The concept of building cheap houses for the poor to improve their living standards is hardly a new one. However, a house that is sustainable, affordable, part of an “ecosystem” of services of electricity, water and sanitation, and, perhaps most importantly, maintains people’s dignity. Sounds far-fetched, especially with price tag of just $300. Vijay Govindarajan and Christian Sarkar, the brains behind the idea, believe that it can be done.
Govindarajan and Sarkar first outlined their concept in a Harvard Business review blog a few years ago. Since then, architects, companies and other students have all tried to take up the challenge of building such a house. Some have had limited success, while others introduced ideas that make the concept even more inspiring.
The solution to the problem of affordable housing, Govindarajan and Sarkar argue, comes about when companies start treating the poor as valued customers. Once they are, innovation and efficiency will fill the gap governments and NGOs have not been able to satisfy. The market for affordable housing amounts to more than $5 trillion.
More than 1.5 billion people in the world lack houses that are sustainable and able to cater to their needs. More than 330 million of them live in slums, where poor quality housing compounds the problems of unsanitary practices and overcrowding. This number is projected to rise by another million by 2025.
Govindarajan and Sarkar believe that the secret to affordable and sustainable homes lies in three “D’s”: dignity, durability and delight. Building homes out of waste material furthers inequality and the segregation of poor communities from the richer. The house must be built of out materials that would maintain the dignity of the poor.
The house should also be durable, because a house that constantly falls into disrepair will end up being more expensive to the owners. It should also be appealing to the eye and enjoyable to live in. When owners regard their house as more of a home rather than just their living quarters, they will be more inclined to look after it.
Harvey Lacey, an engineer from Texas, took these ideas even further. He calls his concept Ubuntublox, where people build their houses themselves. This helps create an attachment to the house and teaches them the skills they would need to maintain it.