Team Sahoja | October 6

Meet the Charity That’s Pioneering New Approaches to Housing

In the past many months, we’ve all learned that the best way to stay safe and slow the spread of COVID-19 is to practice social distancing, wearing a mask and to stay home. But what of the millions who have no home? What of those living in houses of cardboard and corrugated metal, without running water?

The pandemic has brought the issue of homelessness into focus and forced governments and communities to confront it head-on. The scope of the problem is vast: More than 1 billion people around the world lack adequate shelter. That number is expected to grow to 3 billion by 2050. Stemming the tide requires more than political will or charitable works. It requires new approaches to homebuilding.

That’s why Sahoja is pleased to support New Story, a pioneer in the search for housing solutions. Founded in 2014 by a team of 20-somethings, the nonprofit has built about 3,400 homes in four countries and kicked off construction of the world’s first 3D-printed community in Mexico.

Watch this video to see the printer in action:

Housing Crisis Demands Cutting Edge Tools

Printing houses is buzzworthy stuff – it’s why Fast Company named New Story one of the most innovative companies in the world – but it’s not a panacea for homelessness. New Story is already forging other tools to help governments and aid organizations build better, faster, and more affordably.

“Our goal is to take risks and create technologies that have an exponential impact on housing,  instead of just building another home, building another home,” says Sam Ballmer, New Story’s strategic partnerships manager. “There has to be an R&D arm for this industry, both for affordable housing and housing in general.”

Mexico Family

One of New Story’s earliest lessons was the importance of community input. Before the charity starts building houses, it gathers the families who will eventually occupy them. “A lot of organizations will basically come in and say, ‘We know how to build homes best. We’re going to build them this way,’” Ballmer says. “But the people really need to have input. They often know things we don’t know about the area, or things they need for their culture.”

In one Mexican community, for example, the New Story team learned that a certain area would get very wet and become unusable for part of the year. “We had no idea,” Ballmer says. “We were able to strategically shift the design of the community to leave that as a grassy area.” They’ve learned that parents prefer to be centrally located so they can keep an eye on children playing outside, while the elderly favor quieter areas. In El Salvador, where gangs are an issue, they’ve learned to limit points of access to a community.

New Story created a course that empowers other homebuilders to incorporate community input into their work. It also rolled out an app for gathering data in the field, even in places without internet service. “We’re looking to intelligently build communities, not just put up homes,” Ballmer says.

Community building is one of eight causes Sahoja holds dear because it’s about helping people thrive, not just survive. As New Story puts it: “When families have the security of body and possessions that a home provides, they can focus on actualizing potential instead of fearing theft, illness, and violence.” They can devote their energies to other needs, like generating income and educating their children.

After building one community in El Salvador, New Story found that 30 percent of residents launched their own businesses. “That’s a big number,” Ballmer says. “We looked at the data, and we realized a lot of those businesses were run by women – selling tacos or whatever it may be. So in the next community, we built big windows so people could serve what they were selling or open little shops. Little tweaks like that make a big impact.”

Give Points, Give Thanks

When you donate Sahoja points to New Story, you’re helping build a home for a family in El Salvador. New Story has built six communities in El Salvador and works closely with its first-ever minister of housing. The country of 6.5 million people has a deficit of roughly 1 million homes. To support New Story – and help a family start a new chapter – log in to the Sahoja app and make a donation.

Then, take a moment to give thanks for the safety of your home.