Improving the quality of life is not always as simple as it may seem. Understanding particular circumstances and putting programs in place that respond to actual needs required seeing the big picture.
Take the case of Leoni Hinds, a 41-year old widow and single mother of three in Georgetown, Guyana. She used to live in her brother’s house, but a family row in 2010 forced her out of the house. Unable to rent or buy a home with her meager income of $240 a month, she managed to put together a shack on a lot ceded by the government under an IDB-backed housing program on the outskirts of the city.
Still, her situation remained dire—built with discarded materials, her precarious lodging had no bathroom, potable water, or electricity. Many of the family’s belonging were scattered about outside because there was no room inside to put them.
For someone as poor as Leoni Hinds, it turned out, a piece of land was not enough to lift her out of extreme poverty.
Hinds’ life began to change in 2010, when Guyana put in motion a much-needed project to upgrade low-income housing, also with support from the IDB. In Guyana there is a deficit of 19,400 homes for households earning less than $300 per month, which constitute 26 percent of all low-income households in the country.
The new program provides basic infrastructure in new or existing low-income housing sites and squatter settlements, as well as financing and technical assistance so poor residents can build their own homes in well-serviced locations. For the poorest and most vulnerable citizens like Hinds, the program provides a subsidized core single-room house made of wood and concrete, equipped with a septic tank, toilet, and multipurpose sink, and built at a location with access to sanitation, electricity, and public transportation.
To provide such a range of services in a single program, Guyana has had to coordinate the work of several agencies in areas ranging from sanitation to housing and transport. Providing poor families with access to comprehensive services is not easy but Guyana is doing it: the program has already serviced more than 6,000 lots with effective drainage, water, and electrical connections, and has achieved a number of other milestones. The program is also implementing three pilot projects to better understand what type of self-construction financing schemes are best suited to improve housing conditions of poor communities in different regions of the country. With the core home and the serviced land provided by the program, Hinds’ assets are now worth over $10,000. She was able use these assets to secure an $8,000 loan from a financial institution to build three new rooms using bricks and mortar, more than doubling the size of her core home. Even with her modest income, she will be able to pay off the loan in 12 years—meaning that she is servicing a manageable mortgage that keeps her family in a decent home. She moved into the new home in 2011.
“I am much more comfortable now,” said Hinds. “My children are happy. When you are living with other people, it got to all kinds of problems. My children could not sit in their chair and all kind of things. Now we got our own house. We got our own chairs, and we got enough space.”
Housing for Amerindian Communities
For the first time ever, Guyana’s government is implementing a project in the countryside to test a new scheme to improve housing for Amerindian communities, a population afflicted by high rates of unemployment and poverty.
According to a 2009 IDB study of 321 households across eight Amerindian communities, half of the families do not have access to a stable source of income and 74 percent live in inadequate and overcrowded housing, often lacking access to basic water and sanitation services.
Most Amerindian households cannot even afford to pay their portion for a highly subsidized house, so the project has developed a scheme in which beneficiaries help pay for new homes or home improvements through their own labor. Under this system, families help build the house together with other people hired from their own community.
This solution, being tested in Regions 1 and 9 in Guyana, is creating local employment, helping preserve traditional knowledge in construction, and fostering the use of local building materials that are abundant and more affordable. So far, 194 families have benefited from the pilot project. What were once thatched-roof huts with no walls have been replaced by homes equipped with toilets and a rainwater harvesting system that provides potable water.
It’s just a start, but for the poorest of the poor such pilot programs can bring hope that they can access the basic necessities for a better life.