Inflammation and stories on Housing

Poverty in SlovakiaThe country of Slovakia is located in central Europe and borders The Czech Republic, Poland, Hungary, Ukraine and Austria. Slovakia has a deep-rooted history in Europe. Slovakia was originally a part of Czechia and had the name of Czechoslovakia. While allying with Nazi Germany, the Slovakian government became independent. After the war, however, Czechia and Slovakia became one country once again until the Velvet Revolution in 1989. In 1993, the two countries peacefully agreed to separate and become two independent countries.

The current population of Slovakia is 5.4 million and 80.7% is Slovik. Slovakia does not have a high percentage of migrants, with only 0.2 migrants per 1,000 persons. Also, less than one-eighth of the population lives in poverty. Although poverty is not as severe in Slovakia as in other countries, poverty affects certain demographics more heavily. Here are four facts about poverty in Slovakia.

4 Facts About Poverty in Slovakia

  1. The Poverty Rate: In 2016, 3.30% of people in the Slovak Republic were living on less than $5.50 a day, a decline from their highest poverty rate in 2004, when 5.30% of people lived on less than $5.50 a day. The rate fluctuates between a 0.1% and 0.8% increase or decrease each year.
  2. Minorities: The majority of the Slovak ethnic group residing in Slovakia experience the luxuries of living in the country. These luxuries include access to clean water, comfortable living conditions, access to health care and sanitized environments. Although many Slovaks have these luxuries, minority groups such as the Romani people experience higher poverty rates on average. Poverty in Slovakia directly affects the Romani people, the third-largest minority group. The majority of these communities do not have access to running water, electricity or a proper system for waste disposal. The children within this group are more likely to drop out of secondary school, experience trafficking (prostitution or forced labor) and not receive necessary health care.
  3. Access to Clean Water: As of 2017, 99.79% of people have access to clean water. Compared to the rest of the world, Slovakia ranks 17th for clean water access. The fewest amount of people had access to clean water in the year 2000, with 7.82% of the population not having access to clean water. The rate continues to steadily rise every year.
  4. Housing: Habitat for Humanity partnered with the Environmental Training Project and started a program to build housing for poor communities in 2004. So far, this project has served more than 1,000 families in Eastern Slovakia. To begin construction, the program assisted families in taking out microloans and it provided construction training to families to develop skills. In addition to construction skills, families learned how to manage their finances and take out microloans in the future.

These four facts about poverty in Slovakia show that it has a low poverty rate in comparison to other countries. Access to clean water and other human necessities are available for some; however, poverty in Slovakia disproportionately affects minority groups. These groups do not have the same access to essential human needs and it affects their everyday lives. There is hope, however, because organizations, such as Habitat for Humanity and The Environmental Training Project, are working to provide necessary resources for developing communities.

– Brooke Young
Photo: Flickr

Homelessness in Cuba
The island nation of Cuba has long dealt with the social and urban problem of housing. From shantytowns on the island before the 1950s through the massive construction boom under the Castro Regime beginning in 1959, housing has been an integral part of Cuba’s social and political issues. Here is some information about homelessness in Cuba.

Overview of Cuban Housing Policy

The 1959 Cuban Revolution ushered in the Castro regime. With the rise of Fidel Castro came new social reforms. The regime paid particular attention to reforming housing policy and alleviating homelessness in Cuba which had previously plagued the island. Castro introduced new socialist policies such as high housing subsidies paired with state-owned homes in order to contain housing prices and costs of construction.

According to Cuban architect Dr. Coyula-Cowley, one can attribute much of Cuba’s urban growth and renewal to large scale government building projects under the Castro regime. Coyula-Cowley cited that between 1958 and 1998, both urban and rural housing stock experienced a radical increase in the quality of living conditions. The majority of both urban and rural housing received descriptions of “good” in 1998 as opposed to the majority of units qualifying as “bad” in 1958.

Current Trends

Cuba currently enjoys a near-zero rate of homelessness. This is primarily due to high levels of housing subsidies from the government as well as a cultural tradition of multifamily homes where many members of the extended and nuclear family all share one residency. This social custom causes the vast majority of the Cuban population to be able to list an official address and thus minimize technical homelessness rates.

According to The Conversation U.S. news source, as of 2018, the National Assembly of Cuba approved a reformed draft constitution which includes orders to lower regulations on the market for private residential housing in order to stimulate development. This action could help to stimulate urban growth and renewal throughout Cuba through the use of free market-based mechanisms. This is a departure from previous state-sponsored building projects in order to meet increased housing demand.

