Encouraging self-building of houses

Supporting owner-building of shelter
Empowering own house construction
Enabling people to build residences
Facilitating home building by owners
Initiating improved home building
All cultures have over time developed their own adequate and affordable housing solutions. Most often these solutions have utilized local indigenous building materials to the maximum and require little, if any, housing finance. Land used to be abundantly available, the people themselves mastered the traditional construction methods and were also able to maintain their shelter. Settlements developed on sites where water supply was guaranteed and where involvement in various productive activities provided for the settlers' basic needs.
Governments can influence the construction sector through the enactment and enforcement of building codes and planning legislation that encourages self-help building. Outdated building codes, often inherited from the colonial era, hinder technological innovations and crucial new housing construction. In many countries, only the top 10 percent of households can afford houses that meet local building codes.

Where most houses are built from earth, there is a need to prepare an illustrated Earth Building Code (following the example of India, Australia, Mexico and many States in the USA) to improve the quality of earth-based building materials and to guide artisans, contractors and self-help builders in the construction process. Similar handbooks have been prepared for the use and manufacture of other locally available building materials, such as bamboo, stone and timber. This, in addition to simplifying cumbersome bureaucratic procedures for obtaining building permits, could stimulate housing construction undertaken by the small-scale contractors and self-help builders.

As security of tenure has proven to be the best impetus for self-help housing construction, governments should increase the supply of serviced land. To this effect, governments can crate land banks, streamline acquisition procedures, ease leasing conditions, and update land cadastres and taxation systems. To reduce the price, instead of providing "fully serviced" plots, municipalities could offer land that is only serviced with minimum utilities. There is a need to develop innovative solutions and appropriate designs for small plots, thus reducing the development costs for land and overall development costs.

Training is one of the key factors for the success of self-help building. Lack of "know-how" and building skills is often a major obstacle confronting self-help builders. Therefore, there is a need to reinforce and build up local capacity in self-help building. training of local builders should combine theory, experimentation and practice through the actual implementation of small-scale housing and community projects.

Self-building also creates employment because it depends on high labour input. In Dandora, Nairobi low-income residents employed an average of 8-9 construction workers, 76 percent of whom were paid. Almost 75 percent of the total Kenyan population living and working in rural areas have dwellings built by themselves individually or collectively on farms and settlement schemes using locally available materials and resources.

1. Many governments, particularly in developing countries, still continue searching for the "magic formula" in providing housing. Various designs have been and are being developed, then costed, then pruned and simplified to make the shelters more affordable. But the end-result is most often a semi-permanent, bare minimum house, which looks cheap but is still unaffordable for the lowest income groups. Housing estates built on this model end up looking exactly what they are: ghettos of low-income families rather than innovative housing areas or new solutions to adequate shelter, which they were intended to be. In addition, the new occupants have to struggle to repay their housing loans and often fail, thereby losing their newly acquired home. Accepting self-building as a starting point would take governments a long way towards facilitation of shelter for all.

2. Decision-makers have to be convinced that if they allow the people to shelter themselves, the result cannot be worse than the current situation of proliferating illegal housing in squatter settlements or slums. On the contrary, security of tenure encourages beautification and more permanent structures.

3. Self-help enshrines within it the idea of "sweat equity" - creating property value by the owner's own labours). Having to obtain finance before you can build shelter is reminiscent of economic slavery.

4. People know how to build. Given the change, people are willing and able to shelter themselves. Flexibility is the key issue. Allowing temporary structures to be built for a specified time (which again must be flexible) will enable the families to settle and involve themselves in income generating activities. History has proven that, given the opportunity, people can produce the finest art of building.

Housing, tenants
Type Classification:
E: Emanations of other strategies