PCR TOOL 5
Learning from the Housing Sector
Most low-income housing in developing countries, especially in rural areas, is constructed by people themselves. In urban areas, it is more common to find a variety if housing production processes with a number of the urban vulnerable living as squatters or tenants. When a disaster strikes, low-income housing usually suffers the greatest damage. The housing sector can offer important lessons in achieving successful people-centred reconstruction for three key reasons: 1. There is substantial evidence of people playing central roles in constructing houses. The knowledge from this could be applied to postdisaster reconstruction. 2. Much of the context that defines housing in any location will also apply to reconstruction. Although it may have been changed by the disaster, and those changes must be taken into account, it is important for post-disaster reconstruction to be consistent with housing solutions developed outside of the emergency situation. 3. The same context also helps us to understand how housing performs during a hazard and thus how its limitations contributed to the resultant disaster. Unless we understand the underlying vulnerabilities and capabilities, as well as strengths and weaknesses in construction, it
will be difficult to build back safer. Some of the most successful reconstruction programmes such as ERRA in Pakistan adopted vernacular skills and technologies with a good disaster record. People-Centred Reconstruction (PCR) values the role people play in housing. People often show great resourcefulness, and are empowered in the process of their involvement. Most governments now realise that the people provide a more costeffective way of producing housing than they can themselves and that they will need the resources of those people to help resolve housing backlogs. Consequently there has been a general move away from top-down policies of housing provision, towards approaches that facilitate social housing processes. PCR adopts the same approach for reconstruction. Whilst doing so, it realises that conventional housing is not always perfect; it can be constrained (for instance by inadequate access to land, finance or information). Disasters, and the influx of additional resources, that follow, may generate opportunities to overcome some of those weaknesses.
Predominant housing processes and their disaster performance
A lot of factors influence how housing is designed and built including: tradition, culture, climate, available knowledge and skills, available materials,
Formal urban housing
Land is acquired and registered ↓ Site and house plans are designed and approved ↓ Infrastructure is installed ↓ Houses are constructed ↓ Titles are allocated ↓ Houses are occupied Taxes on land and housing are established
Informal urban housing
Land is invaded or acquired informally ↓ Occupants build a shelter ↓ Over time this is expanded and improved to become a house ↓ Infrastructure is accessed piecemeal and inadequately ↓ Eventually ownership may be regularised if regularised taxes are established
Informal rural housing
Land is owned and shared under traditional rules ↓ House design and construction are mostly vernacular ↓ Infrastructure is basic and sometimes shared ↓ Home ownership is often not formally registered and can pass on within families
access to finance, access to land, rules and regulations and government policies and strategies. An analysis of housing in any given country usually involves a distinction between formal and informal housing processes, and rural and urban locations, in order to acknowledge important differences in how housing is built or acquired accordingly. In urban areas, for instance, land is often limited and expensive, resources must be purchased, and various standards and regulations apply. However, in rural areas, land is plentiful, housing resources are often available in the natural environment, and mutual aid is common too. Furthermore, rural housing is often also informal. In informal housing standards are commonly ignored, houses are not registered, and construction is predominantly guided by traditional knowledge and access to finance and land. The three main processes can be distinguished as shown on page 1. After a major disaster, agencies undertaking large programmes need to develop a good understanding of the above three major processes, and in large countries they may also have to identify regional variations. Agencies who focus on smaller areas can undertake a more limited analysis. Formal urban housing processes include individual privately built houses (built, either for owner-occupancy or for rent), or housing schemes (including multi-occupancy buildings) built by the public or the private sector. They are usually designed by professionals (planners, architects, engineers), which makes them expensive. According to Yahya et al. (2001), less than half of the urban population of developing countries can afford to build in accordance with prevailing formal standards. The poor have insufficient access to land or finance for housing,and lack the power or
Construction with stabalised soil
This house is being built with stabilised soil blocks in Bondeni, a century old low-income settlement of Nakuru, Kenya. Practical Action collaborated with others in Kenya to campaign for the adoption of performance building standards to replace prescriptive standards. Thus, construction with stabilised soil is now permitted. In addition, the NGO worked with the municipality of Nakuru to speed up the building permit process. This makes it easier for low- to medium income urban households to build houses formally, and to end up with registered titles.
