Looking for new horizons: Helping more with less
July 28, 2010
The new program strategy of Habitat for Humanity Nicaragua.
For 25 years, the typical Habitat partner family in Nicaragua earned at least US$350 per month, and was offered one product: a loan to build a complete, 42 square meter home.
It was a good model. But it also kept Habitat for Humanity Nicaragua from reaching the lowest income segments of the population, and limited its impact to isolated and dispersed housing solutions across the country.
Habitat for Humanity Nicaragua took these lessons learned, and with them formed a new program strategy that will meet the real needs of the Nicaraguan population. Habitat Nicaragua’s new mission advocates and works toward the right of all people to adequate housing and the sustainable improvement of communities. Habitat’s work is inspired by the teachings of Jesus Christ, and is carried out in partnership with the communities themselves, prioritizing those who are most urgently in need of adequate housing.
To achieve this mission, the organization has focused its new strategy on responding as efficiently as possible to the needs and capacities of the lowest income populations in Nicaragua. The strategy supports the Social Production of Habitat—the process by which communities improve their own housing solutions by whatever means they can—through the strengthening of community organization and by using the resources that communities already have.
The two main programs in Habitat Nicaragua’s new strategy are Support of Self-Organized Construction and Risk Management.
Self-organized construction is the process through which the population, either individually or in organized groups, develops or improves their families’ and community’s housing conditions. The process may take different forms, according to the capacity and the socioeconomic conditions of each family or community.
In their risk management program, Habitat for Humanity Nicaragua helps communities to develop new capacity for the prevention and mitigation before disasters strike, and post-disaster response in the event that it does.
Social Production of Habitat is the main method by which construction takes place in Nicaragua. More than 95% of the population has built some type of house this way.
Expanding horizons, reaching more families
In order to serve communities more efficiently, Habitat for Humanity Nicaragua has divided the population that they hope to serve into three levels, offering appropriate solutions to each according to their economic capacity.
The first group includes families whose monthly household income falls between $350 and $600 U.S. dollars. This segment of the population can access credit to finance their housing needs. The loans are managed by financial organizations that partner with Habitat for Humanity Nicaragua and help Habitat to ensure that the families are well served as they build their housing solutions.
The second group includes families with household incomes between $250 and $350, and has the option to receive a housing subsidy, which the family combines with a small amount of their own savings. These families also have the option of a microcredit loan.
The third and final group includes families whose income falls below $200 per month. They are offered a fully subsidized housing solution, to which they contribute a small amount of savings if they are able.
Combined, these three approaches allow Habitat for Humanity Nicaragua to be a self-sustaining organization that can continue to serve the families with the greatest need of adequate housing solutions as long as the need exists.
In addition, Habitat Nicaragua puts particular emphasis on families with women heads of household, families with disabled members, overcrowded homes and families whose homes play a significant role in generating income (a home-based tailor, for example). Families with incomes below $350 a month are also given priority.
Geographically, Habitat for Humanity Nicaragua will be focusing on the municipalities of Managua, Masaya, Estelí and the North Atlantic region.
Housing solutions that fit families’ needs
As part of its program to support self-organized construction, Habitat Nicaragua has selected three products that can be adapted according to the socioeconomic capacity of each family and, more importantly, to their particular housing needs. These solutions will include home improvements, new homes and community infrastructure.
Focusing on home improvement solutions is an appropriate response to the economic situation on the majority of the Nicaraguan population. Eighty percent of the country survives on less than two dollars a day. Small credits for home improvements will allow these families to improve their housing solutions, once small step at a time.
Home improvements support families in the Social Production of Habitat, or progressive construction, through personalized designs that consider the size of the family´s land and the existing house. Options include repairs to existing parts of the house (floors, roofs, walls), additions, seed houses (basic, core housing units), new or improved bathrooms, and others.
These solutions allow families to improve their housing conditions in stages, until they achieve the size and quality of home that meets their needs. Progressive housing solutions prevent families from getting too deep into debt, and the small changes make a significant impact on their health and quality of life.
New house construction is only offered when subsidies are available to complement the total cost of the housing solution, whether this be fully subsidized or through a combination of subsidies and loans.
In every housing solution it offers, Habitat for Humanity Nicaragua considers the economic situation of each, individual family.
Habitat Nicaragua also intends to intervene with non-construction solutions. The Community Development program will benefit entire communities or parts of communities, with the support of the communities themselves. Each solution will be designed in partnership with the community, and could include parks, health centers, schools, water and sanitation systems, disaster mitigation measures and others.
Housing conditions worsen each time a strong rainy season or a small earthquake occur, as already weak structures cannot withstand even the smallest force of nature. Risk management is the act of helping communities plan and make decisions that will reduce and prevent risks associated with disasters, as well as help them to recover more quickly in the event that disaster strikes. In a country vulnerable to hurricanes and earthquakes, it is important to promote solutions in communities that will contribute to techniques and forms of organizing that will help them to mitigate and prepare for the risk.
Habitat Nicaragua also aims to provide emergency shelter kits to disaster victims whenever possible. The Disaster Response program is always alert.
Serving through partners
Through partnerships with other local community development actors, Habitat for Humanity Nicaragua will be investing in the process of training community actors in diverse topics such as self-organized construction, financial education, community organization and advocacy for the improvement of housing, housing law, the right to adequate housing, risk management and others.