Hidden Issues

Despite the near-zero rate of homelessness in Cuba, it is difficult to accurately measure homelessness rates. U.S. intervention and constraints of low-cost construction have created hidden issues. The U.S. embargo on Cuba in the 1990s followed by Cuba’s Special Period due to the collapse of the Soviet Union both constricted the supply for building materials, leading to higher costs and slow-building rates. In addition, the inability of modern Cuba to continue building low-cost homes due to these limitations has led to an increased concentration of multifamily residencies despite the desire for younger generations to live separately.

The elderly are at a particularly high risk of homelessness despite every Cuban having an official address. Retired Cubans live on a fixed pension of 248 Pesos (~10 USD) per month which forces the elderly into a constant state of financial hardship. Given that 10.6% of Cubans are over 65 years of age, a significant part of the population experiences poverty. According to the Havana Times, many elderly Cubans may sleep on public benches or practice “couch surfing” by living with friends as overcrowding makes their own family unable to care for them. The exact percentage of homeless elderly is unknown but social workers are aware of the underreported issue as noted in the Havana Times. Although the elderly may have an official address, the quality of life is reminiscent of homelessness.

Experts have determined that the capital of Havana needs 300,000 housing units in order to meet demand. Thus, with Cuba experiencing an average rate of 4.1 people per living space continues to reinforce the trend of overcrowding. Therefore, official homelessness rates may be low in Cuba, but the quality of Cuban housing can often be below ideal living standards and is often unsafe.

On top of overcrowding, weather-related issues such as hurricanes and tropical storms have also degraded the current housing stock. Weather-related issues cause consistent destruction and inhibit the ability to make repairs, often exposing wiring, poor insulation and leaking rooftops. An official report stated that seven out of 10 homes need repair, with 7% of all houses being unhabitable.

Solutions

There is still a very real housing crisis involving the quantity and quality of Cuba’s housing. Fortunately, the state and local governments of Cuba alongside international NGOs such as Oxfam are working to alleviate this crisis. Oxfam sent workers and aid to Cuba in the wake of Hurricane Sandy in 2012 to assist with rebuilding and maintaining residential homes, 150,000 of which had undergone damage, affecting over 600,000 people.

The state and municipal governments have also implemented the Architect in the Community Programme which provides technical support from architects to homeowners who are undertaking home building and renovations on a self-help basis. The program currently employs 630 architects in 157 of Cuba’s municipalities serving over 500,000 households. This technical assistance empowers individuals to undertake home building and repair work while alleviating the government’s burden of housing due to limited finances.

Homelessness in Cuba remains a complicated and multifaceted issue due to difficulties in recording true homelessness rates and housing shortages as a result of trade limitations. However, despite these issues, multiple government and nonprofit programs exist in order to stimulate building and repairs. They hope to protect against weather-related damage as well in hopes of alleviating both homelessness as well as poor living situations.

– Ian Hawthorne
Photo: Flickr

housing conditions in India
Good quality, secure housing is one of the major end goals for many societies aiming to ease global poverty and ensure the provision of basic needs amongst economically backward groups. Out of the 7.8 billion of the world’s population, 150 million people are homeless and 1.6 billion lack adequate housing. In fact, India alone accounts for 1.8 million people of the world’s homeless. Data shows that 78 million people in the country do not meet their needs for decent housing. Furthermore, 52% of the country’s homeless live in urban areas, which emphasizes the severity of the problem. With 17% of the world’s slum dwellers living in India, the government revealed that the country’s slum population now exceeds the entire population of Britain. Here is some information about housing conditions in India.

Problems with Housing Conditions in India

For ages, the poorer communities in India heavily depended on mud or unburnt walls with bamboo or grass roof housing. However, these elements are not the most stable or safe building materials. According to the Population Research Bureau, nearly 110 million Indian households live in houses with mud floors and walls. This accounts for 72% of rural households. Mud walls are not the safest option in a tropical country like India, with monsoons stretching on for months. Bamboo and dried grass roofs pose a potential fire hazard, especially since most rural households depend on fire lanterns as a source of light and open fire stoves for cooking.

The Rise of Pucca Houses

Improving housing conditions of India’s economically backward citizens has long been high on the Indian Government’s priority list. Over the years, several governments, both state and central, have produced various housing schemes. These housing schemes aim to provide pucca houses for the poor. Pucca houses are stable houses comprising of materials such as burnt brick or cement.

