Tag Archives: sustainability

A Typical Home: the Town House – Sai Gon, Vietnam

By: Duong Huynh, Project Manager

Housing is complex. Its stakeholders and creatures are as varied as the skin colors of the human race – developers and financiers, consumers and policy makers. Its value chains are highly intertwined – demand side and supply side, taking us from land obtainment to consumer off-take and move-in. At the core of this complex system lies the key product it helps to produce more of, and in high quality: the home.

So via this post, I hope to inspire my colleagues and myself in understanding the typologies of homes all over the world in closer detail. For this first venture, I chose Sai Gon, Vietnam; otherwise known as Ho Chi Minh City.


Sai Gon’s location on the southern tail of Vietnam’s “S” shape

A map of Sai Gon’s districts

A map of Sai Gon’s districts

Typical traffic in Sai Gon during busy hours

Typical traffic in Sai Gon during busy hours

With any emerging markets, growth and architectural landmarks sit alongside dated low-density residential uses.

The glamorous and trendy Sai Gon at night

The glamorous and trendy Sai Gon at night

Low and mid-density uses lie below and alongside the city’s landmark tower

Low and mid-density uses lie below and alongside the city’s landmark tower

Within any nation and economy, many diverse sets of housing typologies exist. Vietnam is no exception.

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Urban sprawl and housing failure in Nicaragua

By: Noel Sampson, AHI Intern, Nicaragua.


The expansion of urban areas is a common and historical phenomenon in Latin American cities. Nowadays, poorly planned urban expansion has led to marginalization of city inhabitants. In the case of Nicaraguan cities, housing projects and urban sprawl are clearly promoted by policy makers. In this publication I will present two cases, including both low and middle income housing developments that are clear examples of urban sprawl and failures in housing delivery.


The Urban Expansion Plan of the city of León known as León Sur-Este had as its general objective “to develop a model of urban expansion with spatial and socioeconomic sustainability” (City of León, 2000) intended to reduce the housing deficit and prevent illegal occupations. The plan León Sur-Este was conceived as a sustainable development, including adequate infrastructure and services provision according to population needs and facilitating the conditions for economic development. León Sur-Este nowadays has failed in archiving these objectives.


Urban sprawl. Private development in León Sur-Este, León, Nicaragua.


The project strategically oriented urban expansion to the South-East area of the city of León and involved the community in planning processes and in the provision of land which was bought at preferential prices. The sale of housing units was subsidized by the government. Sister-cities programs such Utrecht-León and international agencies also played an important role in the early steps of the project.


Sketch of the Plan of urban expansion León Sur-Este, León, Nicaragua.


However land speculation led to the increase of prices in neighboring land, blocking the future expansion of the project. The sale of land for private developments strained the already insufficient urban infrastructure and potentiated a gentrification process, disadvantaging the low income inhabitants of the original project.


“Se vende casa” (House on sale). LIH unit in Leon Sur-Este.


The development now has a very poor connection to the main urban infrastructure networks, including water, sanitation and transport. The creation of socioeconomically homogeneous neighborhoods in city outskirts, such as Leon Sur-Este and many other cases in Managua, creates poverty islands where urban problems are exacerbated and presented all at the same time. In the case of León Sur-Este housing abandonment, housing resale, illegal land occupation, lack of basic services, unhealthy conditions, lack of access to education and strong social exclusion are clear symptoms of the project failure.


Street in Leon Sur-Este lacking urban infrastructure and services.


Similar phenomena are evident in private developments for middle income families in the outskirts of Managua.  Housing projects outside the city are a fashionable investment for  developers and it is no surprise that they are appealing for many home buyers as well. Middle income gated communities include features such as internal security guards to increase sales, adding value to the life in the “new city”, while making profit from social disintegration and marginalization.


This consumption of land, lack of access to resources and services, new patterns of social exclusion, increase in the demand of infrastructure and transport, losses in the ecosystem, disrespect of urban development plans and land use lead to a very expensive failure, with social, ecological and economic implications.

