What does a decent home cost?
After reading Chansin's One Bed for Too Many Children post, Bill Hobbs asked the question: "What would it cost to build one decent house there?" At the core of the answer is a basic challenge of defining what 'decent' means to the people of Cane, La Paz Honduras...it would certainly be a startling answer for most Americans. From what we witnessed, decent means an open framed roof that doesn't leak too much, solid adobe walls, a sweepable floor, electricity for lighting, electricity for a couple of wall outlets, enough land for an outdoor toilet, and a water source (but not for consumption) within a hundred yards or so (preferably a well on the property). This is the way that many of the poor live, and to them it is 'decent'...a dramatic step up from living on the street or in a makeshift shelter along a stream, a hillside susceptible to mudslides, or a city dump. A step up from 'decent', is perhaps 'respectable'. Respectable housing would include reinforced, quake-resistant block walls, indoor plumbing with septic system, adequate electric in every room, a functioning kitchen, widows with operable glass sashes, scrubable tile floors, and a paintable, flat surfaced ceiling.
Who can build a respectable house?
With plans in-hand from Zully Marcia, a volunteer architect from Tegucigalpa, we asked about employing village workers to construct the community center project that the KidSake Foundation proposes. The response to that question revealed other challenges to self-sufficiency in the village: there are very few skilled workers from the village to build the building like it should be built. Construction workers would be brought in from a larger community, perhaps Comayagua or Tegucigalpa. For an avid do-it-yourselfer to hear this was painful, but a quick glance around the village at building, electrical, and plumbing practices makes the statement more believable. I will resist proposing specific solutions to this challenge, but I believe that a solution that leads toward self-sufficiency and better construction is essential. Bringing in outside labor for every skilled task seems to propagate the cycle of welfare-like dependency.
Where do building materials come from?
We witnessed entrepreneurial people in small villages digging in clay from their yards and packing wooden forms to make adobe block. It was not uncommon to find someone selling sun-dried adobe block on the side of the road or near the market. At the prison in Macala, inmates were mixing concrete to manufacture what appeared to be 6" hollow core block using a mixer and hand made forms. Raw materials and basic skills seem to be in place, albeit less organized and consistent than one might expect. Out of the city, there are no Home Depot's or Lowe's where one-stop shopping for all-things-residential is possible. Loosely translated, a traditional American timeline for construction would require modification to allow for the logistics and (often) fabrication of basic components (i.e. block, tile, and timber)...but there appears to be a workforce capable of these tasks. I would contend that they can do much more with adequate training and small-scale manufacturing equipment.
OK, bottom line. How much for a
decent respectable house and who can afford it?
Let's start with a small plot of land. It should be enough for the house, a garden, an out-building, and a perimeter fence (or wall). Land cost: approximately $2,000 USD. A respectable home of 1,000 sq. ft. would cost approximately $5,000 USD by the estimation of an area school leader. Assuming that these figures are reasonably accurate, $7,000 USD builds a 'respectable' home. For the Honduran farm-worker family with a mom and a dad earning a combined 800 Lempira per month ($42.43 USD) the $7,000 price tag (132,300 Lempira) for a respectable home is out of reach. Habitat for Humanity already has affiliates in other areas of Honduras...again, resisting that as the best solution, I would consider it a point for discussion.
How Many Homes are Needed?
I am not certain that we have adequate research figures to know the real needs in Cane for housing. My guess is that 100 homes would make a significant difference in the lives of the desparately poor (if local resources and labor are mobilized).. .if my math serves me correctly, that's about $700,000 USD and housing for aound 500 Hondurans. On the other hand, one medium earthquake would level many (if not all) adobe structures and would set construction needs to the catastrophic level of the destruction of hurricane Mitch in 1998...meaning that there are perhaps as many as 500 to 700 homes that need to be upgraded from decent to respectable.