December 15, 2009
In Latin America and the Caribbean , roughly one-third of the population—50 million families—faces severe housing issues. The most urbanized region in the developing world, 77 percent of Latin America and the Caribbean’s population resides in cities, typically in informal settlements that lack legal tenure or access to urban infrastructure such as education, water and sanitation.*
In addition, each year the Caribbean is threatened by the devastating storms that characterize the Atlantic Hurricane Season. During the period of 2000-2008, 146 disasters  were recorded in the region, an average of 16 events per year. Haiti, Jamaica and the Dominican Republic have required disaster response attention almost annually.
As the world economy falters, the need for Latin American and Caribbean families to protect themselves against these and other persistent challenges is more urgent than ever. In 2009, Habitat for Humanity organizations in the region continued to develop a blueprint for the future that impacts more families with limited resources, focusing on housing solutions that are long-term, sustainable, integrated and partnership-driven.
Leveraging housing subsidies
In 2009, some 5,000 new housing solutions were made possible through government housing subsidy initiatives in six countries within Latin America and the Caribbean. These programs help families to access existing subsidies, and ensure that the funds have a lasting, quality impact.
In Chile , Habitat educates families in maintaining a household budget, so that they can establish the savings required to access subsidies. Habitat’s technical assistance then helps them to navigate the complex application process.
In Mexico , where housing subsidies are quickly accessible and provided in the form of construction materials, Habitat offers technical expertise so that families can ensure safe, sustainable home design. Adapting to each country’s context, housing subsidy initiatives strengthen Habitat’s programs and increase the capacity and accountability of local governments to provide more low-income families with quality housing solutions.
Housing microfinance and technical assistance
In Latin America, Habitat is partnering with Microfinance Institutions (MFIs) to help the lowest-income populations in the region improve their homes. Housing microfinance  is a relatively new activity within microfinance institutions, but one with the potential to increase the number of families who access adequate housing each year. Offering more flexibility than a traditional mortgage, these small loans for home improvements are compatible with how most low-income families build—incrementally and in stages.
Habitat’s expertise in the field of housing makes it an ideal partner for microfinance institutions, helping them to strengthen and diversify their services and reach more families in need.
Advocating for secure tenure and pro-poor housing policies
Impacting housing policy is a key part of Habitat’s work in the region, where issues such as access to secure tenure and city infrastructure can prove to be significant obstacles for low-income families. Through campaigns , training and technical support, Habitat advocates for systematic changes that will increase and sustain access to housing.
Families in Brazil  turn to Habitat for help in achieving the land-use rights that will legally protect them against eviction—meaning they can confidently seek home improvements in the future. Gathering a team of social workers, architects and lawyers, Habitat and partners support these communities with legal documentation, censuses, land cadastres, court appearances, financing and follow-up.
In Bolivia , Habitat is the leading player in a network of 12 social organizations which advocates for national housing policies such as legal literacy and support for secure tenure. Additional initiatives, such as training in the legal processes of land ownership in Argentina, help families to arm themselves with the tools they need to navigate the systems involved in housing and secure tenure.
Disaster response partnerships in the Caribbean
As a leader in the housing sector, Habitat for Humanity is called to respond when disasters strike—either directly or through partner organizations. In 2009, Habitat launched a multiyear project to develop a network of experts working to increase disaster risk reduction, mitigation and response in the Caribbean region. In partnership with organizations such as the Red Cross , Rotary Club  and Food for the Poor , the project includes disaster mitigation training for vulnerable groups, technical expertise, strategies for rapid response, and a “disaster fund” for additional risk reduction in the future.
Seeds for the future
Housing provides a vital space for families to grow and develop. More than protection from the elements, it offers security, privacy and comfort, while also setting the stage for the physical and mental health of its occupants. A healthy home depends, not only on quality construction, but also adequate sanitation systems, proper waste management, the suitable storage of food and toxins, and protection against illness. It requires strong communities and the healthy daily habits of families.
A regional office of the World Health Organization, the Pan American Health Organization  (PAHO) helps national governments to assess the environmental health of their communities. When it comes to shelter, Habitat for Humanity is an ideal partner in helping PAHO to develop and achieve strategies specific to healthy housing. In partnership with PAHO, Habitat for Humanity Colombia  is working in seven distinct projects throughout the country to improve the health of home environments, and protect families against health risks such as injury and illness.
Following a Healthy Housing Strategy framework, the projects include structural improvements of water systems, bathrooms, kitchens and electrical connections, the provision of resources such as water filters and mosquito netting, vector control and/or mental health and community education programs. In addition, the Healthy Housing Strategy is an integral part of employee and partner family training.
- Some 250 international work teams were hosted in Latin America in 2009 through the Global Village  program, mobilizing over US$1.5 million in donations towards national organizations.
