Bogotá Chapter provides wraparound services for informal housing market.

According to the Colombian national government there are 1.5 million people living in substandard housing conditions. The OAC Bogotá Chapter has been addressing the issue for seven years and has just launched a pilot program to serve the informal housing market.

The new initiative is called Taller Del Habitat and the initial location is in Bosa, Bogotá.

In Colombia people build incrementally, purchase materials incrementally, and take their chances on legal support as they have enough money to hire someone to secure a title. Architecture for Humanity Bogotá, as the local chapter is known, first partnered with the national government seven years ago to help individual families improve their housing conditions. The work was driven by a quality of housing study conducted by the government to grade the health and well being of the existing housing, from identifying materials, ventilation, utilities, occupancy, and more.

The first projects included installing a concrete floor above an existing dirt floor, building out a kitchen so a family could not only cook for themselves but also earn extra income, remodeling a housing building for the elderly; all to upgrade existing conditions. These projects helped a few families, but were not market driven solutions. A few lessons learned were that about 1/3rd of the 1.5 million people have land, but not enough money to build adequate housing, ⅓ has money to build incrementally but does not own the land, and the final third does not have either. The key phrase here — incrementally.

Collage of past projects, ranging from home additions in dense informal areas, new houses, playgrounds, kitchen additions for commercial use and housing for the elderly.

Realizing that most of the projects the chapter completed were subsidized by the government or another funding source made local leadership feel they were contributing to improvements that would ultimately benefit the already wealthy landowners. In the states it’s the typical cycle of gentrification. If we invest in upgrading a property to benefit the financially challenged, then the landowners can raise the rents for new richer tenants.

We struggled doing many types of projects to find what fit. Some things worked, some didn’t, some was volunteer work, some grants funded, and there were many failed grant applications. Each effort gave us insight and a small piece of what we understand now, said Ricardo Daza, the local chapter director.

Now a member of the International Regional Council and Board of Directors for the OAC, he challenged the group to focus on how people build currently. He asked “How do people do this without us?”

The answer was that people would purchase materials as they had money, and only after acquiring enough would they begin building, section by section. After speaking with those building in this way, they discovered that people are willing to pay for materials, because you need things to make a home, and legal support to gain titles and deeds, but they were not willing to pay for design services. In order to afford legal fees without large lump sums of cash people often go to informal lenders to borrow money at a very high rate of interest to hire — with a large risk of fraud — legal support.

Over the course of seven years the chapter also discovered the high amount of middlemen in the material supply chain. Because the end vendor is selling one brick at a time, there are a lot of selling and reselling materials in smaller quantities until enough material is accumulated. The chapter saw this as a chain that could be shortened resulting in substantial savings to the homeowner.

People have strengths, so our projects now try to stand on their strengths to develop something rather than to look at their weaknesses and try to provide something that solves their weaknesses. said Daza.

After focusing on people’s processes and fully understanding the market the chapter applied for a grant, which was framed as a competition, with the Oficina Informal de Arquitectura and SWISSCONTACT. The chapter won the competition by proposing a business model instead of a solution to a specific project. They used the funding to launch a pilot program to begin giving shape to the informal housing process and to give people equal access to quality materials and services.

In January of this year Taller Del Habitat was born, and four days ago the chapter initiative made its first sale. Taller Del Habitat is a one-stop housing shop within the Bosa neighborhood, selling people what they’re used to buying — materials, only now they are receiving architectural and legal services embedded in the cost. The roughly $50,000 grant allows for the hiring of three employees and special offers each month. Throughout the first six months of the pilot, the organization will offer materials at a 100%, 50%, 25% discount — a price to be matched by the grant — in order to attract new clients. The hope is for the new organization to generate enough clients so they can reinvest the profits into the next month’s discount, and continue to pay the project managers, designers, and legal contractors.

The biggest failure is to think that a system driven by donations is going to be sustainable. We have to have a sustainable system that is based on market issues, Daza continues.

Daza, who is now leading the community planning effort for the City of Cartagena after completing a master’s program in Urban Management and Development from IHS, Erasmus University in Rotterdam, lead this process by focusing on one social issue — Housing — and testing many project approaches. This eventually led the local leadership to focus on people’s existing approaches to solving the issues, and then articulating the market that drove the issue of housing. The result after seven years committed to addressing housing in Bogota is a market driven approach that will deliver quality, healthy, and safely built housing for 1.5 million people in Colombia.

It starts with the first sale, worth about $9,000 US Dollars made this week for one home, by one family. Next week they’ll tackle the 1.4.999 million others.

To understand how your chapter can analyze critical supply chain issues and develop a workable solution write to Ricardo and ask more about their long, but focused journey.

Thanks for sharing the story of your efforts Ricardo!
Community Outreach Materials for the Pilot Program