Holcim Colombia: Self-build housing project raises quality of life.

Holcim Colombia: Self-build housing project raises quality of life

Ciudad Bolivar is a socially deprived community in Bogotá, the capital of Colombia. It combines being one of the most densely populated places in the world with having one of the poorest housing infrastructures - many of its 160,000 houses are only cinder block walls and corrugated iron roofs. As a result, at least 75% of the homes would be destroyed if a severe earthquake or landslide were to hit the area. Holcim Colombia stepped in to help with this unsustainable situation that not only strained family and community relations, but also threatened people's health and safety.

Recognizing the pressing need for action, Holcim embarked on a partnership with local organizations to help workers and residents develop self-build skills through housing construction and maintenance training. Fedevivienda is a local NGO specializing in Bogotá housing, and Caja de Vivienda Popular is the governmental housing agency. Together they worked to improve the structure of 78 houses in the neighborhood, as well as build 22 new homes for low-income families.

Each partner focused on transmitting know-how to help raise people's skill levels. True to the self-build nature of the project, residents paid for the cement used in construction, but were offered a 20 percent discount on other building materials. Holcim worked closely with the families, employed local workers to ensure that the money paid would stay in the community, and encouraged local people to learn new skills to improve their employment prospects.

Residents were able to pay for construction materials through government subsidies or micro credit loans via Fedevivienda. The NGO also provided help to families regarding licenses, housing design, building and reinforcing. All 78 houses built have received sanitary improvements and external reinforcement for protection against earthquake damage.

Extensive government bureaucracy proved challenging and led to difficulties in project coordination. Originally envisaged as a one year pilot, the project timeline had to be extended to three years. Nevertheless, improvements have been noted on all fronts. Local economic activity has been enhanced by new home businesses, providing further income for families and raising their quality of life. For Holcim, it has meant not only increased business opportunities, but a solidly reinforced reputation as a company committed to providing value for society and enabling a better future for local communities.

In December 2007, the agreement with Caja de Vivienda Popular was cancelled. There were various reasons for this: difficulties with legal procedures, the end of the local administration period which makes it necessary to renew the relevant contacts, delays in receiving the required awarding subsidies, as well as the governor's lack of political will to support these kinds of construction projects in Bogotá.

Following results have been achieved:

  • 29 licenses approved for housing improvement with structural reinforcement in Bogotá City
  • 20 licenses in process in the Curaduría No. 5 of Bogotá
  • 47 subsidies approved for housing improvement by Metrovivienda
  • 14 subsidies approved for housing improvement by Cajas de Compensación Familiar