$300 House – What A Few Hundred Doesn’t Buy

SCA Logo 500 x 500The exciting dialogue about design-and-technology kit houses like the $300 house competition and Tata Steel’s $700 house (launching by end-year) suggests new social enterprise solutions to developing world cities’ housing crunch.

To make these ideas more viable we outline some of the issues that need to be addressed:

  • Financing the purchase of these houses will be key to the demand side – not just in terms of purchasing but also in the maintenance and replacement of parts in future. It may open up a new world for microfinance, but MFIs have yet to even fully take up home improvement, let alone micro-mortgages.
  • Incremental building is practically universal as households add to their homes as needs – new family members, home-based businesses, etc. – evolve. Are these units sufficiently modular that they can be readily changed over time? And what happens if these households must move? Do their houses move easily as well?
  • Maintenance challenges, especially when dealing with extreme climates, scarce resources and limited sanitation, means that houses need easy upkeep and availability of parts. Or alternatively, people need to be able to use easily accessible alternative or native materials for repairs.
  • Local and community engagement in design is critical. Preferences can vary within a single region. Materials have to be tested for acceptance within respective communities. Tata’s management has been consulting with local governments.

$300 House for the Poor

We deliberately leave out the larger systemic policy issues, like land titles, though this likewise presents serious challenges.

While we look forward to the evolution of solutions like the $300 House, completely decentralized design-and-technology solutions, like kit houses, have to be evaluated within the realities of implementation, medium and long term. In the end, we have to consider the financial and material resources available to the target group.

With writing and analytical assistance from Valerie Stahl and input from Vinisha Bhatia, Ben Falber, Karen Huang, and Luis Schloeter.

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