The Model of Housing Cooperatives by Self-Help: a life-changing project for the urban poor in Central America.

                                                              

The Model of Housing Cooperatives by Self-Help: a life-changing project for the urban poor in Central America.

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Solution proposed by: 
Salvadoran Foundation of Development and Social Housing (FUNDASAL, in Spanish), as a member of the Central American Self-managed Coordinator of Solidarity Housing (COCEAVIS, in Spanish).
In a Nutshell: 
The Model of Housing Cooperatives by Self-Help has become a participatory and inclusive modality of organization that, based on solidarity and unity, contributes to solve the housing needs of the most impoverished and excluded urban populations by potentiating their contributions and self-management capacities towards the social production of their habitat.
Where and When: 
This Model, developed 46 years ago by the Uruguayan Federation of Housing Cooperatives by Self-Help (FUCVAM), has been adapted to the Central American context through the transfer of experiences and knowledge to local institutions. This process led to the creation of the first housing cooperatives within the region since 2003.
Challenges: 
In Central America, public policies that guarantee that the most impoverished populations have access to adequate housing and habitat are absent. Regional States have promoted and facilitated housing commodification and incompatibilities between private offer and real demand. Housing deficit persists within a region where access to human rights is privatized and socio-environmental vulnerabilities are high: out of every 10 households, 6 to 8 live in housing precariousness, a condition that concentrates among the two poorest income quintile groups. Therefore, the model aims to guarantee safe, affordable, adequate and sustainable housing for the urban poor through cooperative organization and community consolidation.
Innovation: 
The life-changing project developed by housing cooperatives is based in the strengthening of self-management capacities and knowledge that imply a collective-oriented, democratic and completely inclusive decision-making process. This has required that most of the cooperatives’ population, especially women, overcome social, educational and cultural barriers that usually restrict their leading involvement into the production and/or improvement of their habitat. An active, organized participation of the urban poor in processes of this sort for revitalizing deteriorated urban areas, restoring social networks, promoting peaceful cohabitation and guaranteeing multiple basic human rights is key for a more sustainable and equitable development.
Concept: 
The concept of housing underlying the intervention proposal of the model relies in its holistic definition as a human right. Therefore, the model places access to adequate, safe and affordable housing as a priority of the State, equal to other basic human rights. Therefore, the model aims to become an alternative modality for low-income population groups that combines the collective property of cooperative means, tools and products, a working methodology based on the concept of self-help, the strengthening of self-management capacities and the development of democratic decision-making processes, accompanied by the expertise and multidisciplinary knowledge of technical assessment teams. Given that housing cooperatives do not conclude their processes of habitat improvement in obtaining a housing solution for their own families, interventions carried out by the cooperative principles and values actually derive in the implementation and realization of social production of habitat processes, conceived as dwelling places, living environments and thriving communities that employ and potentiate their own experiences, capacities and knowledge into defining their needs, determining the roots to their problems, and organizing to design and execute integral projects and solutions, with the proper help of technical assistance teams and the State.
Description: 
Within the region, cooperative families face housing deficit while being excluded from the formal housing market given that they lack the economic conditions that allow them to have access to the traditional housing offer. Income level of cooperative households fluctuates between 1 and 4 minimum wages and in most cases they derive from informal activity oriented to subsistence. The main goal of the model is to constitute an intervention modality that comes from the people and is carried out by the people, in order to solve the housing needs of the urban poor to have access to a safe, affordable and adequate housing option. Cooperative families in Central America have therefore turned into an organizational tool for vulnerable population groups in social exclusion and environmental risk conditions, such as women (70 % of the membership) and youth (25 %), to get trained, participate actively in their development and become empowered of a life-changing project of life, guided by the principles of solidarity, unity and cooperation. Habitat improvement and housing construction projects developed by housing cooperatives have also implied the involvement of families in political advocacy processes that aim to reinforce a conscience of collectivity within the movement and obtain laws, financial sources and land access mechanisms that favor the Model’s development. In order to do so, housing cooperatives in each country have integrated second degree organizations that support them in the procurement of better conditions for their families and Project opportunities to get involved at. At the same time, all these second degree housing cooperative organizations have propelled a coordination space in order to facilitate a regional space where experiences are exchanged, lessons learned are shared and collective planning of strategic processes such as political formation and divulgation efforts is guided by a collective approach of problems and objectives.
Impacts: 
For the 639 households (73 % women and 39 % youth) associated to the 13 cooperatives that have already built their housing complex, the model has allowed them to currently live while revitalize urban (and rural, in cases that urban expansion is practically unsustainable) areas that are environmentally free of risks, in houses designed and built by their own hands (with the proper technical guidance and training), in compliance of norms and legislation, applying low-cost and safe building materials and techniques, as well as guaranteeing financial conditions of payment that adapt to their payment capacity.

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