Brac, the world’s largest NGO, explored a solution for communities living in the urban poverty- a community-led process of building affordable homes in just three steps.
According to Brac, every year half a million people migrate to cities in Bangladesh with one in every three ending up in slums- which are fragile, unplanned and dangerous as well.
These slums have no security over land, while the settlements are overcrowded with three to four people sharing a single room. Basic needs like safe water, proper sanitation and sewage disposal facilities, health services and education, are often inaccessible.
Over half of the global population is living in cities right now, which is projected to grow to two-thirds by 2050.
Over the last two years, Platform for Community Artisans and Architects, Co.Creation.Architects, and BRAC University’s department of architecture have merged a low-cost housing model and a community-led process to design a model housing solution.
The initiative was implemented in Jhenaidah, in collaboration with local municipal authorities, Asian Coalition for Housing Rights, Community Architects Network, a local NGO, ALIVE, and a city-wide community network of savings groups.
And they followed the following three steps:
The first step is to create a seed fund and a savings group.
A seed fund of BDT 2,000,000 from Asian Coalition for Housing Rights, supported by the Asian Coalition for Community Action, was allocated as loans to build 20 houses for families and individuals who are the most disadvantaged. The loans were disbursed among five savings groups through the local community organiser, ALIVE. Fifty-two households in Jhenaidah identified and nominated the families within their community to first build houses for.
“We decided as a community that Chinta Didi deserved a better home,” said Kalpani Rani Kormokar, a community leader.
These households formed five savings group, with a leader elected to supervise, and started repaying USD 6 (BDT 500) every week. The repayments collect into a revolving fund that the community can use to upgrade their facilities in the future.
In the second step, the women in the group envision a map for their neighbourhood.
The women of the community gathered around to create a map of their neighbourhood, with technical guidance from community architects. They visualised the shape and size of their plots in relation to others, and were able to imagine what their dream homes would look like. Some wanted a flat roof where their children could play, or a second storey, or two rooms for bigger families. The architects designed and finalised two models – a single-storey, and a two-storey house, with variations according to the specific needs of the residents.
The third step is to build it.
The designs were brought to life by the members themselves – by sourcing the materials from local markets, to supervising and helping in the construction. Each of the houses cost BDT 100,000 (about USD 1,200) – with cost-cutting features like frameless, pivoted doors and windows, exposed brick walls, roofs with filler slabs. Costs were cut further since the residents were involved in the construction process. For an additional BDT 20,000 (USD 243), they could afford a toilet, and panes for windows and doors.
“Our neighbourhood has completely transformed in the last two years!” reflects Sharifa Begum, a community leader, “You would not believe that this was a slum before.”
She adds, “I am confident that we can build a home for even less than BDT 100,000, now that we know exactly how to do it, and where to find the best materials in bulk.”
According to the architects, Khondaker Hasibul Kabir and Suhailey Farzana, “There is no model house to replicate, but a model process to replicate.”
However, the two neighbourhoods in Jhenaidah offer a glimpse into how low-cost housing models and a community-led approach can change how we live in cities.
With the community taking the lead, this process could be a way of re-imagining and building cities everyone can truly call home.