Examples of this are the developments in the periphery of Managua, in the Pan-American Highway, where houses in private developments are seen as a single product, not as the basic unit for a community and city. Nor do they include the physical, social and environmental elements where the essentials of life, including social relationship and community sense of living develop.


Vistas de Momotombo. Gated community in the periphery far from the city of Managua, Nicaragua.


Heinrichs (2008) put forward two theories to explain the popularity of housing projects outside the city. The first supposes a preference of families to live in the periphery. In this case suburban development and urban sprawl are largely a consequence of private investors trying to satisfy that demand. The second argument states that urban sprawl is a result of poor governance and public policies. In the case of Nicaragua both arguments are applicable, which could be seen as a voluntarily and intentional attempt to exclude and be excluded from the city. All this is influenced by media, weak governance and the lack of sustainable habitat alternatives.

To prevent the disintegration of society and improve the way in which municipalities govern cities we need to modify the concept of city radically, since it is misunderstood by many municipalities and local governments. At the same time there is an inconsistency in housing policy and the mechanisms by which these projects are implemented.


However, there are promising alternatives for reducing the deficit of 900,000 houses that exists in the country. More important than numbers, these alternatives might prevent social segregation, urban sprawl and marginalization. In the country the demand is for both home improvement and new housing. In this case, new houses should be built as intentional and sustainable communities. INURBA is one company which has taken on the challenge of providing housing for the middle class in emerging and developing economies, promising to create well-designed urban communities supplied with infrastructure that includes clean water, sanitation, and power to provide the conditions for an integrated social community and might become a good practice model that can influence the housing ecosystem.


Existing infrastructure and close proximity to urban economy activities must be seriously considered as an opportunity for housing delivery in the inner city. Community organization in popular neighborhoods, land tenancy and access to services set the conditions for a massive program oriented to home improvement and neighborhood upgrading. It is time to think creatively, and promote sustainable housing solutions to stop the proliferation of poverty islands and set the conditions for long term social integration and sustainability.




Land title and affordable housing development in Africa – Part 2

By Evans Essienyi, AHI West Africa Associate

Last week I asked the question: Is the ‘clean and clear title’ and freehold as understood in the global North truly a prerequisite for a good affordable housing ecosystem? And what are the ways in which more complex forms of tenure can be developed and financed?

NO. Neither a freehold nor a clean and clear title is a necessary requisite for a good affordable housing ecosystem. In my view, the two components of the affordable housing ecosystem – microloan for incremental building and large scale investment by developers in affordable housing is not impeded in any way by the absence of freehold or a clean title.

Microloans for households for incremental building do not require the land as security for the loan. Micro lenders employ strategies such as regular visits, site inspection, and group lending to secure their loans. This means loans can be made to low-income people for home improvements and new constructions in the face of communal land ownership with minimal risk to the lender.

Investments in large scale developments are not subject to increased risks as a result of communal land ownership. In most Sub-saharan countries, long term leases for  large tracts of land for development can be obtained for 99 years; this about twice the life span of most housing projects. The 99-year leases are also renewable.

Also, large scale affordable housing developers can negotiate Joint Venture (JV) partnerships with communal land owners for the land to serve as a contribution from the land owners in return for an equity stake in housing development. This arrangement has the potential of increasing the success and sustainability of the housing project.

It is clear that a clean and clear title is not a necessary requisite for a good affordable housing ecosystem in the global south.

Evans Essienyi is a building technologist and real estate developer experienced in structuring low income housing projects, designing affordable houses, financing options and project development in developing countries, especially Ghana. In the USA, he was elected a Legatum Fellow at MIT, dedicated to creating innovative, sustainable, for-profit enterprises that promote prosperity in low-income countries.

Civil Society and Nongovernment Organization development in Brazil: can a powerful tradition shift to embrace new models of social business and investment?

By Gláucio Gomes, Institutional Development Manager for Atelié de Idéias, Brazil


Friendship Park in Vitoria, Brazil: Volunteers turn garbage into gardens under the program “Good Effort – Valuing the place where we live” conducted by Ateliê de Ideias, Community Forum – Bem Maior, and CISV International, with the support of the City of Victoria and other partners. Photo: Olga Saxén – CISV Finland.