Indira Awas Yojana began in 1996 and was one of the first major housing schemes with large-scale goals. The scheme aimed to provide pucca houses for people from lower castes like Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes and also non-SC/STs below the poverty line. Renamed as Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana Gramin, the scheme works on the objective of housing for all by 2022. The scheme provides a 25 square meter pucca house with basic amenities to all its beneficiaries. As of March 2020, the scheme sanctioned 14,159,830 houses to the country’s poor.

Private Organizations

Additionally, many private organizations play a major role in alleviating poor housing conditions of the economically backward sections in India. Habitat for Humanity’s ShelterTech Accelerator program is one such program that is providing aid to for-profit business model startups. It is also giving aid to entrepreneurs focusing on developing solutions that aid low-cost housing. The year-long program supports the selected startups by giving them access to a network of over 300 startup founders, equity-free grants and seed funds up to 7.5 million INR. Another company investing in low-cost homes for low-income households, Brick Eagle, detects the limits of how much government schemes can provide. The company aims to build houses that are priced at 5-10 lakh INR. This price makes the houses more accessible for the economically weaker sections of India.

A Better Future on the Horizon

Housing conditions in India are improving slowly, but surely. The percentage of pucca houses has risen from 55% in 2011 to 71% in 2016. Ultimately, it is safe to say that the efforts of the government and private organizations are paying off as the housing conditions slowly change for the better in India.

– Reshma Beesetty 
Photo: Flickr

South Korea’s Banjihas
South Korea, a country located in East Asia, has a population of almost 52 million residents. Since the 1960s, South Korea has grown economically, shifting from a poor agrarian society to one of the most industrialized nations in the world. However, there is still a division gap between the rich and the poor.

While the economic growth has rapidly expanded urban areas, like Seoul and Pusan, which promoted the construction of apartments, poor people still live in semi-basement homes called Banjiha.

What are Banjihas?

Banjihas are semi-basement apartments that exist throughout South Korea. Typically, young people end up living in these lower-rent apartments while climbing the work ladder. In addition, lower-class citizens often live in these homes.

South Korea’s Banjihas initially emerged to protect the citizens from the war with North Korea in 1953 by acting as bunkers. The law required these bunkers during this era. Due to the bunker-style construction, South Korea’s Banjihas are roughly five to seven steps below the street level. As time went by, South Korea eased construction laws and permitted Banjihas to act as actual homes after the 1980 housing crisis. These converted bunkers only allow minimal light from a small window; due to the underground nature and minimal airflow, there is often mold in these tiny spaces.

The film “Parasite” by Bong Joon-ho illustrates life in South Korea’s Banjihas and demonstrates the wealth disparity throughout the nation. It portrays the struggles of lower-class life in Banjihas, while the upper class lives in luxurious mansions.

According to the BBC, South Korea’s Banjihas are inexpensive housing options starting from 540,000 won ($453 U.S.). Typically, the minimum monthly wage of a person in South Korea starts at 1.8 million won ($1,500), making Banjihas smart financial decisions. Banjihas exist as homes for almost 364,000 families in South Korea, accounting for 1.9% of the nation, according to a 2015 survey by the Korean Statistical Information Services.

Living in Banjihas

Haebangchon is one of the oldest neighborhoods in South Seoul; the neighborhood used to be a shooting field for the 20th division of the Japanese Army. With time, it became the epicenter for refugees and home to non-citizens from all parts of the world.

With the diversity that Haebangchon, also known as the Liberation Village, brings, new shops and restaurants pop all the time. New flavors and experiences from unknown parts of the world are available for consumers.

However, a decent amount of the population in Haebangchon still lives in Banjihas. The converted bunkers carry a stigma in that people immediately consider those living in Banjihas as poor. Bong stated at the Cannes Festival that a “Banjiha is a space with a peculiar connotation… It’s undeniably underground, and yet [you] want to believe it’s above ground.”

South Korea’s Banjihas not only represent a state of poverty, but they also represent the substantial social divide in South Korea. The higher a person lives in an apartment building, the higher social status that people add to that individual’s persona.

The tiny space takes on a distinct smell from the dampness and mold. That smell tends to linger within the walls, floors, bedding sheets and even clothing. One can compare South Korea’s Banjihas to Favelas in Brazil and cage homes in Hong Kong. Further, Banjihas are the most affected spaces during floods because of the low level. Sewage will clog and add to the stench throughout the home.

In a Los Angeles Times article, South Korean poet Shin-Hyum-rim wrote a poem about living in a Banjiha titled “The Happiness of Banjiha Alice,” alluding to Alice’s emotions while in Wonderland. This poem effectively outlines how tolling desperation and stress can be on a person’s psyche.

