Posts Tagged ‘Housing’

Alternative building materials for the poor

January 6, 2008

For the last two years I have been fortunate enough to be linked with the leaders of lo-cost housing in Pakistan–the likes of Tasneem Siddiqui and Arif Hassan, as well as others.  During this time, and with my involvement at Saiban, I have seen many individuals and organizations come forth with lo-cost solutions to building materials.  The common features in all of the proposals are two: alternative materials are a fraction of a cost of conventional materials, and (the claim is) the material is more efficient.    

For an ‘educated/privileged’ person, there are 3 questions that need to be answered before accepting the technology:

-How long has the technology been available in this region?

-Is there scientific data endorsing the claims of efficiency?

-Where has this been tested on a larger scale?

Once these 3 questions are answered properly, one is ready to continue a conversation with the salesperson.

A ‘less educated/poorer’ person does not ask the same questions.  He/she has one question: Is this the conventional method?  If not, he/she is not interested.  The misconception in lo-cost housing is that the poor man needs a low priced house/a roof over his head.  In reality, he wants a low priced house/roof over his head that looks like everyone elses.  If the alternative material does not meet this simple criteria, then it is not welcome.

A well known townplanner recently visited our site with a group of professionals and told some of the proponents of alternative material, ‘For the love of God, do not run your alternative building materials market tests on the poor.  If you want to be successful, get the rich folks to accept it, let it become mainstream, then offer it to the poor’.

A waiter once told a friend, ‘In all my years as a waiter in Pakistan I have noticed one thing–a rich man will always leave a small tip, and a poor man will always leave a big tip….the reason is that the rich man never wants to be identified as rich (for safety and security reasons) and the poor man never wants to be identified as poor’

The same principal holds true in lo-cost housing!

Housing a Fellow

November 19, 2007

So with the investor gathering behind us I find myself in Nairobi where we need to find a place to live! Thanks to the immense generosity of a friend of Catherine’s (a fellow fellow), Lisa (my wife) and I are all staying for the first two weeks in an apartment near the centre of Nairobi. But come December we need to find a place of our own.

Catherine, Lisa and I went house-hunting today. It’s proving surprisingly complex. We’re trying to find a place which is safe, with internet access, within our relatively limited budget and with reasonable public transport links to the places we work. The most complex bit however seems to be working out how comfortable is ‘too comfortable’. We don’t want to be in a place that feels too grandiose – some of the early apartments we were shown felt a bit like four-bed mansions! At the same time, there is clearly something a bit rediculous about these consideration. There is a slight danger of us becoming like ‘Gap’ year students who take delight in living in the most-run-down place we can find so that we can say that we ‘lived with the poor’. It is also clearly rediculous for us to pretend that by living in a two-bedroom flat in a walled compound rather a four-bedroom one we are just like the people we are here to serve.

On another note, I have noticed again (sorry Lisa) how clumsy my wife is. The score for today: one bashed head and three minor trips. She swears that she wasn’t like this until she met me! Having almost wet myself last week watching Catherine bend down to pick up a piece of paper and almost knocking herself unconscious on the table she was sitting at, I feel a competition between the two of them may be in order.