Betzy and Lauren after spending the week working together to build the extension on Betzy's home
As a member of Habitat for Humanity’s Government Relations and Advocacy — known as the GRA team — I serve as the project manager of Habitat on the Hill, Habitat for Humanit's annual U.S. legislative conference. While I spend most of my time in D.C., focusing on U.S. advocacy, my position with GRA also allows me to travel and contribute to our global policy work. One of my favorite aspects of working for Habitat for Humanity is the interconnectedness of our programs and departments. Through our Global Village program — a program that allows volunteers from around the globe to unite in their passion for service and build homes in distant lands — I had the opportunity this summer to get out of my office and on to the build site, while leading a Global Village trip to Santiago, Chile. And I had the unique pleasure of helping Habitat for Humanity Chile enroll in the Solid Ground campaign.
Our Global Village project in Chile was unlike any build I’d done in the past — constructing an extension on Betzy’s home. Prior to our visit, Betzy had recently turned 18. She shared a bedroom with her mother Magaly and two sisters Ingrid and Caroline, who happen to share her same birthday. Yes, they are triplets! They have an incredibly tight-knit family and work together to make life as easy and pain-free as possible for Betzy. You see, Betzy is confined to a wheelchair, and, due to an unfortunate operation for cerebral palsy, she lives with a tremendous amount of pain. Simple tasks such as getting to the restroom or grabbing a snack were incredibly difficult for Betzy as the kitchen and bathroom were located on the first floor and her bedroom was on the second. Thanks to the additional room and bathroom added to the first floor during our build, Betzy and her family can live more comfortably!
While this was a unique build experience for my group, home extension projects are nothing new for Habitat Chile. In fact, for the past 9 years, Habitat Chile has been working actively with members of the Chilean Government to address the issue of overcrowded homes through expansions. A large portion of the Chilean population still reside in government funded housing projects that were constructed in the 1970s. While these units were constructed with good intention — to house families displaced from decades of civil unrest — the construction focused on quantity over quality.
Habitat Chile found opportunity with one such housing project in a community called Quillayes. Like thousands of similar projects throughout the country, thr Quillayes housing projects are three stories high and have 15 apartments per building, generally housing 5 or 6 people in each apartment. As families grow in size they often choose to build extensions on their apartments rather than move. These extensions are illegal and often unable to withstand earthquakes in this highly seismic region. Additionally, these irregular extensions damage the structural stability of the original building and have resulted in fires, injuries and deaths.
Working with the Ministry of Housing and Urban Planning of Chile, Habitat Chile helped to develop a housing improvement pilot project in the community of Quillayes. This project allows families living in overcrowded housing units to apply for a home extension subsidy. These extensions, which are designed and constructed by Habitat Chile contractors, increase structural stability, property value and secure tenure to residents through legal documentation for co-property owners.
Due to the success of the Quillayes pilot project, the Ministry of Housing and Urban Planning issued a resolution in March 2017 allowing further improvement projects for upwards of 44,400 apartments throughout Chile, holding the potential to benefit 1,672,010 people! Habitat Chile’s pilot project in the Quillayes community is a prime example of how a small effort can make a giant impact, improving structural integrity and making entire communities more disaster resilient one apartment at a time. As one of the most recent organizations to join Solid Ground, I can’t wait to see how Habitat Chile expands on this policy success to improve access to land for shelter for even more people.
If you are interested in joining the Solid Ground campaign, reach out to us at SolidGround@habitat.org.