Challenges in delivering safe and affordable homes for vulnerable families differs in overseas locations when compared with Australia, a senior leader within the Australian operations of a world-renowned not-for-profit organisation said.

During a recent interview with Sourceable, Dan Peyton, Head of Impact Giving at Habitat for Humanity Australia, described several ways in which challenges in delivering housing for vulnerable and financially disadvantaged people overseas are different from those in Australia.

Whilst challenges in Australia include construction costs, a focus in many overseas locations involves building homes which can withstand natural disasters.

Each year during the South Pacific cyclone season from October to May, for example, places such as Fiji, the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu are vulnerable to cyclones. During these months, it is not a matter of whether cyclones will occur throughout the region but rather how many will occur and how big these will be.

When building in these locations, Habitat emphasises sturdy construction and use of resilient materials.

Indeed, when Cyclone Winston hit in Fiji in 2016, 299 of the 300 Habitat homes which had been constructed remained standing (the other was fallen upon by a neighbouring building). Moreover, Peyton says Habitat homes have often been used as places of refuge following extreme weather events.

Another factor which further increases durability and resilience involves the organisation’s operating model, under which families themselves contribute a minimum number of hours in the construction of their home.

This not only facilitates a genuine partnership arrangement and a sense of empowerment, it also helps to deliver a lasting solution by providing families and local communities with the skills to maintain their homes and conduct repairs as needed.

A second challenge involves difficulties in reaching communities in remote areas, such as the mountains of Nepal or the jungles of Indonesia.

To overcome this, Habitat often uses locally sourced materials. This has added benefits in helping the local economy and ensuring that materials needed for repairs over the life of the home are more readily available.

Peyton’s comments come as Habitat recently launched its Home for a Home program.

Under this program, building and development companies make a donation for every home which they sell in Australia. This goes toward building or repairing homes for those in need across  Australia and the Asia Pacific region.

For participating companies, participation in the program provides a vehicle through which to make a meaningful social impact. This they can use to increase their connection with customers and other stakeholders through sharing real-life stories and project updates.

Operating in over 70 countries worldwide, Habitat for Humanity helps families and communities to access safe and decent housing along with access to water, sanitation and hygiene and livelihood training.

In Australia, programs include a home ownership program for vulnerable families, a bushfire recovery program to provide temporary shelter or clear debris for families affected and a program to help with landscaping or minor exterior repairs to homes of those who may be disadvantaged, disabled or socially isolated.

Across our region, it runs programs to deliver housing security, disaster risk reduction and recovery, urban planning and advocacy and water and sanitation.

Peyton says benefits of housing which is safe, secure and well-constructed should not be underestimated.

These include:

  • Particularly in the developed world, providing a space where people come together and share memories – particularly around Christmas.
  • Especially in the developing world, providing a foundation for other life improvements. This can include families using their residence as a place from which to start businesses (e.g. growing crops, selling goods) or children having a suitable place to study and further their education.
  • Requiring less money to be spent on ongoing repairs and thus leaving more funds for clothing, education, food and water.
  • Providing a durable housing solution which can be passed down through generations and can help families to escape the poverty cycle.

Peyton says there are several ways companies and people can help.

In addition to the aforementioned Home for a Home program, this includes a number of volunteering opportunities. These do not require particular skills or abilities and are suitable for those of varying age and fitness levels. (Your correspondent participated in several volunteer days for a home building program in the Victorian town of Yea following the Black Saturday bushfires.)

Peyton says experiences in working alongside those in need can be powerful.

Recently, he spent five days on the NSW South Coast helping those impacted by the 2019/20 fires.

One woman being helped had originally designed and built her own home – which was lost in the fires. Habitat was assisting with landscaping and building her a new vegetable garden.

Despite getting into action quickly, the woman had been mentally and emotionally traumatised. She was appreciative of the fact that Habitat and the team of volunteers was helping.

Peyton says efforts such as these have been important as challenges for affected communities remain despite media attention having waned.

“When the fires happened (in 2019/20), there was wall-to-wall media attention,” Peyton said.

“But then COVID hit and media attention faded. Sometimes these property owners feel forgotten or that they are on their own.

“Many people are surprised to find that people are still living in container homes or tents two years on (from the fires).

“Property owners are always appreciative that we are there. It can help to restore their faith in humanity.”