Non-governmental Organizations (NGOs) in Brazil emerged from a distinct period in Brazilian history. Social movements developed as instruments to seek democracy, human and civil rights during the military dictatorship. These NGOs were born when the main focus of Brazilian society was on the big issues: freedom, free elections and free speech.

Most of the social movements came from the rural interior of the country, where land rights and basic social and political reforms were the main issues. Almost all of the local cells of those movements were born inside the Catholic Church, mobilized by community priests. As such, the origin of our non-profit and NGO sector was very politicized and religious. This sector is based on charity, following the principle that the government is a provider from which society must expect the absolute guarantee of all its rights, with no additional fee. The Brazilian constitution of 1988, which was built with the strong participation of social movements, accords with this view.

Organizations slowly formalize and receive funding from international sources.  Most of these social movements started to become formal organizations in the late 1980s and in the 1990s, when they needed to raise funds and hold contracts with foundations and governments.  In the 1990s, all the great militants and left-wing leaders, who were in social movements during the dictatorship period, started to work in NGOs and to help local communities to start their associations, cooperatives, etc. These militants and leaders were great intellectuals, artists, political minds, and community organizers, with the knowledge and skills to mobilize people. However, they were not managers, administrators, or practical leaders with the necessary skills to take care of organizational development and sustainability. Their organizations struggled with the many managerial tasks that international cooperation agencies required of them. In the early 1990s, nearly 95% of funding to non-profit and NGOs in Brazil came from international development aid agencies and foundations such as USAID, GTZ, Oxfam etc.

The public sector becomes a funder. Later in the decade, these international organizations and foundations began to reduce their funding to Brazilian non-profits.  The election of Luis Inácio Lula, our first leftist president (according to the Brazilian political thermometer), took the relationship between civil society organizations and government to another level. Federal and local governments filled the void left by international organizations, building strong partnerships with social movements and beginning to financially support non-profit and nongovernmental organizations. During the 2000s, about 50% of the money to civil society organizations came from governments (federal and local), 40% from international foundations and agencies, and 10% from the private sector.

Government funds enable NGOs to reach an entirely different scale. Now, a small organization from Pernambuco (a state in Northeast Brazil) can become the partner of a ministry or a local government and receive amounts in the order of US$ 250K to develop a social project in its community. That same organization, fundraising with companies and foundations (private sector) could raise, with a lot of difficulty, US$ 50K –but only if the organization had the communication skills to get approval in public selection processes to which more than a thousand other organizations also have applied. In the rural area of Pernambuco it is very hard to find a company willing to fund a local social project.

Independent or merely a conduit? Still, the challenge remains that resources coming through governmental programs have to be implemented using government methods, strategies and approaches. Essentially, those organizations are working as tools or operational means for government policies. We are now debating the main impacts of Lula’s administration. The political and economical relationship model with social movements produced a period of participative public policies, however it has installed some managerial vicious cycles, which threaten the sustainability of these very social organizations. Currently, the problem is that civil society organizations lack the skills in order to develop as sustainable organizations capable of functioning in the “real world”.

The future: moving toward a new model of social business? Prior to the election of Lula, in São Paulo, Brazilian companies had begun to think about social accountability and social investment. However, since Lula’s presidency, no significant private sector participation with social and nongovernmental sector has occurred.

We at Ateliê de Ideias have a different relationship between social organizations and communities/society. Most social organizations are outraged by the idea of building business relationships with communities, embracing self sustaining practices instead of charity, private sector participation in social programs.  Communities are also not prepared to be approached in that way by social organizations, yet. What social investors who want to work in Brazil must know is that there is a previous step – education –   to build the foundations of a new sustainable development model that is in accordance with our political culture and social history. There is place, opportunity and real need for change in this culture.

Gláucio Gomes is a strategic planner for Ateliê de Ideias in Brazil, a social organization producing solutions for urban and local development. Among its many services, Ateliê de Ideias provides access to finance and housing for the citizens of Vitória in Southeastern Brazil. Their flagship program is Bem Morar, an integrated package of services to promote access of low-income families to sustainable and affordable houses.