The Good News

Although 62% of South Korea’s Banjihas exist in Seoul, the number of this type of housing is declining. Since South Korea enacted a law in 2003 requiring park spacing, the building of Banjihas has become almost impossible. Additionally, there has been a growing rush for urban redevelopment and the country is tearing down old buildings.

According to a census from Statistics Korea, the number of semi-basement homes in South Korea accounted for only 1.9% in 2015 in comparison to 3.69% in 2005.

Further, there are several non-governmental organizations, such as the Federation for Evicted People of Seoul (FEPS) and the Korean National Association of the Urban poor, that are focusing on helping low-income areas with housing difficulties. These NGOs work to secure housing and advocate for tenants who the government has evicted.

Interestingly, the younger generations are bringing change to life in South Korea’s Banjihas. When looking up #Banjiha on social media, many young people living in the apartments are reinventing what living in a Banjiha looks like. Many of these younger individuals are aiming to end the impoverished stigma around living in Banjihas.

Even though this is not the reality for many who struggle financially, both young and old citizens of South Korea are fighting for a better life, in hopes that with new construction laws and with the cooperation of NGOs and their government, South Korea’s Banjihas will be a symbolic memory of the past.

Merlina San Nicolás Leyva
Photo: Flickr

Homelessness in Mongolia
Mongolia is a semi-presidential republic located in Northern Asia. Known as the homeland of the 13th-century conqueror, Genghis Khan, Mongolia still maintains the traditions of a nomadic way of life. After the Mongolian Revolution of 1921, which ended the communist Chinese dominance, the Mongolian People’s Republic was established in 1924. The country also went through a peaceful democratic revolution in 1990, after which, the country’s ex-communist party competed for political power with the Democratic Party. In the wake of these political changes, homelessness in Mongolia, driven by a housing shortage, has become a significant concern.

Homelessness in Mongolia

Currently, homelessness is a huge issue the nation is trying to tackle. In Ulaanbaatar, the capital city of Mongolia, there are reports of homeless people living in the sewage system. To improve homelessness in Mongolia, the government and humanitarian organizations must determine the contributing factors, the individuals affected and the measures being taken.

Similar to many countries, homelessness in Mongolia is linked to a lack of affordable housing. Ulaanbaatar, for example, underwent rapid urbanization during the past decade. Mongolia’s mining boom in 2012 helped immensely in the urbanization of Mongolia. After the establishment of the Privatization Law, which allowed people to freely choose residence location, many Mongolians migrated to Ulaanbaatar for more job opportunities. Ulaanbaatar’s population, which was 650,000 people in 1998, increased to 1.49 million people in 2018. This migration to Ulaanbaatar was further encouraged by a series of flock-devastating winters which forced many nomadic populaces to migrate to the city.

Migration and Ger Areas

Many migrants set up Ger in the city, which is traditional Mongolian housings; around Ulaanbaatar, there are now numerous Ger areas. In 2018, the Mongolian officials estimated that 55% of the city, which is about 750,000 people, lived in Ger around Ulaanbaatar. These Ger areas, however, are not the optimal housing solution for Mongolia.

These houses aren’t connected to basic services such as running water, sewage and waste disposal systems. Because these housings rely on coal stoves in individual homes to provide heating during the harsh winters, the stoves are contributing to air pollution in Mongolia. While the Mongolian government is working to address the issue, receptivity to the new development plan was mixed.

Government Aims

While the recent economic boom in Mongolia improved housing to high-rises and luxury residents, there is still a lack of affordable housing units. Part of this is due to how the Mongolian government aims to renovate and update the antiquated Soviet-era housing. The Ulaanbaatar 2020 Master Plan and Development Approaches for 2030, which was approved in 2015, aims to redevelop Ulaanbaatar’s Ger district with new apartments and service centers.

Under the plan, development companies enter an agreement with the residents in the district. If 70% of the residents approve of the company’s development plan, the companies are allowed to begin the project. However, some residents are accusing these development companies of worsening homelessness in Mongolia by forcefully evicting residents. For the 30% of residents who do not approve of the development plans, there seems to be little legal protection for individual rights to housing. Many residents feel that the law doesn’t clearly state the rights of the residents during the city’s renovation of Ger districts.