House is being built with stabilised soil blocks in Bondeni, a century old low-income settlement of Nakuru, Kenya
the right connections to improve their access. To overcome some of those problems, the provision of serviced sites, sometimes with a core or starter house, was introduced and became quite popular in the 1970s. Owners were expected to finish the sites themselves but since official standards still applied,
Factors that influence disaster performance of formal urban housing
+ housing that is designed and built following the standards is generally more resistant to disasters, particularly if those standards incorporate disasterresistant construction + formal housing is often in locations that are less vulnerable to natural hazards + formal housing makes greater use of building professionals and qualified builders which should enhance its quality + formal housing tends to use durable materials and is often maintained well, which should maintain its disaster resistance + Formal housing is built on documented land, which is key to legal ownership titles. standards can be circumvented by landlords, builders or corrupt inspectors, leading to poor quality construction; rental housing at the lower end of the market often suffers from this many countries lack adequate capacity to enforce the implementation of standards in order to facilitate people’s access to formal housing, there is an encouraging tendency to reduce standards and simplify procedures; but there is a delicate balance with maintaining sufficient quality to resist disasters good urban land is scarce and expensive, tempting people to opt for locations that are cheaper but riskier disaster risks are often poorly understood or mapped, or can be underestimated; even formal housing can be on vulnerable sites extensions or modifications to formal housing may weaken their disaster-resistance
photo © Practical Action, Zul Mukhida
that somewhat reduced the costs, but not enough to reach the bulk of the urban poor. As a result, the public sector abandoned direct provision of housing to urban residents in favour of strategies that would enable social housing processes. These included, for instance, easier access to finance, performance standards to replace prescriptive standards, and simpler compliance processes. In the private sector, there has been far less change. Informal urban housing processes have become the most common solution to shelter the urban poor. They often start with a very simple and cheap core, but, if resources allow, will grow and improve over the years in a truly incremental process. Villa El Salvador, now a municipality of Metropolitan Lima, started forty years ago as an invasion of desert land, with shelters of poles and bamboo mats. Nowadays the municipality contains many good two to three-storey houses with concrete frames and brick masonry. In many developing countries, more than half of the urban population
lives in informal housing. Amongst the key reasons for this are: the scarcity and high cost of urban land; lengthy and costly standards and procedures; and difficultly in securing sources of finance. Some poor urban households rent, others squat on public or private land. Frequently the urban poor prefer a central location, close to livelihood opportunities, rather than a settlement on the fringes of town which area long and costly ride away. They are often aware of the disaster risks that certain sites pose, but have to weigh those against their immediate need for survival. Informal urban housing tends to be the most disaster-prone of the three processes. Informal rural housing processes are the predominant form of rural housing. They can be incremental, similar to informal urban housing. Houses are often designed to also cater for livelihood activities, e.g. with spaces to work, to keep livestock, or store produce. Rural housing makes wider use of the resources available in the natural environment than urban housing, but
Informal urban housing such as this in peri-urban Lima is located on very hazard-prone sites
Dharavi in Mumbai is Asia’s largest slum, with densely packed housing at risk of various hazards
Factors that influence disaster performance of informal urban housing
+ people with self-build experience have certain building or organisational skills, and where theseare lacking they often know where to get them. + over time, much informal housing will improve provided tenure is secure enough + popular housing processes can empower people and give them greater voice, which may improve their access to housing and reconstruction resources. + informal settlements can have a tradition of mutual aid as well as strong social and community organisations which can be invaluable to help communities prepare for disaster, and to organise relief and organise reconstruction. a lot of informal housing is poorly built, lacks maintenance, and if land tenure is insecure, there is little incentive for improvement. This is thesame for much of the rental housing market as landlords look to maximise profit. when improvements do take place, there are limits as to what is feasible withoutstarting anew. The same does apply to retrofitting disaster-resistant components. Informal urban housing is often located on disasterprone sites, e.g. flood plains or steep and unstable slopes. Informal housing is densely packed, with little space between the houses for people to flee, take refuge, or for the access of emergency services
photo © Practical Action, Theo Schilderman
photo © Practical Action, Colin Palmer
photo © Practical Action, Zul Mukhida
This house on a char (river sandbank) near Faridpur, Bangladesh is built on posts to cope with flooding
Another rural house in the same country is built on a soil plinth, to lift it above flood waters
Factors that influence disaster performance of informal rural housing
