her mother. With this US$2,000, Amarilis and her husband purchased the materials to build an additional two rooms on the house–a small kitchen behind the one room house and a spacious bedroom to the rear of the kitchen. Her husband and a friend did all of the work to build the additional rooms, about a four month process. Now the family has dedicated bedroom, kitchen, and living areas, whereas previous to the loan all of these activities took place in the same space. The increased space makes the house much more comfortable, she said, and just in time for the arrival of her newborn daughter.

Amarilis commented that the budget prepared by the FDL technician was helpful, and provided a realistic idea of the extent of work that she could actually accomplish. She had originally wanted to build one more bedroom to the side of the house. Without the help in measuring the project and estimating material costs, she said, they might have taken on more construction than they could handle at once, and the project might still be unfinished to this day. Additionally, she related that a representative from FDL visited to check on the progress.

Amarilis expressed satisfaction with her experience of borrowing from FDL, commenting that her family would not have been able to build two additional rooms without a loan. She says that even if she had factored in the remittances she received it would have taken years to save the US$2,000. Once she pays off this loan, she says, she is considering taking out another to build second bedroom to the side of the house for her brother so that he can better focus on his studies.

Key points from Amarilis’ case

  • While the family had previously implemented a strategy of saving money to make improvements to their home, a slow pace of savings meant a slow pace of improvements. The housing loan, in this case, played a key role in speeding up the improvement process, permitting the family to complete the addition of rooms before the arrival of a new baby.
  • The fact that the husband and a friend contributed their own labor to build the rooms expanded the scope of the improvement, since they did not have to use the loan to pay for outside labor.
  • Remittance receipts from Amarilis’ mother in Los Angeles served as 75 percent of the income that qualified her for the loan.
  • Technical assistance played a novel role in Amarilis’ story: the help came less in the form of advice on how to build, but instead in determining how much to build. Amarilis had originally planned a more ambitious project, but the technician’s estimate showed her that it may not have been feasible with her budget. Without this advice, the project may have come to a halt before it was finished.

Story and photos courtesy of Habitat for Humanity consultant, Brendan McBride.

*The names of the families have been changes to protect their identity.


**Gross income is the total of all income sources, whereas net income reflects the number of family members that are supported by that income. The calculation is made by subtracting from the gross income an estimate of the minimum cost of living (including food, transportation and education) for all family members.