Humanitarian Organization Support

Many organizations have released reports of their recommendations to Mongolia. Amnesty International, for example, emphasized the importance of protecting Mongolian residents from possibly over-zealous housing development projects. Other organizations are also encouraging the Mongolian government to expand city infrastructures to support the growing migrant population to Ulaanbaatar. Furthermore, these organizations are calling to reform Mongolia’s migrant registration system. By making it easier for migrants to register as urban residents, many believe that this will make it easier to obtain access to local social services and residential infrastructures.

Other international organizations are attempting to alleviate housing insecurity and homelessness in Mongolia. The Habitat for Humanity, for example, has built numerous homes in Mongolia. As early as 2009, Habitat for Humanity reported the building of homes for 1,500 Mongolian families.

Additionally, in July 2012, international volunteers from 12 countries came to Mongolia to build housing near Ulaanbaatar. This multinational project, “The Blue Sky Build Houses,” also worked with local volunteers to build 20 polystyrene blockhouses. These houses have excellent insulation and use less wood during construction. These houses also include energy-efficient stoves, which extend the heat generation time of coal-burning from two hours to eight hours.

 

Homelessness in Mongolia is a complex issue. While the Mongolian economic boom has created lucrative opportunities for many, it has also aided in housing insecurity because of the mass migration to Ulaanbaatar. This mass migration to the city shows the case of the lack of affordable housing in the capital city, which inevitably exacerbates the homelessness in Mongolia. Moving forward, additional efforts by the government and other international humanitarian organizations are crucial to providing affordable housing and reducing homelessness in the nation.

YongJin Yi
Photo: Flickr

Housing Poverty in Cambodia
Cambodia is a country on the mainland of Southeast Asia. With influences from many different Asian cultures, as well as from France and the United States, some of the nation’s urban areas look similar to the western cities. However, the capital, Phnom Penh, is one of the few urban centers in this predominantly rural nation. Currently, there is a housing poverty epidemic and many people are lacking sufficient living conditions. Here are 10 facts about housing poverty in Cambodia.

10 Facts About Housing Poverty in Cambodia

  1. Poverty in Cambodia: Although poverty in Cambodia has decreased significantly, almost 75 percent of Cambodian people are living on less than $3 a day, which is just above the poverty line of $1.25 per day. This poverty affects both the urban and rural areas of the country, although it is more concentrated in rural areas.
  2. Urban Poverty: Many Cambodians flee impoverished rural areas of the country for urban centers, including the capital, Phnom Penh. Unfortunately, many of these migrants don’t find the wealth and better living conditions they seek. They are often unable to pay rent in the city and live beside railroad tracks in extreme poverty. These living quarters are often unsanitary and plagued with bacteria and parasites.
  3. Lack of Sanitation: Today, two million houses need critical improvement in Cambodia. Most of those living in poverty live in poor housing conditions in rural areas. According to Water Aid Cambodia, more than half of the population lives without toilets in Cambodia.
  4. Improving Sanitation: A housing survey conducted by the National Institute of Statistics reported that 51.3 percent of households in 2013 did not have toilet facilities. This represented an improvement, however. In 1998, 85.5 percent of households did not have toilet facilities, and in 2008, this had only decreased to 66.3 percent of households.
  5. Habitat for Humanity: Nonprofit Habitat for Humanity has helped over 22,000 families build strength, stability and self-reliance through shelter. They work in Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s capital, to provide housing solutions to 2.8 million people.
  6. Cambodian Children Fund: Founded in 2014, the Cambodian Children Fund (CCF) has managed to build over 360 homes for the many children and families in dire need of shelter. The CCF is now hoping to broaden its reach, building homes across Cambodia.
  7. Volunteer Building Cambodia: Volunteer Building Cambodia builds wooden Khmer style houses for the poor of Cambodia. These houses last over 15 years and each cost $3,000 to build. Volunteer Building Cambodia is based in Siem Reap, in the northwest region of the country. They operate in the most rural and impoverished areas in an effort to combat housing poverty in Cambodia.
  8. Taramana: Due to the harrowing conditions in urban areas, 37 percent of children under the age of five are malnourished. Taramana, a nonprofit organization, has chosen to focus its efforts on the children of Phnom Penh. They help provide the city’s children with proper education so they can rise above a life of poverty.
  9. World Housing: The Borgen Project recently reached out to World Housing, a nonprofit headquartered in Vancouver, British Columbia that provides housing to those in need in developing countries across the globe, including Cambodia. “Since 2013, we’ve worked with Cambodian Children’s Fund to build all our communities in Cambodia and between 2013 and 2017 we’ve built and gifted 483 homes, providing housing to 2,415 people throughout Cambodia,” said Jason Valagao, the organization’s Donor Relations Manager.
  10. Girls 2 Grannies: Valagao also stated that World Housing’s latest project is called Girls 2 Grannies. This project is building a brand new community designed with girls and women aged two all the way to 102 in mind. According to Valagao, these brand new villages will include, “a library, sports field, community gardens, a pagoda and two classrooms. Each home in this community will have its own shower and toilet. The community will provide housing to approximately 200 women through the gift of 50 homes.”

