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Some guidelines for public-sector housing and shelter agencies

1. Ensure that the national housing policy reflects the significance of shelter as a production as well as consumption factor within the economy.

Low-income households can often increase their income if they have shelter with secure tenure and sufficient space to support income-generating and income-substitution activities. This is particularly true of female heads of household who are more likely to be dependent on informal earnings.

2. Encourage the Department of Statistics and/or planning agency to disaggregate household data on the basis of female. male. and joint heads of household as defined in this study.

Disaggregation of household data in this way allows the situation of different types of household to be understood more clearly. The system still used by many statistical institutions. based on categorizing households as either male- or female headed, confuses rather than clarifies and is of little help for planning purposes.

3. Place a priority on shelter interventions are affordable to large numbers of poor people rather than those that can only be afforded by a few.

Starter units, core units and finished houses delivered by the formal sector are usually unaffordable to the majority of low-income households. Even when these solutions are affordable in the strict sense, they often are developed on such small plots of land that the incremental expansion and improvement that most households wish to invest in over time are ruled out.

Minimally serviced sites that allow for incremental improvements, squatter-settlement upgrading, land leasing for residential development, and the encouragement of voluntary housing associations and co-operatives that can provide affordable rental housing are all approaches that should be emphasized because they tend to reach larger numbers of poor people rather than small numbers of better-off people. They are likely to meet the needs of female-headed households precisely because they are targeted at poorer households.

4. Develop and Implement a comprehensive land policy that applies to all public sector agencies.

The most important variable influencing poor people's willingness to invest in shelter is their access to secure land tenure. If land tenure is secure households may live in very humble dwellings to begin with but they will improve and expand their shelter over time.

The importance of developing and using a national land policy cannot be overemphasized. Sometimes governments have little information about the land that the public sector itself controls and consequently opportunities for affordable residential land developments for low-income households are lost. In other cases two or more ministries may control different parts of a disunited land policy so that different sections of the public sector operate in contradiction to each other. In Jamaica for instance, during the International Year of Shelter for the Homeless in 1987, the Ministry of Agriculture was busy evicting squatters from government land and invested in a wide-ranging media campaign against squatters at the same time as the Ministry of Housing was lauding the efforts of low income households to develop housing for themselves within the informal sector and, often, on land captured from Government.

The development of a comprehensive land policy that is clearly understood by all ministries and that provides a basis for residential use of government lands through land banking, leasehold arrangements, sites and minimum services etc. is of critical importance to low-income shelter development in general and to the development of shelter assistance for female-headed households in particular.

5. Integrate income-generating strategies into shelter development strategies.

If household income increases or becomes more regular and reliable, households are much more likely to consider long-term investments in shelter. Unfortunately income generation is all too often seen as the responsibility of a ministry other than the Ministry of Housing. Either ensure that a department within the Ministry of Housing, such as the community services department, is geared to dealing with income- and employment-generation or else ensure that a close working relationship is established with personnel responsible in the ministry that is entrusted with these activities so that integrated income/shelter interventions can be made within low-income settlements.

Income- and employment-generation strategies used in low-income settlements should ensure that a focus is placed on the creation of economic options for young women within the settlement. Many older women who are heads of household are already overburdened with work and domestic responsibilities. Providing options for the younger unemployed women in female- headed households often relieves the burden carried by the older household heads. Employment generation for young women also seems to reduce their pregnancy rates. another benefit for households that already support more dependents than male- or joint-headed households.

6. Develop a clear understanding of dynamics within the local rental market and support interventions that provide affordable rental housing for low-income households.

Over half the survey sample in this study were found to be renting and this was by far the most common shelter solution for female heads of household. The current obsession with freehold tenure in international shelter development has led to a disregard for rental policy on the part of many governments. The important place that rentals have for the low-income population makes this a serious omission and rental policies require urgent and priority attention.

