*This story was originally published on the Habitat for Humanity Magazine

For Pedro and Maria, the key to a better life for their extended family first meant getting legal title to the land beneath their house. They partnered with Habitat El Salvador to legally secure tenure, which has in turn given them access to credit to vastly improve their living conditions. “That my daughters and grandchildren can have a proper place, where they can make their lives, is my number one priority,” Pedro says. “Nothing makes me happier.” With the financial support of Habitat’s Terwilliger Center for Innovation in Shelter, Habitat El Salvador is working to familiarize 500 low-income families with the legal ins and outs of secure tenure. Habitat also is partnering with national and local governments to help families formally legalize ownership to their property. This offers much-needed stability, but also allows landowners to use their property as collateral for loans. For almost three decades, Pedro, Maria and their daughters, Bernalda and Elizabeth, had lived in a small house with a leaking roof, a dirt floor and no access to potable water. Space became even tighter once grandchildren came along. The loans that the couple were granted once they had clear title to their property have allowed them to expand the house, fix the roof and add water and electricity. The family hopes to buy an oven someday soon so they can bake bread and sell it. Having electricity means the children can study longer and be more successful in school, Bernalda says. “I have not received a formal education,” she says. “I’m not going to repeat that with my children.