Global affordable housing news roundup August 26, 2011

Janaki Blum, Administrative Director

We round up this week’s affordable housing related news, insights, and events from news sources, RSS feeds, and collegues.

Egypt: Stop forced evictions and consult slum-dwellers to resolve housing crisis
IEWY News – Egyptian authorities and political parties must put the rights of the country’s 12 million slum-dwellers at the top of their agenda if they are to meet the demands for social justice and human dignity championed during the “25 January Revolution”, Amnesty International said today in a new report.

Editor’s blog: housing’s impact is best expressed by those who benefit
Guardian UK – What the rolling back of support programmes for vulnerable people reveals is how important the housing sector is to the delivery of these essential services. As housing gathers its message for government, allowing tenants to tell their story may prove the wisest lobbying tool.

Carlyle Group to invest $26 million supporting affordable housing in India
Business Standard – Global alternative asset manager The Carlyle Group today announced it will invest US$26 million into Value & Budget Housing Corporation (VBHC), a pioneer in the construction and development of affordable entry level housing in India.

White House considers ways to stem housing woes
Reuters – The Obama administration is looking at options for reviving the housing market, an Achilles heel for the struggling U.S. economic recovery. It continues to “look for ways to ease the burden on struggling homeowners and to help stabilize the market.” The article looks at some policies the administration could turn to help the housing sector.

IFC to Loan $50m to Support Expansion of Mortgage Lending to Low-Income Households
Microcapital Brief – The International Finance Corporation (IFC), the private-investment arm of the World Bank Group, has agreed to provide long-term debt financing of seven years worth USD 50 million to Panamanian commercial lender Banco General, to increase the bank’s mortgage lending program for low-income households. The funding will be deployed on affordable housing, with a focus on those families “whose annual incomes are near or below the median income level in Panama.”

Urban Land Conservancy Preserves Affordable Housing in Denver
PR Newswire – The Urban Land Conservancy (ULC) purchased its fifth property for $1.35 million using Denver’s Transit-Oriented Development (TOD) Fund on Tuesday, a unique fund specifically set up with ULC, Enterprise Community Partners, City and County of Denver and other investors, to acquire and preserve land for workforce housing near light rail stops and high frequency bus routes.

Councils To Invest More In Affordable Housing
Build UK – Housing Minister Grant Shapps has announced Government plans to give councils more financial freedoms to improve, buy and build new housing for their local community. New proposals, published today for consultation, will allow councils more flexibility to trade their assets, and use the receipts to enable further investment in new homes and regenerating the local area.

Kerala dreams big on housing sector
CNN-IBN Live – With the Kerala State Housing Board yet to come out of the deep financial crisis, the State Government has mooted the creation of Kerala State Housing Development Finance Corporation with the objective of mobilising funds for the housing sector in the state. A feasibility study will be carried out to understand the existing housing finance scenario in the state, based on the financial requirement of individuals belonging to various economic categories and that of real estate developers.

Reducing homelessness is noble purpose for housing agency
SLT Today – The Missouri Housing Development Commission has is considering a proposal by state Treasurer Clint Zweifel to dedicate one-third of next year’s tax credit allocations — $122 million — to projects that benefit people who are vulnerable to homelessness. The concept partners developers and existing agencies to construct projects that house and service needy populations.

‘Sustainable Development Must Start with People’
IPS – Sweden’s current development agenda for sustainable cities in developing countries includes strong political support for democracy and measures to promote the participation of poor people and marginalised groups in the management of basic services, including water resources and sanitation.

Digging beyond visual judgments and ‘sustainable materials’

Some rants on slum upgrading…

Aditya Sawant, AHI Research Assistant

In the Millenium Development Goals by UNHabitat, a slum is defined as an area that combines, to various extents, the following characteristics:  inadequate access to safe water; inadequate access to sanitation and other infrastructure; poor structural quality of housing; overcrowding; and insecure title.

The UN definition describes slums mainly through a lack of infrastructural system. In my opinion, this is not a criterion most of us use to describe a slum. We do it by judging its physical form. It is a visual judgment. Rarely will we bother to check if a neighborhood lacks formal water systems, sanitation, legal title etc., before declaring it a slum. A slum, in general public opinion, is identified based on its formal and visual appearance and not its lack of infrastructure systems.