+ vernacular rural housing that has been well maintained has been proven to be resistant to disasters of considerable magnitude + there is a wide use of local construction practices, using materials such as timber, bamboo frames or earth materials, which, if properly constructed can stand up well to earthquakes and moderate storms + cultural traditions often have influenced building practices making these adequate to climatic conditions and maximising the use of resources. + there often is a tradition of mutual aid and strong community organisation which can be used to help communities prepare for disaster, and to organise relief and reconstruction + some rural communities have early warning systems for disasters as well as temporary measures to make their houses more disaster-proof some of the natural materials used, especially soil and thatch, and sometimes bamboo and timber, are not very durable and easily affected by humidity or insects, which weakens their performance if good traditional materials become scarce, people have to make do with alternatives that may be less resistant “modern” materials like cement, steel and corrugated iron sheets are making their way into rural areas, yet if the skills to use them properly are lacking, this can lead to poor quality housing too rural residents do not always have the means to maintain their houses well, nor to replace them when they deteriorate; this puts them at risk. while rural residents are often aware of some of the risks their sites pose (especially with respect to regular events like flooding), they are less aware of their exposure to other hazards
in some cases these resources are being overexploited and becoming scarce. In many countries, rural housing has a rich tradition, with designs and technologies that have been passed on and improved upon by generations of rural builders. There are usually good reasons for the way rural houses are built, and some of these may derive from previous experiences with disasters; these are not to be ignored. There is ample evidence of self-help and mutual aid in rural building, and many communities also have builders specialised in specific housing components.
the location, representatives of the target group, and potential other partners, including the local authority.
Where can you get the information from?
Joint inter-agency housing assessments. It is important to include expertise to understand local main construction typologies, land and material uses, major resources, related services such as water and energy, gender issues. Visual checks and enquiries. Key housing actors in that location, such as housing co-operatives and groups working on land and property rights. Baseline surveys in this particular area (statistics on production of low-cost housing, local building practices, data on previous disasters)
How to learn from the housing sector?
Ideally, learning should take place at the local, national, and international level, and involve different actors at each. Local level learning should involve staff of the reconstruction agency that has decided to work in
photo © Practical Action, Zul Mukhida
Damage and risks: PCR Tool 3, Learning from Disasters Planning : PCR Tool 7, Planning with the People
National level learning should focus on housing policies and strategies developed by central government, and the legal framework, which includes laws, codes, standards and regulations with respect to, e.g., land, planning, housing design, construction, materials and disaster resistance.
Project evaluations and housing or construction sector studies done by national, international agencies, research institutes, World Bank and other financial and development institutes. Housing finance institutions. Specific successful housing projects and programmes. These can be found through publications promoted by Universities, NGOs and the Boards of Architects/Engineers and other sources for built environment professionals. (chambers of commence, both public and private sectors)
Where can you get the information from?
Relevant Ministries such as Public Works, Housing, Land & Infrastructure, and their key departments’ dealing with building codes, land, statistics.
Web-based resources : PCR Tool 2. PCR Resources.
International level learning can help to fill gaps of knowledge in a given location or country.
Where can you get the information from?
Handbooks such as Shelter after Disaster, Strategies for transitional settlement and reconstruction, lists six reconstruction options for non-displaced people, and 16 methods of
assistance. It is possible to find information and examples of good practice on virtually all of those within the housing sector worldwide. Networking within the ‘housing community of practice’ and Internet data collection. Best Practice Databases of awarded schemes that encourage agencies to disseminate examples of good practice.
• • • •
Web-based resources : PCR Tool 2. PCR Resources. UN-Habitat’s Best Practice and Local Leadership Programme/ Dubai Best Practice awards; see: http://www.bestpractices.org. Building and Social Housing Foundation: World Habitat Awards, see: http://www.worldhabitatawards.org Aga Khan Award for Architecture; see: http://www.akdn.org/architecture
What to learn from the housing sector?
In PCR Tool 1: People-Centred Reconstruction, an Introduction, we set out a list of 23 Guiding Principles for PCR. Many of those principles also apply to regular housing, and we can therefore often find knowledge and examples of good practice of them about them as well as examples of good practice in the housing sector, that could
be transferred to reconstruction. Some of those principles have been treated in detail in other tools; below, we therefore focus more on principles that have less attention elsewhere.
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