Given that it is unlikely that the demand for rental accomodation will disappear, steps should be taken to ensure that:

(a) Low-income households are encouraged to develop rental accomodation (an extra room as an extension for instance) for the use of other households;

(b) Areas with a high prevalence of tenement yards are prioritized for upgrading but allowed to retain their yard "advantages", particularly when female-headed households are known to be resident.

(c) A set proportion of public sector budgetary allowance for housing be set aside to upgrade rental housing;

(d) The option for leashold as opposed to freehold purchase of land for shelter development be incorporated into the national shelter strategy.

7. Prioritize the upgrading of water supplies In low-income areas.

After secure land tenure and income generation, water is probably the most critical factor determining the degree to which shelter investments are made by low-income households. Water supplies are particularly important for women because they tend to be the people responsible for laundry and hygeine within the household. However, children, who often are the main water carriers, are also directly affected by poor supplies.

Narrow cost-recovery policies covering water installations and supply systems often result in massive losses due to illegal connections. In addition, poor water and sanitation services impact severely on the health of low-income households, particularly on their children and ultimately add to the national health bill. A trunk water supply that can be upgraded over time to provide household connections should be a minimum objective for all low-income settlements.

8. Make sure that women benefit from employment opportunities resulting from low-income shelter interventions.

Shelter-development projects by the public sector invariably entail the use of high levels of manual labour. However, women rarely benefit from this income-generating option. Women should be employed on all shelter projects at unskilled, semi-skilled and skilled levels. If feasible, pre-project training should be provided to women so that they can take advantage of this opportunity. Women can become excellent construction workers and experience gained on even a single shelter project can potentially provide a woman with skills that she can use for income generation long after the project has concluded.

Ministries of Housing should also ensure that other ministries, particularly those dealing with education, training and youth, encourage the participation of girls and women in construction-related skill training programmes.

9. Be prepared to accept Informal earnings as a source of repayment for shelter credit extended by the public sector.

When formal earnings are treated as a prerequisite for credit extension many low-income households dependent on informal earnings fall to benefit.. This is particularly true of female- headed households because female heads tend to rely on informal earnings more often than do other heads. If there is concern about extending credit on the basis of informal earnings that cannot be substantiated by community workers or reliable people within the community, consider establishing a savings system based on the Partner so that people can demonstrate their ability to save prior to a loan being extended.

It might also be worth considering brokering loans to informal earners through established non-governmental organizations (NGOs) or community-based organisations (CBOs) that have regular dealings with the individuals seeking the loans. Small-scale loan schemes of this kind have often demonstrated extremely good repayment rates.

10. Explore the potential for working In partnership with local NGOs and CBOs.

Even when the Ministry of Housing does have community development divisions the staff concerned are often overstretched and may find it difficult to work at the community level because of a distrust of government. Community-level organizing is time consuming and requires a long-term commitment from individuals prepared to operate within the community during social (evening and weekend) hours. NGOs and CBOs are often well-placed to operate at this level and have increasingly established a reputation for getting benefits to the people who need them most.

The involvement of NGOs and CBOs in the development of national housing policies and strategies relating to shelter, and their integration into shelter programmes and projects from the planning stage onwards, can provide a good basis for the development of community participation.

In order to involve women in community building, NGOs and CBOs with a demonstrated commitment to, and experience in, working with women, should be involved. In some cases women-only organizations can be an advantage because they allow women the opportunity to develop confidence in discussing and analysing their own situations.

11 . When women are involved in self-help shelter projects they should be able to have access to credit for hiring labour.

Until women have had the chance to develop construction skills they will continue to employ artisans to do their building work more often than do other types of household head. Credit for hiring labour will therefore be required for that as well as for purchasing materials. However, it is important to make sure that the artisans hired do not exploit the women as happened on a number of sites-and- service projects during the 1970s. Either the artisans should be monitored on a regular basis, or provided directly by the sponsoring agency rather than hired directly by the women themselves.