While housing poverty in Cambodia remains a significant concern, many organizations are fighting to better the lives of impoverished Cambodians. Whether efforts are made through providing efficient housing or educating the youth of Phnom Penh, there is always hope when people band together to reduce widespread poverty.

– William Mendez
Photo: Flickr

Homelessness in AustraliaHomelessness is one of the biggest problems that the Australian government is trying to solve. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), there were approximately 116,427 homeless Australians in 2016. What was even more worrying about this data was that homelessness in Australia seemed to be on the rise. Compared to the ABS’s census in 2011, in which there were 102,439 homeless, there was a 13.7 percent rise in homelessness in 2016. What is the cause of homelessness in Australia? What is being done to alleviate this issue? Here is the current reality of homelessness in Australia.

Defining Homelessness

The ABS’s, criteria for defining homelessness doesn’t simply end at someone sleeping out on the streets. Instead, the ABS states that a person is homeless if they are living in accommodations that are inadequate or in housing that has no long-term tenure. This broad definition of homelessness means that if a person is couch surfing with friends to relatives, they are considered homeless.

The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare’s 2016 report found that “58 percent of homeless people were male, 21 percent were between the ages of 25 and 34 years-old and 20 percent of homeless people were Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders.” The last finding is especially troubling since Aboriginal people and Torres Strait Islanders only made up about 3 percent of the population. For women who are homeless, domestic violence was one of the main causes of their homelessness.

Causes of Homelessness

The main causes of homelessness in Australia seem to be unaffordable housing, poverty and domestic violence. All of these three causes seem to be linked to high housing prices in Australia. More specifically, the lack of affordable rental housing that is plaguing the country seems to be at the core of the problem.

In 2018, a property survey discovered that only 485 rental homes out of 67,365 homes “were affordable for a single person on the Disability Support Pension.” This meant that only 0.72 percent of rental homes were affordable for someone with disabilities. Many people in Australia believe that the current state of housing was caused by the Australian government’s mismanagement of the housing market.

Homeless Youth

What distinguishes homelessness in Australia from those of other countries is how young the homeless population is. Youth between the ages of 12 and 24 made up 27,680 of the 116,427 homeless people in Australia in 2016. However, these estimates may not fully reflect the state of youth homeless in Australia since the youth who are couch surfing will put down their host’s address as their place of residence.

A 2016 research study found that there is an average cost of $15,000 to the country’s economy for every young homeless person. The study also found that an additional $15,000 per person must be spent on “health and justice costs.” The young homeless are especially vulnerable to the current housing crisis in Australia. Reports show that about 54 percent of all single people who look for aid from homelessness services and shelters were young people.

Assistance for the Homeless

The Australian government and many other Australian organizations are taking active measures to combat homeless in the country. In 2018, the Australian government created the National Housing and Homelessness Agreement. This agreement aims to alleviate homelessness in Australia by providing affordable housing and homeless shelters for the homeless. In this pursuit, the Australian government invested more than “$6 billion in housing support and homelessness services.” At least $78 million is supposed to go to women and minors who are victims of domestic violence.

Other Australian organizations such as the Melbourne City MissionSydney Homeless Connect and Home for Good provides numerous services and programs for the homeless. These organizations not only provide immediate needs of the homeless, such as food and shelter, but many of them also provide programs that are aimed to provide the homeless with job opportunities and long-term physical, social and emotional needs of the homeless.

The effect of Australia’s undermanaged housing market created an environment where the low-income earners couldn’t afford a home. Since many of the homeless in Australia suffer from mental illnesses, alcoholism or other physical disabilities, these homeless are further marginalized from the Australian housing market. The number of Australian youth without a stable home and shelter also paints a grim picture. However, the Australian government and the people of Australia are taking active measures to alleviate the issue. With this continuous support, many hope that homelessness in Australia will be a story of the past.

