HFHI's plans to boost housing programs in Asia-Pacific

Mr. Fernando Zobel de Ayala (second to left), chairman of Habitat for Humanity Asia-Pacific Capital Campaign Steering Committee with Habitat Philippines Youth Council Committee members (from left to right) Simon Tantoco, Alex Eduque, Pedro T. Roxas and Kevin Yang. Photo by: Habitat for Humanity

What’s the best way to lift people out of poverty and getting them on the path to a decent life?

While there is no definitive and be-all, end-all answer to this perennial international development conundrum, Habitat for Humanity International strongly believes that having a home is the first step.

Housing provides, above all else, security and safety, and that builds a physical, psychological and social foundation for people to be more productive and become active agents for their own development, according to HFHI Asia-Pacific Vice President Rick Hathaway.

“A decent house, a decent place to live in has an impact on so many aspects of a family’s life and the community. A significant part of reducing poverty is for [the] people to have a place to call home,” he told Devex as the U.S.-based organization launched in Hong Kong a report tackling inadequate housing in the region Thursday.

Housing, a new development panacea?

The report titled “Opening the door to improved lives: Tackling inadequate housing in Asia-Pacific” highlights how adequate, affordable housing can address these challenges in a region where 20 percent of its 4.3 billion people still survive on less than $1.25 a day and where many cities can’t cope with the scale of urban migration because of the lack of opportunities in rural areas.

Most of the current trends are unsustainable and even destructive not just to cities and national economies, but also to the larger pursuit of development progress in the region.

So where to start?

“Adequate housing addresses [the majority of development] issues, and creates a base of safety from which to foster social inclusion and community,” the report said, adding that “every job created in the housing sector generates two more jobs elsewhere in the economy.” Without a well-functioning housing sector, the document warns, a country’s economy is “likely to stagnate.”

Just like the whole development process, Hathaway noted that pursuing housing programs is also a multisector and multistakeholder undertaking. The process is not linear, but cyclical and diverse.

He shared eight trends that will shape the Asia-Pacific housing sector in the near future, which are “both challenges and opportunities for us and the entire development community,” and one of them is increasing urbanization.

As 70 percent of the world’s population will live in cities by 2050, HFHI insists we have to make sure that those who move to urban areas in search of job opportunities actually find inclusive, sustainable employment and not contribute to further congestion in places like Dhaka, Manila or Jakarta, and boosting poverty levels.

Strategic plan

In the document, HFHI outlines its plans for Asia-Pacific until 2020, starting with the relocation of its regional headquarters from Bangkok to Manila.

The organization’s midterm strategy includes wider housing and volunteers targets, scaling up projects as well as becoming a leading figure in the housing industry — to provide not only outputs, but also outcomes and impacts.

“We feel that we now have the responsibility not only to build houses, but also to impact the sector and impact the society,” Hathaway said. “How can we help banks to lend to lower levels to reach the poor? How can we impact developers with their success to give back? How can we help government to create housing policies that will help families?”

In the next six years, he said HFHI plans to help 15 million people gain access to decent homes in the 18 countries they work in across Asia-Pacific. They also target to have 10 million volunteers across the region to help the advocacy and mission, and reach around $700 million in new funding to roll out the six-year plan through partnerships and fundraising.

“We believe that when people are active and volunteering in an organization like ours, they [are] more understanding of the need and how they can be a leader in the future,” he concluded. “We have advocates to tell other about [what we do] and help us raise funds.”

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About the author

  • Lean 2

    Lean Alfred Santos

    Lean Alfred Santos is a Devex development reporter focusing on the development community in Asia-Pacific, including major players such as the Asian Development Bank and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. Prior to joining Devex, he covered Philippine and international business and economic news, sports and politics. Lean is based in Manila.