Support Program for Housing Improvement and Construction on Own Sites


1.- History, background and context

More than 50% of the built area of the main cities of Colombia has been produced through spontaneous construction processes. This is the effect of the lack of an official response from the public and private sectors to demands for land and housing, as well as the inability of the State to prevent and address the migration and displacement of families toward other urban centers. In the majority of cases, these informal processes have generated serious social, economic and physical problems, due to:

– The absence or the low quality of infrastructure.
– The absence or the low quality of public services.
– The partial or total absence of collective facilities.
– Their location in risk-prone areas.
– Their location in areas that negatively affect the efficient functioning of the city.

This situation constitutes the largest urban deficit, affecting in particular the housing and environmental conditions of the lowest-income population. It is also one of the most critical challenges for housing policies. In response to this situation, and separate from the technical and economic practices of the formal production systems, a phenomenon has emerged of a housing and city construction process which combines a series of inputs and factors developed in a not always logical or rational way.

This social process of housing production is stimulated mostly by human need (a place to live), and is not pursued for profit-making motives, although it does imply important economic dynamics, the formation of family patrimony, family economic assets, and income-generating collectives.

To support and to contribute certain rationality to this production system, recognizing the contribution and effort of the population, the Housing Improvement and Construction on Own Site Program was developed. The Housing Improvement Program began in 1986 as a research process, and around 1990 began its execution.

Phases of the process:
1. Research-action.
2. Formulation of the program.
3. Program implementation.
4. Housing improvement as public policy.
5. Current situation: Construction on Own Site as public policy.

2.- Objectives, strategies and scope

The Housing Improvement and Construction on Own Site Program developed by FEDEVIVIENDA attempts to:

  • Propose a system through which to facilitate access to technical and economic resources required to improve their habitat, for population groups with incomes below four minimum legal monthly wages per family (US$ 497).
  • Establish a flexible and replicable model for the development of housing improvement programs that allow the articulation of financial factors, technical assistance, and commercialization of materials, so as to contribute to the formulation of a global policy of social production of habitat processes.
  • Rationalize the housing improvement process through the production of technical instruments that improve the effectiveness of cost, quality, and yield factors.

Size of participating and beneficiary population/ Territorial scope:

In Bogot, the Housing Improvement Program has developed in a disperse manner. During 1998-2000, a process was undertaken to transfer the model to Mexico City. Through the Habitat Mexico Coalition, FEDEVIVIENDA was invited to transfer the methodology to National Housing Institute functionaries and several Mexico City NGOs. The following results were obtained:

Innovative aspects

Financial: combination of public resources (subsidy) with private resources (family savings).
Methodological: progressive construction process in a determined time period, combining: participative design, technical assistance, materials supply (1), and public and private resources.
Management: establishment of agreements and collaboration commitments between diverse actors: public (functionaries from municipal planning and registration offices), and private (producers and distributors of materials, financial entities, Family Compensation Funds).

3.- Actors involved and their roles

Beneficiary population: families (disperse, not organized).
Technical advisory groups: professionals.
Government: local and national.
Financial: cooperative savings and loan entities (in the initial phase of the process).
Private initiative: Family Compensation Funds.
International cooperation: MISEREOR, at the beginning of the process and later with support for the methodology transfer to Mexico.

4.- Program components

Habitat elements included in the productive process
The Program addresses the solution of the families housing deficiencies. In the case of housing improvement this included the upgrading and expansion of spaces with emphasis on sanitary installations, ventilation, and lighting. In the construction-on-own-site program, the goal is a housing unit which can be progressively developed by the family.

Social and cultural aspects
The technical assistance to the families for housing construction was oriented to support design, technological (materials and construction system) and budget (costs) aspects in accordance with the real possibilities of the families, within the concept of progressive housing, which understands housing construction as a process. The work model links distinct components and actors to achieve coordinated intervention.

Contribution to urban development
The process has contributed elements for the incorporation of this type of intervention as national-level public policy, specifically determining the subsidy for housing improvement and currently for construction on own site, and a set of regulations for this purpose.

5.- Primary instruments used

– Information workshops
– Participative design with the families

– Housing subsidy allocated by the Family Compensation Fund
– Programmed family savings
– Complementary credit

– Agreements to facilitate bureaucratic procedures for expedition of construction permits.

Administrative and management:
– Coordination instruments and agreements with public actors (local governments) and private actors (Family Compensation Funds, construction material suppliers).

– Technical assistance in construction aspects for the families.
– Supply of materials.

6.- Achievements and main lessons learned

Through the Housing Improvement and Construction on Own Site Program, a model has been consolidated for rationalization of family efforts to acquire or improve their homes. The process has also confirmed the improved results and impacts obtainable through integration of efforts, especially with local governments.

7.- Key words

Colombia, Bogot, housing improvement, construction on own site, subsidy, technical advisory, technological transfer, support and recognition for family initiatives, international cooperation.

8.- Sources

Internal documents.

9.- Contacts

Avenida 39 No. 14 75
Bogot Distrito Capital COLOMBIA
Telephones: (57-1) 3381277 3405739
Fax: (57-1) 2871941


(1) The materials supply component was established within the program to address the excessive construction materials costs encountered by families, which is generated by various factors:
– The chain of intermediaries between producers and final users (the families);
– The lack of technical expertise in the use of materials, which often leads to excessive material use to increase the security of the construction;
– Purchases of small quantities of materials, which increases overall transportation costs and limits possibilities to negotiate prices.
The Programs model attempts to address these practices with specific actions such as standardization of construction techniques and the programming of construction works, fostering anticipated purchases in large quantities with discounts for pre-payment.
A savings of approximately 17% has been estimated in overall construction costs (much of which goes to materials) through the Program.