- Throughout the last five years, the Financial Education  program in Latin America and the Caribbean has mobilized more than 300 local facilitators and volunteers to work with low-income families. The program provides families with the basic tools needed to create a family budget, prioritize expenses and save for the future. In 2009, financial education was established as a standard subject in partner family training. In addition, as part of their corporate social responsibility programs, microfinance institutions in El Salvador  and Costa Rica  began to offer financial education to their clients and associates.
- In 2009, the Latin America and Caribbean regional office began facilitating virtual “communities of practice”, where national organizations can share resources and exchange perspectives on topics such as Advocacy, Community Development, and Government Subsidies for Housing.
- Monitoring and evaluation are a key part of sustainable programs. In 2009, Habitat Latin America and the Caribbean developed a team to measure the results of Habitat’s mission in the region. The team uses a conceptual framework that takes into account factors such as: human, community and family development; community and volunteer participation; the social production of habitat and the right to the city.
- Identified as an ideal partner for Microfinance Institutions  (MFIs), Habitat for Humanity was selected to work with the Inter-American Development Bank /Multi-lateral Investment Fund  in designing and implementing a comprehensive Housing Microfinance program in the region. An outcome of this partnership is the “Strengthening Housing Microfinance Systems in Honduras and Peru” project, which creates new housing loan products to help decrease the qualitative housing deficit among very low income populations.
- Habitat for Humanity Paraguay  reached their first major milestone of 1,000 homes , organizing a blitz build with more than 250 local and international volunteers to celebrate the event. Significant local media coverage was achieved throughout the corresponding campaign, Casa 1000 ¡Manos a la Obra! (House 1,000… Let’s get to work!)
- From 2002-2009, Habitat for Humanity Chile  has made nearly 6,000 housing solutions possible through subsidy initiatives—over 1,000 of these occurring in 2009 alone. More than US$50 million in government funding has been mobilized and made available to families through Habitat’s subsidy programs in Chile. These programs not only help families to access the funding, but ensure that it is used to build sustainable, long-term housing solutions.
- In addition to celebrating the milestone of 7,000 houses  built since 1992, Habitat for Humanity El Salvador  served a record number of families this year, with 1,139 housing solutions in 2009 alone.
- In Brazil , 1,256 families received legal and technical assistance in regards to property rights and secure tenure. In partnership with CENDHEC, the program facilitates a participative and educational process between community leaders and administrative and legal authorities.
- Habitat for Humanity Latin America and the Caribbean has implemented a project in Jamaica with a partnering agency, Food for the Poor. To date, 120 homes have been built or repaired with families affected by hurricanes Ivan and Dean. The partnership also built a community center that feeds more than 150 homeless people per day, and repaired the water systems for an elderly hostel that serves 27 aged and disabled residents.
- Through various initiatives based on a Healthy Housing Strategy , Habitat Colombia  is working with partners such as the Pan American Health Organization  and local governments to offer integrated housing solutions with long-term impact on health and well-being. In 2009, a total of 520 families received health education and/or housing solutions as a result of these partnerships.
- In the cities of Cauca, Popayan and Sincelejo, Colombia , 239 families displaced by violence and political unrest have been served through home improvements, micro-credits and/or complete home construction.
- To reach families further down the poverty line, Habitat for Humanity El Salvador  has built three “model communities” in partnership with Thrivent Financial for Lutherans, Habitat for Humanity Charlotte and others. These communities provide land, housing, basic infrastructure (potable water, electricity, sewage, etc.) and, in larger communities, social infrastructure. Residents elect a board of directors to manage and maintain the community in the long-term. These projects serve as models, not just architecturally, but also in terms of community organization.
- In Argentina , 120 families have been served through Habitat’s Legal Literacy program, which provides training and support in the legal processes of obtaining land ownership and tenure. In collaboration with Habitat for Humanity International’s Government Relations and Advocacy office , a Guide to Legal Literacy was created, serving as a foundational resource for the program.
- Habitat for Humanity Mexico  became part of the Assessment Committee for CONAVI, Mexico’s national housing commission, establishing itself as a key player in decisions regarding the Social Production of Housing  in Mexico.
- As part of a pilot project, the Fondo de Desarrollo Local (Local Development Fund), a microfinance institution in Nicaragua  working in collaboration with Habitat for Humanity, has extended 150 loans to families who receive remittances. These loans are used for home improvements, such as roof repairs, septic tanks and bathrooms. The project is an innovative initiative for the region, in that the application honors remittances as income—meaning that loans are extended to families who might not otherwise qualify if only local income is considered.
Inter-American Development Bank, Sustainable Development Department, 2007; Helio Fallas; CEPAL.
“The State of the World’s Cities 2008/2009: Regional Updates; UN-Habitat.