A world where everyone has a decent place to live,’ remains the utopian imagery of the world and it also makes for a nice, feel-good statement. But once in a while, there happens an entity or an organisation committed to turn this mere ‘line’ into a reality.

Last week, amidst all those stories of cacophonic politics, bloodshed and violence, the national media had a nice developmental piece announcing that 100,000 homeless people of India would be living in decent homes in another five years. The claim, which was more of a commitment, was made by Habitat for Humanity, an international organisation whose aim is to provide housing to the poor. It has already built 370,000 houses across the world; of these, 35,000 are in India and about 165,000 less fortunate citizens of the country are living in them.

If statistics are to be believed, we need 50 million houses in India, of which 25 million units are required in urban India alone. Habitat for Humanity India – which began operations in 1983, at Khammam in Andhra Pradesh — is helping in shrinking the disturbing figure, and it is probably the only organisation working towards building houses.

The mission statement of the organisation reads: ‘We work in partnership with God and people everywhere, from all walks of life, to develop communities with people in need by building and renovating houses so that there are decent houses in decent communities in which people can experience God’s love, and can live and grow into all that God intends.’

A simple model

Habitat for Humanity’s working model is quite simple and practical. They select needy families who fall within their six-point criteria. The ones from low-income groups, indigenous tribal families, rural poor and marginalised sections (daily-wage earners, low-income factory workers, agricultural workers, and small and marginal farmers) are the primary beneficiaries. They should have a family income below Rs 6,000 (US$ 133) per month and must possess a land tenure

A beneficiary should also be able to contribute at least a third of the total cost of construction by way of materials, skilled labour and cash, and should be committed to contribute own sweat equity (shramadhana) towards unskilled labour.

The organisation also expects the beneficiary to repay an affordable, no-profit loan sourced from Habitat and its donors, in monthly instalments. It is the volunteer labour and donated material that generally help in keeping the cost of construction very low.

Habitat partnerships

The organisation follows an interesting ‘one-third partnership model’, wherein it works in partnership with local, grassroots non-government organisations and micro-finance organisations to reach people in need of decent housing. The cost of construction is equally borne by three stakeholders – beneficiary, local NGO partner and Habitat for Humanity – in a one-third proportion.

The one-third contributed by the beneficiary includes their contribution in terms of building material and sweat equity of 200-250 hours of labour. Habitat raises its one-third through its regular fundraising activities with corporates, foundations and individuals. The balance is raised by the local NGO partner. Once the house is completed, the repayment process starts. Mortgage payments contribute to the fund for Humanity, which in turn provides the money to build more houses.

This is how the organisation’s guiding principles – simple, decent and affordable – are strengthened.

Houses are green, too

In its endeavour to mitigate the impact of housing on the environment, Habitat for Humanity India is constantly experimenting with alternative materials and technologies. Under its recent initiatives in the year gone by, Habitat has piloted a project where recycled Tetra Pak sheets were used to build roofs of houses. They built 12 houses using this technique, at two project areas in Gujarat and Maharashtra.

They also experimented with rural high slope pans. They built 60 toilets in the districts of Pune and Ahmednagar in Maharashtra, using rural high slope pans, which help to conserve water, as almost 85 per cent lesser quantity of water is required to flush via this system.