For example, when Dharavi, one of the larger informal settlements of Mumbai, was undertaken for re-development, a part of it, named Kumbharwada or Potter’s colony, was included in the development plan. But Kumbharwada is not a squatter settlement – it actually has a lease-hold agreement with the State government for the entire land it occupies – but was included in the re-development plan because it ‘looked’ like the other parts of Dharavi.

This visual judgment was made through comparisons with the surrounding context as a slum inherently does not have a standard form of its own. This is reflected in the different typology of informal settlements that we see around the world, from the favelas in South America, the rooftop slums of Hong Kong, the ashwaiyyats in Cairo, the gecekondu in Turkey,  the houses on stilts in Manila, to the slums of Mumbai.

Because of this visual bias , slum ‘up gradation’ or ‘improvement’ is often looked upon as ‘cleaning’ or ‘beautifying’ the slum by clearing the existing neighborhoods and building new ‘improved’ housing that is mainly inspired by the middle class or upper middle class housing typologies that are present in that particular context. In most cases today, this means high rise apartment style housing units. The high rise configuration also clears valuable real estate for other commercial exploitation if developed in-situ. Many of the ‘new improved’ units have a standard house plan of a living room, kitchen and bedrooms, a typology which might not be necessarily suitable for a slum resident who also runs a small manufacturing workshop from his or her existing house in the slum.

A slum, though lacking in formal infrastructural systems, is actually anchored upon a lot of other socio- economic systems which operate within the community and also interact with the larger city. These do not get replicated in high-rise apartment style housing so that living in such typologies becomes difficult for slum residents. They cannot continue their livelihood activities in such apartments or lose those income generating networks when relocated into rehabilitation housing on the outskirts of the city. A slum is not a collection of houses of poor people but a network which is in dialogue with itself and the larger city, a dialogue on which it survives.

Nowadays you see a lot of interest and research going into producing materials for low-income housing, such as earth bricks, bamboo, steel pipes and what-not. Though some of them are quite innovative solutions, for me they come from this same mentality of providing a cleaner looking, orderly solution to the ‘slum problem.’ They all try to provide new materials which are claimed to be sustainable, economical , cheaply available, recyclable etc etc.

But if one looks closely at the existing slum itself, you will find that the materials which are used to build the slum are far more sustainable, economical, and recyclable then any new material can ever be. Because the sustainability of building materials of a slum unit comes from the flexibility of mixing and matching materials that are cheaply and readily available in the city at that time and which suits their purpose.

Its economy comes from its ability to not depend on anyone particular production system and to source out materials as they are needed.  It is difficult for any single material which needs a centralized production system to achieve this flexibility and will be only possible if supported with additional subsidies. A particular material is suitable for a particular context. Sustainability of the material has not only to be in the product but also in the process of using the material. The mass producers of ‘housing kits’ also forget that a house is not just a physical space with utilities but also an expression of one’s personality, culture and beliefs.

In my view, by proposing similar mass produced houses, one is forgetting that the poor also have aspirations and desires. A box of corrugated steel may not necessarily be the image of a house a poor family has dreamed of. Any low income housing solution has to work with problems of scale, sustainability, finance, among others. But too many forget the aspirations and dreams of their inhabitants.

Ashwaiyyats in Cairo

Rooftop slums in Hong Kong

Houses on Stilts in Manila

Gecekondu(building on the right) in Turkey

Favelas in South America

Dharavi in Mumbai, India



Hong Kong slums: http://indaacefall2010.blogspot.com/2010/09/rooftop-shanty-towns-of-hong.html
Dharavi: http://audreyandthane.files.wordpress.com/2010/01/dharavi600.jpg
Manilla slums: http://infodennis.blogspot.com/2010_02_01_archive.html
Favelas: http://www.awakeinmydreams.com/archives/527
Slums in Cairo: http://alajeel.wordpress.com/
Image of the slum in Turkey was taken from David Smith’s blog.