> Posted by David Levai

housingToday, more than half of the world’s population lives in cities, and this trend is not about to change. Among those urban dwellers in the developing world, more than a third lives in a slum or extremely precarious conditions. But numerous socially minded individuals are uncovering new ways to provide decent quality homes at affordable costs to low-income populations – helping small property owners become landlords, providing standardized housing units in recycled shipping containers, lending building material for self-improvements, etc.

In late 2008, fourteen participants invited by the Center for Financial Inclusion and ACCION Global Investments gathered in Washington, DC, with two goals in mind – to dissect the bottlenecks in the provision of affordable housing to the bottom of the pyramid in emerging markets and to identify innovative private-sector-driven solutions.

Representing India, South Africa, Kenya, Mexico, Bolivia, and the United States, these practitioners confronted their analyses of the hurdles in reaching scale and quality in housing finance for the poor as well as their vision going forward. The profiles of the attendees were varied, encompassing real-estate developers, mortgage financiers, building material suppliers, or housing microfinance start-ups. Despite the diversity of their professional backgrounds and their international perspectives with regards to housing, practitioners acknowledged similarities in the problems they face and in the response they are using to address these challenges. Even though housing and habitat have large local constraints that deserve specifically customized responses, lessons learned, whether they are positive or negative, seem to be transferable.

You can find the list of the workshop participants and more information about their companies as well as the key lessons learned here.

For non-housing specialists like me, the workshop offered a unique opportunity to hear from the housing movers and shakers themselves their philosophies, rationales, successes, and challenges. For example, Por Fin Nuestra Casa (PFNC) is a company that Brian McCarthy, a young American, recently started to address the living conditions of Mexican workers employed in maquiladoras, those export focused industries lining south of the U.S.-Mexico border. Working with employers to ensure land tenure, PFNC provides standardized prefabricated housing units hosted in recycled shipping containers, that is to say, a quality home and a livelihood improvement at low cost found in quite an unconventional place!

During the day of the workshop, I was able to record more stories, which you’ll be able to listen to, yourself, in a series of podcast interviews that offer a sketch of these dedicated actors and their work for the “unhoused.”

In the first podcast, I speak with Guillermo Calderon, the founder and CEO of the Mexican building material provider MeXvi. His company’s model, loosely based on Cemex’s Patrimonio Hoy, provides prefabricated houses for the Mexico’s rural poor and specifically targets disaster areas frequently hit by hurricanes. Not only is MeXvi supplying building materials, it also offers credit facilities without need for any collateral to finance the acquisition of these brand new homes. But enough talking on our side; just check out what Guillermo has to say about MeXvi in his own words