Building Assets, Unlocking Access: Building Shelter Solutions for the Poor

Africa’s cities are the fastest growing in the developing world. As people flock to urban centers in search of jobs and a better life, it is estimated that in the next few years some Africa cities will be home to about 85% of their country’s population. With this increase the demand for housing, and ways to finance it, will grow. According to the Centre for Affordable Housing Finance in Africa, only about 3% of Africans are able to afford a traditional mortgage. Other financing available to poorer segments of the population is generally through informal means and is much more costly.

In an effort to convene actors from the financial and construction sectors in a dialogue about the expansion of affordable housing finance, Habitat for Humanity International hosted a peer learning event October 21 – 23 in Naivasha, Kenya, with 70 delegates, including the six financial institutions currently involved in a housing microfinance project ‘Building Assets, Unlocking Access’, and other organizations from within the region and around the globe. The purpose was to exchange lessons and knowledge to support the continued expansion of affordable housing finance in the region and to explore how the housing and finance sector can strengthen their links towards that through market system approaches.

The event was a milestone in an exciting partnership between Habitat for Humanity International’s Center for Innovation Shelter Finance and The MasterCard Foundation that began in 2013 with the aim of building capacity of local financial institutions already serving the poor to diversify their products to meet shelter-related needs and so reach those underserved, marginalized, and excluded from the formal financial sector and consequently cannot access mortgage loans. The ‘Building Assets, Unlocking Access’ project has already helped home owners in Uganda and Kenya access funds to secure adequate housing and so improve their living conditions. Partner financial institutions that have launched or are currently developing housing microfinance products include large commercial banks, women-focused institutions, cooperative banks and more. To date, almost 6000 families have access to an improved standard of living as part of an ultimate project goal of reaching over 15,000 families.

During the learning forum, attendees considered how these products can help reduce the housing deficit in the region; how linkages with other market actors can add value to the financial services; and how non-financial housing services such as quality monitoring can complement a loan product. Two key topics included the business case for housing microfinance and defining the required support for institutions to ultimately scale these products to serve thousands more families.

Traditionally, housing in sub-Saharan Africa is built incrementally, as resources allow. Since housing can play an important role in household asset building – providing both a place of protection from vulnerabilities as well as a base from which to be economically productive. Many households work on the improvement and extension of their homes first to obtain the minimum standards in size and quality, and later to accommodate changes in household size or to obtain income from their investment in the house. Incremental housing can be described as an inverted version of the traditional, formal process of building and financing a house. Meanwhile, microfinance has become an effective tool to increase access to capital for low-income populations, often the same populations lacking adequate shelter. For those institutions serving the “base of the pyramid” and committed to positive financial and social results, housing microfinance is emerging as a nimble tool to address substandard housing, being a viable financial product while helping achieve a social mission. However, those institutions often lack the technical knowledge of the housing process and housing markets to develop a housing microfinance product adequately.

“It is exciting to see that we have stimulated the financial sector, especially those committed to work with lower income people, even at this early stage. We have institutions thinking about housing microfinance where they might not have otherwise considered it. We are anticipating a hugely positive impact in Africa around housing micro finance,” said Ruth Odera, Regional Manager for the project.

“We’re proud to support Habitat for Humanity and its work in housing financing for the poor,” said Ruth Dueck-Mbeba, Senior Program Manager at The MasterCard Foundation. “Learning from others about what works and how is essential if we want to enable more people at the bottom of the pyramid to acquire or improve housing for themselves and their families. We’re excited about the work that Habitat is currently implementing in Kenya and Uganda and we look forward to sharing the results of that work with everyone else working in this space.”

About Habitat for Humanity International
Habitat for Humanity International’s vision is a world where everyone has a decent place to live. Since 1976, Habitat has helped more than 6.8 million people gain strength, stability and independence through housing, including home construction, rehabilitation and repairs and by increasing access to improved shelter through products and programs. Habitat also advocates to improve access to decent and affordable shelter and offers a variety of housing support services that enable families with limited means to make needed improvements on their homes as their time and resources allow. As a nonprofit Christian housing organization, Habitat works in more than 70 countries and welcomes people of all races, religions and nationalities to partner in its mission. To learn more, donate or volunteer, visit

About The MasterCard Foundation
The MasterCard Foundation works with visionary organizations to provide greater access to education, skills training and financial services for people living in poverty, primarily in Africa. As one of the largest, independent foundations, its work is guided by its mission to advance learning and promote financial inclusion in order to alleviate poverty. Based in Toronto, Canada, its independence was established by MasterCard when the Foundation was created in 2006. For more information, please visit or follow on Twitter @MCFoundation.

Habitat for Humanity Canada
Founded in 1985, Habitat for Humanity Canada (HFHC) is an active member of Habitat for Humanity International’s network and shares in the vision of a world where everyone has a safe and decent place to live. Habitat’s mission is to mobilize volunteers and community partners in building affordable housing and promoting homeownership as a means to break the cycle of poverty in Canada and around the world. Globally, HFHC plays a key implementation role in the developing world and provides strategic support to program countries in an effort to serve the 1.6 billion people in need of access to shelter.

Center for Innovation in Shelter and Finance
This project is implemented by Habitat for Humanity’s Center for Innovation in Shelter and Finance (CISF). The Centre was established in 2009 to serve as a place of knowledge, expertise, advice and innovation, enabling low- and very low-income families to acquire adequate housing. The Center’s team is advancing the development of demand-driven, scalable housing solutions to low-income communities. Currently, they are leading efforts in promoting and supporting vibrant housing finance solutions through advisory services, research, knowledge development and learning exchanges.

  • Facilitate collaboration between public, private and third-sector actors in the market.
  • Develop sustainable and innovative housing solutions for those who lack adequate housing.
  • Increase access to affordable shelter among lower-income populations.

For more information please contact:

Chris Sorek, Marketing and Communications Director, Europe, Middle East and Africa Habitat for Humanity International. Zochova 6-8, 81103 Bratislava, Slovakia Tel: 421 2 3366 9013 Email: [email protected]