By Michelle Fryer
One in every three households in Latin America and the Caribbean has experienced some kind of housing deficit, the most prevalent being the lack of access to basic services (16%), tenure insecurity (11%), poor materials (7%) and overcrowding (6%). Governments are well-aware –the housing sector is heavily regulated in most if not all countries, all trying different approaches depending on the national context and institutional capacity.
But how do countries choose and implement that wide array of activities, which range from direct housing programs to pro-market interventions? And how effectively do they target low to lower-middle income families, the most affected by the lack of affordable housing? In short: how can we tell what works and what doesn’t?
To help answer these questions, the Office of Evaluation and Oversight has reviewed the support that the IDB has given to public housing programs since 1998 in the Caribbean, particularly in Trinidad and Tobago, Suriname, Guyana and Barbados. The Comparative Project Evaluation of IDB Support to Low-income Housing Programs in Four Caribbean Countries reviews 11 loans approved for a total amount of US$203 million, and asks the following question: how can we build better housing programs in the Caribbean? Here are the four lessons learned:
- Solid data to build upon: Any public housing intervention should be based on an analysis of housing supply, affordability, and land conditions and should include transparent targeting and beneficiary selection. However, it is very difficult to find recent Caribbean-specific data on these topics. Even knowing the real housing deficit is challenging: in Barbados there is no official estimate; in Suriname the 2004 census estimated it at 31,100 units; in Trinidad and Tobago, estimates vary from 40,000 to 200,000 units; and in Guyana, it is around 20,000 units according to 2008 information. Improving housing-sector data, including household characteristics and income, is critical.
- Strong housing markets make good foundations: Short-term publicly-financed housing interventions are not enough, medium-term strategies to strengthen housing markets are also needed. That may include developing policies for land tenure and titling, modernizing development standards, strengthening planning, improving coordination across government agencies, and reforming financial markets to increase mortgage financing. Also, and where possible, private-sector participation in infrastructure development should be promoted, encouraging producers of middle-income housing to enter this market.
- Address institutional constraints from the very beginning: Low institutional capacity and changes in government priorities are recurring problems, limiting not only project implementation but also a more strategic dialogue on the regulation and policy reforms needed for better-functioning markets. Also, community participation is key to develop effective and sustainable projects: participatory planning processes engage the community and stimulate the local economy by using, to the extent possible, locally available materials and labor.
- Don’t buy a house, invest in a neighborhood: The long-term sustainability of housing benefits can be strengthened by integrating housing and neighborhood upgrading projects within larger urban and economic development programs. Program designs should incorporate considerations of public transportation, city revitalization, accessibility, carbon footprint, and quality of life. The shortage of well-located and serviced land has contributed to the spread of unplanned settlements, so the development of new urban centers will require the establishment of economic development hubs and the provision of basic services beyond housing.
The review of the IDB’s experience contributes valuable lessons for the design of future housing and urban development programs in the region, and sheds some light on how Caribbean countries can improve housing conditions and the quality of life for lower-income households. It also provides insight to the benefits of affordable housing on health, security, and the local economy. A house is more than four walls and a roof, it can dramatically change the course of a life.
Michelle Fryer is the Lead Social Development Specialist in the IDB´s Office of Evaluation and Oversight (OVE). Some of her latest publications at OVE include the “Comparative Project Evaluation of IDB Support to Low-income Housing Programs in Four Caribbean Countries” or the “Country Program Evaluation: Trinidad and Tobago 2011-2015”.