Men discussing roofing project

Building a better world through housing innovation

Habitat for Humanity’s Innovation Awards recognize global innovators developing solutions to advance affordable housing. By spotlighting cutting-edge initiatives, we hope to accelerate the adoption and adaptation of the most promising housing innovations that will help more people in communities around the world build or improve a place they can call home.

The Innovation Awards are announced during Habitat’s global housing forums. Every two years, these events convene a network of housing organizations and nonprofit, for-profit, public sector, academic, philanthropic and global institutions. Over the course of several days, in cities around the world, policymakers, business leaders, advocates, youth and others connect and collaborate for practical solutions that will increase access to safe, decent and affordable housing.

The Innovation Award’s inspirational practices category, generously sponsored by Whirlpool Corporation, spotlights public or public-private partnerships that have contributed to improved communities and settlements and increased access to affordable housing for the most under-resourced segments of society.

“Whirlpool has partnered with Habitat for more than 22 years to help improve and broaden the ways that people around the world can achieve housing stability,” says Deb O’Connor, director of corporate reputation and community relations for Whirlpool Corporation. “We believe innovative solutions are the way forward, and that’s why it’s important to us that our support of Habitat includes shining a spotlight on those who are developing forward-thinking approaches.” 

Learn how these 2021 recipients showcase the creativity and passion of leading housing innovators worldwide.

Reduced heating costs and carbon dioxide emissions in Germany

smartphone displaying graph
Large apartment building with red roof and yellow balconies

The group green with IT e.V. is a network of 24 companies that formed an initiative to create IT-supported solutions that reduce heating costs and increase efficiency. They worked with three housing companies in Berlin, Brandenburg and Saxony-Anhalt, Germany, to improve energy efficiency for their tenants through the design of a digitized system that reduces heating costs and carbon dioxide emissions. “Saving heating energy means, first of all, saving money from the point of view of the tenants,” says Jörg Lorenz, CEO of green with IT e.V.

The group installed self-sufficient gateways and smart-meter gateways in the buildings’ basements to create a submetering system independent of the gas company. The submeters collect information from various tenants’ sensors through WiFi, calculate their individual heat usage and then deliver detailed reports on individual usage to the landlord. The reports allowed landlords to appropriately bill each tenant for heating costs, correct any inefficiencies in the heating system and report billing inaccuracies to the gas company. 

The submetering system sends updates of individual usage data to the tenants’ smartphones via an app to improve transparency of actual use in relation to billing costs. The digital meters are also able to develop an algorithm from collection of annual data to maximize energy efficiency of building heaters and adjust output based on future weather predictions.

An outdoor classroom in Colombia

Outdoor classroom in Cali, Colombia
Aerial view of outdoor classroom in Cali, Colombia

Despacio is a research center working to promote quality of life of communities and residents. Their idea to transform an underutilized public space in the city of Cali, Colombia, into a place where children have a safe space to learn and gather resulted in the outdoor classroom Vivo Mi Calle, or “I Live My Street.” In this space, children can continue their studies and improve their physical, mental and social well-being in light of losing critical school time due to the pandemic.

Despacio enlisted local youth to help in the design of the space by sharing features that were important to them and even to help paint and decorate. “Vivo Mi Calle is centered on empowering adolescents and strengthening their voices,” says Lina Marcela Quiñones, healthy cities lead at Despacio. “This is why it was crucial to include them throughout the process, from identification of key places to the design and implementation of the intervention. This resulted in a space that responded to their actual needs.”

The space includes a classroom, dance floor, community garden and yard. Through their participation in the building process, young people learned about the importance of creating safe and sustainable communities. “They now know that they can work together to achieve the change they want. They know that they have a voice and that it matters. And they know how important it is to create spaces that are safe and joyful for children and young people,” Lina says.

Critical roofing loan solutions in India 

woman in pink sari sitting in garden
Metal roof from below

LaRaksha Social Impact Trust is a microfinance institution that caters to low-income people without access to typical banking services. The organization designed a roofing-loan solution to help families living slightly above the poverty line who need costly repairs to their roofs but do not qualify for government assistance. 

Residents of India’s coastal communities experience heavy rains, winds and cyclones that can damage their homes, especially when their roofs are thatched or improperly constructed. Families in vulnerable regions are exposed to leaks and dampness that impact their health and quality of life. Then they are forced to spend their meager savings on roof repair, which often pushes them below the poverty line. “A roof is the most vulnerable part of house,” says A Ramesh Kumar, president and managing trustee of LaRaksha Social Impact Trust. “If the roof is good, the overall habitat quality is good. If the roof is bad — however good the walls are and however big the house — the shelter quality deteriorates. So a solution focused on the roof is necessary.”

LaRaksha Social Impact Trust’s small roofing loans allow homeowners to strengthen or replace their roof at an affordable cost using a sustainable and durable roofing solution. The loan is targeted at families with annual income levels of US$2,000 to US$4000. The microfinance institution currently operates in the states of Tamil Nadu, West Bengal and Manipur in India. 

A brighter future

Each day, inventive housing solutions like these are being created all around the globe. Through our partnership with Whirlpool Corporation, we can elevate the work of these innovators, an integral part of building a world where everyone has a decent place to live.