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Case in Point: Upgrading Housing Project in Cochabamba, Bolivia

Like much of the developing world, Bolivia is home to a number of informal settlements, which are characterized by a lack of quality housing, limited water and sanitation resources, and inadequate infrastructure. These deficiencies cause serious health and environmental issues. Unfortunately, governmental policies do not currently recognize many such informal settlements or their inhabitants. This makes it even more difficult for such locations and individuals to access the support they need to grow and thrive. One thing these settlements do not lack, however, is a strong sense of community.

Slum Dwellers International is working to address this pressing need for quality housing within the informal settlements of Cochabamba, Bolivia by leveraging this strong sense of community to increase access to both social and financial capital via a revolving fund that responds to each need on a "case by case and house by house basis."  The fund is self-managed by community members, with tec  hnical support of the NGO Red de Acción Comunitaria.

This highly sustainable model works with local women and residents of the community to access reliable funds and gradually grow and expand their homes. The loans vary in size from $150 to $300, depending on the needs of the families.

This solution also fits well financially, socially and culturally within the community. Many of the families in need of higher-quality housing earn just one dollar a day. They consider the construction of a home a process and it can take a family 30 years to build a home. But this process is a labor of love and a part of their identity. The program offers these women the opportunity to learn and build as they work towards completing their home and are trained in the management of pre-construction, construction, and post-construction processes.

This integrated approach recognizes that housing is not an individual issue, but one that must be addressed on a personal and practical level.

Only 5 years old, this innovative financial and social model has opened numerous doors for women and their families in Cochabamba. Over 300 women have been involved in the revolving housing fund since its inception, and more than 500 loans have been granted.

The success of this program has also created opportunities for meaningful partnerships. For example, the group has collaborated with Harvard University on the Refresh Bolivia Project. Though initially designed to address water issues, this initiative expanded to address numerous health and housing issues. As a result, it provides those in need with the technical and financial support necessary to build toilets and improve housing overall.

In such ways, Slum Dwellers International and its partner organizations are improving the quality of homes and lives in Bolivia, case by case and house by house.