Nicaragua has a housing problem. Too many of its citizens live in homes that are overcrowded and in disrepair. To make matters worse, the Nicaraguan population grows faster than the housing stock, which means that, every year, the housing crisis gets worse. As the economy grows, which it did last year, by an impressive 4+%, there is more money in circulation for the purchase of new construction. Unfortunately, the majority of that growth does not go to favor low-income families.
In 2012, the Sandinista government built 4,800 units of social housing for families in extreme poverty. According to Judith Silva, president of the Institute of Urban and Rural Housing (INVUR) an additional 4,000 houses with affordable price tags were constructed by non-governmental organizations or by for profit companies. This housing is provided to families who cannot obtain bank mortgages.
Kai, director of SNN, has noticed that whenever affordable housing is discussed here in Nicaragua, the conversation begins with the price tag, followed by the square footage. If the description goes into detail, it would next mention layout.
For example, 220 “affordable homes” were completed in Rivas recently. One of the Rivas programs benefitted public employees whose salaries are limited by International Monetary Fund conditions. Municipal workers and employees at the ministries of Health and Education were offered 42 of the houses. The homes cost $12,000, measured 452 square feet, had two bedrooms, a living-dining area, and a bathroom as well as front and back yards.
Never mentioned are the building materials used to construct the houses, the kinds of technologies integrated into the structures that will serve the occupants, nor any details of the landscaping or the community layout. Why is this?
Is it because one assumes that the homes should be built using a single criterion – lowest cost – without consideration of comfort, beauty, sustainability or cultural continuity? Is it thought that landscaping is nothing more than a cosmetic add-on, to be determined by the occupant in the future? Is it assumed that the acceptable technologies are universal – municipal water with a flush toilet, electric hook up to the grid, perhaps with a bottled gas stove?
If so, our project’s construction has been designed, and is being built, to challenge these notions.