Grace Bogran and Laura Matute are both students at the Universidad Global de Honduras and will be attending World Architecture Day 2013 in New York (6-8 October). WAN asked Bogran and Matute to discuss the current housing situation in Honduras. The following is their response.
Social housing in Honduras
We are a population of 8 million in 112,492 sq km. According to the National Statistics Institute of Honduras (INE), there are only 1,700,000 homes accounted for, making us a country that simultaneously has the highest growth rate and also one of the highest housing deficits in Latin America. This comes down to a housing shortage that reaches over one million homes with a tendency to grow exponentially - about 25,000 homes each year due to the lack of an official policy on the subject. According to figures from the United Nations (UN), this represents more than 50% of the total households in the country.
These facts merely scratch the surface; we are not only facing housing shortages but are also presented with a qualitative deficit of 770,000 homes meaning there are homes that do not meet the basic conditions for human habitation. For example homes where construction standards are not met thus presenting safety issues or homes where there are 5 or more people per room. In most cases these under-qualified homes are in informal settlements called ‘bordos’, (literally translated as borders) that are not unlike the Brazilian favelas.
These bordos lack all basic infrastructures despite being amidst the formal urban settlements.
Building for the masses
Unfortunately 98% of the homes being built in Latin America use low efficiency technologies and long periods of construction. Honduras is no exception.
The spectrum of materials used in what we call the low-cost housing construction is quite broad, from earth to steel and industrial polymers. Necessity gives rise to examples of creativity and imagination. These are the most frequent and commonly used construction methods in the countryside and in the city:
• Traditional technologies: brick, block, wood or concrete in situ used in major infrastructure systems mainly in urban scenarios. Also used in affordable housing and upper-class neighborhoods
• Informal technologies: usage of obsolete packaging and other industrial waste, such as tires, cardboard boxes, pallets, scraps of plywood. Give rise to housing in slums
• Natural or native technologies: usage of raw materials without any industrial processing, such as mud, round wood, bamboo, adobe, and others. These technologies are usually used in rural areas, small towns and peri-urban areas
• Industrial technologies: only 1% of houses built in our country utilize these prefabricated technologies usually due to the fact that the general population does not consider them apt material for housing
Residential projects - hit and miss
Although the housing deficit has been confronted and many efforts have been made to make a significant dent in the gross shortfall upon us, several projects have failed to reach their goal. One of the biggest missed opportunities has been Ciudad Mateo.
Now a ghost residential complex for 50,000 people in need of housing solutions built 15 years ago southwest of the capital. A spot was picked in one of many high points around the city so as to avoid flooding problems, surrounded by green areas and a few meters from the main source of freshwater in the city. Legal and environmental impossibilities made this multi-million-dollar project controversially unfeasible. Reports surfaced warning that this utopian planned city could not be possible because the only conceivable drain for sewage went directly to the freshwater source (Los Laureles Dam and Guacerique River Basin) that provides clean water to the 1,250,000 inhabitants of Tegucigalpa.
There are also organizations that are making a significant progress like Habitat for Humanity Honduras, CEPUDO, and TECHO Honduras. They have many noteworthy projects that have been very successful with the cooperation of national and international brigades and sometimes the beneficiaries working together to drastically reduces labor costs.
These organizations use traditional construction methods as well as natural technologies, such as in the case of 32 adobe houses built in Villa El Rosario, Santa Rosa de Copán. Furthermore, occasionally, they have used industrial technologies for instance La Esperanza, Puerto Cortés, where they’ve built pre-fabricated homes. Not only do these organizations provide a decent roof for many families but they also care about their recreational environment providing them with community centers.
What we want to see more of - exponential potential
The concept of social housing in the form of tall buildings has yet to be accepted by the Honduran population; in an ironic twist, vertical living has actually become a privilege of the few and a rejection of the many. The multiplication of a lot through vertical construction has the potential to rid cities of bordos and return river basins to their natural owners. Bioclimatic buildings designed for our tropical climate would ensure efficient energy use.
There is no universal solution for social housing; nevertheless it should reflect the conditions, local culture, and construction traditions as an essential element to promote social empowerment. Social housing should be a response to achieve technologically available, economically feasible and socially effective solutions, to the broader needs of a large segment of the population. In reducing production costs for social housing the basic idea is often lost to projections of small areas and extreme standardization, which sometimes means that homes are inadequate for the needs of users. A house for the sake of a house solves nothing, but a house thought out for a family as a first step in a journey towards development - now that’s social housing done right.
We want to see smarter, more efficient ways to solve the housing deficit in our beloved country. We believe we are the generation to do so.
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