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.