YongJin Yi
Photo: Flickr

Coffin Homes in Hong Kong
Hong Kong is a special administrative region of China. Estimates determine that its population could grow to 7,249,907 people in 2020. While Hong Kong’s recent protests against the Chinese government receives extensive coverage, the high housing prices of Hong Kong precedes the current news. According to a 2019 report by CBRE, Hong Kong had the highest housing prices in the world, surpassing the housing prices of other cities such as Singapore, Shanghai, London, Los Angeles and New York. The report also showed that the average housing prices in Hong Kong were more than $1.2 million. Unsurprisingly, many people in Hong Kong find it hard to afford housing. This gave rise to coffin homes in Hong Kong which are small, partitioned apartment homes. Have the conditions improved in Hong Kong’s coffin homes? What kind of projects is the Hong Kong government participating in to improve the housing conditions in its city?

Inside a Hong Kong Coffin Home

According to some estimates, there are 200,000 people, including 40,000 children, living in these coffin homes in Hong Kong. Most of these coffin homes are smaller than 180 square feet. To put this size into perspective, this is only slightly bigger than an average parking spot in New York City. The inhabitants of these coffin homes range from retirees with little to no pension, the working poor, drug addicts and people with mental illnesses. These small spaces and unsanitary conditions sometimes lead to bed bug infestation. Yeung, a coffin home resident who the South China Morning Post interviewed, said that he often spent the night at McDonald’s or at internet cafes in order to avoid bed bugs.

A Possible Solution?

The Hong Kong government is making efforts to improve the current state of housing in Hong Kong. The government’s main focus seems to be in providing more housing units for the general public. For example, the Hong Kong government proposed an ambitious project to reclaim 1,000 hectares of land near Lantau, which will create an artificial island near Hong Kong. The Hong Kong government plans to create 40,000 homes in this reclaimed land. The project should begin in 2025 with the aim of having residents move in by 2032, and has an estimated cost of $80 billion. However, there are many critics who worry about the long-term impact of this ambitious project.

What the Critics are Saying

Critics have claimed that building this artificial island is the equivalent to “pouring money into the sea.” Critics have furthermore pointed out that the project could lead to the destabilization of the city government’s fiscal reserves. Environmentalists in Hong Kong are also afraid that the project will distort the hydrology near Lantau Island. These environmentalists are encouraging the Hong Kong government to adopt a “brownfield first” policy. This policy entails developing the 1,000 hectares of land in the New Territories area that is located at the northern part of Hong Kong. The Hong Kong government is also conversing with Hong Kong Disneyland to release a tract of land, that is supposed to be part of Disneyland’s future expansion, to the government so that it can utilize it as a residential district.

The housing crisis in Hong Kong is a complicated issue. The squalid and cramped conditions that many people in Hong Kong live in reflect its current housing crisis. The high housing prices have given rise to coffin homes in Hong Kong. The current socio-political instability in Hong Kong, while having some of its roots in Hong Kong society’s innate inequality, certainly is not remedying the current housing crisis. The Hong Kong government seems to be very conscious of this crisis. Its efforts to provide housing for its populace, however, still face many challenges. Its ambitious project for creating an artificial island is especially notable. With all this effort, many hope that coffin homes in Hong Kong will become a story of the past.

YongJin Yi
Photo: Flickr

Straw-bale homesNatural disasters push 26 million into poverty each year, impacting the most impoverished demographics. Due to extreme poverty, new technological innovations in earthquake architecture remains inaccessible to many earthquake-prone areas. Utilizing ancient building practices, particularly straw bale houses, and teaching these techniques to the local populace has produced promising results.

What are Straw Bale Homes?

The earliest evidence of straw bale homes can be dated back to the Paleolithic period in Africa, but it continues to be used throughout the world. Straw bales are relatively cheap, provide excellent insulation and are naturally fire-resistant. When the plaster is applied to the straw structure, its relatively thick walls become an impenetrable fortress to sound, moisture and fire. Another benefit of this type of construction is its ability to resist the stresses of tectonic activity. The width of the bales themselves creates a wide solid footprint for the structure. The organic makeup of the bales allows for maximum absorption of seismic forces. Researchers built a full-scale straw bale based home for a series of shake table tests and applied forces twice the amount of what was measured during the 1994 Northridge, California earthquake. The structure, while damaged, still showed no signs of collapse.

Straw is widely available and cheap, often the byproduct of many agricultural processes. Thus, it is the perfect material to be used in impoverished areas where earthquakes are prevalent. Pakistan is located in a highly active seismic area, experiencing hundreds of earthquakes per annum. It is also a region where nearly 40 percent of the population experiences multidimensional poverty. Homes are built cheaply and lack structural components necessary to combat seismic tremors. This ultimately creates a death zone when large tremors strike.

