“Building” on SOCAP 11: New Faces, Shared Spaces in Urban Investing (Part 2)


One of the wonderful things about SOCAP is that entrepreneurs, investors, companies, NGOs, researchers and students from diverse universes can come together to share ideas, solve problems and co-create. For me, it meant connecting with folks not just in housing and urban investment but also in parallel, related sectors like finance, design, energy, food, health, education and tech. The cross-sectoral discussions make for challenging, non-linear learning.

In fact, housing and urban investment exemplifies this need for connections across infrastructure, services and community. As a result, there are multiple entry points to urban impact investing, including new housing and mixed-use development; urban regeneration and revitalization; housing finance and microfinance; new building technologies; slum rehabilitation and upgrading; and urban services and microfinance.

In contrast with traditional property and affordable housing development models, the new social entrepreneurs and investors in this space increasingly have to integrate more than one of these entry points into their model, as well as a multi-sector focus. More importantly, as mentioned in Part 1 of this wrap-up, several emerging urban and housing enterprises are integrating the range of challenges into their models, drawing connections between different actors within the “community value chain” to achieve greater social and environmental sustainability.

So I just wanted to dedicate this post to innovative responses to the complex challenge of building inclusive, sustainable and viable cities, as well as the great people who came to SOCAP11 to share them.

With apologies to those I fail to mention, a few notable highlights:

Ben Sandzer-Bell, Founder and CEO of CO2 Bambu, has been developing a bamboo value chain for ecologically sound, disaster resilient houses in Nicaragua and Haiti. CO2 Bambu’s model is aiming for locally sourced inputs and job creation by fabricating processed, prefabricated bamboo-based kits, as well as reforestation of local bamboo.

Hasan Alemdar, the Founder and Executive Director of Equality and Opportunity Foundation, will soon pilot the organization’s $500 house in Bangladesh. E&O’s approach integrates modular design, sustainable local materials and income generation, as well as microfinance partnerships, for a low cost, health-enhancing, equity-building alternative to current low cost housing for mostly peri-urban lower income households.

Richard Holt, the developer of Fairview Village, an award-winning planned community near downtown Portland, OR, was at SOCAP to find like-minded entrepreneurs and investors to support similar projects – dense, walkable, transit accessible, people-scaled neighborhoods, mixed housing and affordability, cars tucked behind houses in alleys rather than dominating the roads and substantial environmental restoration of wetlands and green spaces.

At the Open Space housing finance table, Joe Deschenes Smith from Home Ownership Alternatives in Toronto shared innovative approaches aimed at higher impact, accountability and affordability. Not only has the company set targets for reaching certain income and demographic groups, but it also provides second mortgages that bring down housing payments over the course of the mortgage.  HOA’s model is unusual in the company’s willingness to defer profit on these homes, share the risk and the return with the homebuyer and also discourage flipping.

Enviu’s founder, Stef van Dongen, is promoting, among other activities, their Open Source House initiative and identify partners, funding and leadership to execute their project to build affordable, sustainable middle-income housing, starting in Ghana and headed to other emerging markets, based on their competition last year.

Virgilio Barco, Executive Director of Banca de Inversion Social, in Colombia has just started to work with social investors interested in the Colombian government’s push to promote macroproyectos. The Macroproyectos are intended to take an integrated approach to increasing access to housing for low income beneficiaries.

Cheers also to the rare investors in this mix as well:

Hernan Fernandez, Founding Partner of Angel Ventures Mexico, was among the earliest supporters of Echale A Tu Casa, which runs a self-building social franchise that empowers communities build safe, sanitary, dignified homes in Mexico using the enterprise’s technical assistance and its adobe brick fabrication machines. Echale has been exploring how to innovate with housing microfinance to increase access and affordability.

Stephanie Cohn Rupp, Principal, Investments, at Omidyar Network, has taken on the challenging and unusual twist of focusing on property rights and security of tenure through investments in microfinance and land rights and formalization services, among other areas.

Forrest Metz, Managing Director of Dev Equity LLC, a new impact investment fund, has initiated the portfolio’s commitments with a housing development in Honduras.

Thanks to everyone who is putting their creativity and dedication to questioning established models, innovating approaches that go beyond infrastructure-only solutions and working to build communities that are inclusive, accessible, safe, healthy, connected, diverse, vibrant and sustainable.

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