Importance of Straw Bale Homes

The most devastating incident was in 2005 when a 7.6 earthquake rocked the Kashmir region, killing 80,000 people and leaving another 4 million homeless. This disaster led to the founding of the organization Pakistan Straw Bale and Appropriate Building (PAKSBAB). PAKSBAB has trained 70 people in straw bale construction. These people continue to build seismically-safe, affordable and sustainable homes that house micro-to-small-income families.
In April 2015, the citizens of Kathmandu, Nepal nearly suffered its own catastrophic earthquake. The earthquake destroyed 600,000 structures and killed 9,000 people. The tremors were felt as far as Tibet. In an effort to curb destruction in such an earthquake-prone country, the Institute for Social and Environment Transition (ISET) has been researching the benefits of straw bale construction, such as the material’s flexibility and cost-effectiveness. In 2018, Builders Without Borders and the Kevin Rohan Memorial Eco Foundation collaborated to build the first straw bale home in Nepal. They continue to raise funds to acquire straw and balers.

Structures built of straw bales will be essential in minimizing destruction in areas of the globe most vulnerable to earthquakes. This material will bend rather than break during an earthquake. It also allows for a greater possibility of escape in the event of collapse compared to other available alternatives such as concrete and steel. In areas that are already struggling under the burden of poverty, the affordability of straw bales is a major appeal. Thanks to the work of organizations like Builders Without Borders and PAKSBAB, people will continue to save lives and house families thanks to this ancient practice.

Tiernán Gordon

3D Printed Houses in Mexico
Tabasco, Mexico, a state located in the southeast of the country, hosts a population of over 2.5 million people, and more than half of the population lives in rural areas. As with many poverty-stricken countries, struggles with poverty hit the rural areas of southern Mexico disproportionally hard. While residents of Tabasco report among the highest levels of life satisfaction, unemployment and poverty create undue challenges, especially in rural populations. Luckily, 3D printed houses in Mexico are providing residents of Tabasco with affordable homes.

Living in Tabasco, Mexico

Tabasco first became a state in 1824 and now consists of different governmental areas called municipios. The region experiences a rainy season, in which the land is subject to flooding due to its mostly low and flat relief. Heavy rains and floods can be particularly devastating for those living in poverty in Tabasco. Oftentimes, residents who cannot afford to purchase housing will craft their own out of wood, metal and other scavenged or purchased material. When heavy rains come, these homes can flood drastically, sometimes for months at a time.

A New Look at Affordable Housing

In December 2019, the struggle for affordable, safe and durable housing took an innovative turn in one neighborhood in Tabasco where residents live on an average of $3 a day. Developers have begun using a large-scale 3D printer to build houses for residents in the neighborhood, planning to complete the construction of 50 new homes by the end of 2020. The prospect of these 3D printed houses in Mexico has numerous implications for Tabascan residents and the fight for affordable housing at large.

These massive printers emit a sturdy concrete that one can layer into a wall, with the complete simultaneous construction of two homes taking only 24 working hours. The homes feature 500 square-feet of living space, with two bedrooms, a bathroom, a kitchen and a living area.

The Organizations

The three foundations that are collaborating to make these 3D printed houses in Mexico a reality are ICON, a construction technology company; New Story, a San Francisco-based nonprofit; and ÉCHALE, a Mexican nonprofit.

ICON focuses on revolutionizing the construction of homes, utilizing printers, robotics and other technology tools to contribute to efforts surrounding affordable housing construction. ICON developed its first commercially available construction printer, called the Vulcan II, in 2018.

ÉCHALE saw its beginnings in 1985 and has since become a successful organization that works for social housing and community development in Mexico. ÉCHALE focuses on the main sustainable development goals for 2030, including ending poverty, promoting gender equality and responsible consumption and production.

Founded in 2014, New Story aids families in need of housing and shelter. Since then, New Story has built over 2,700 homes using traditional construction methods in Haiti, El Salvador, Bolivia and Mexico. ICON and New Story first collaborated on a 3D printed home in Austin, Texas in March 2018.

Most importantly, these three organizations that are creating 3D printed houses in Mexico have worked with residents of the Tabascan neighborhood every step of the way. They hired local construction workers to complete aspects of building such as land clearing and installing windows and roofs, ensuring that printing homes do not take jobs away from residents. The design of the homes also came from a collaboration with the very same residents that will live in them, ensuring that these houses will meet the specific needs of the community. This type of community involvement is critical for the long-term success of affordable housing programs, and one that can serve as a model for future technology-based affordable housing solutions.

Elizabeth Baker
Photo: Flickr