Affordable homes

Amal Chatterjee
9 min readSep 6, 2018

Source : Google photo

Synopsis: Everybody wants to live in a decent home somewhere but not everybody can afford it so what do the poor people in this world have to do to find one? This blog looks at some of the alternatives for the very poor people .

I was watching many videos in the U tube recently where it was shown how to build an affordable home using plastic waste. In particular I was very impressed by a video where a very innovative person showed how to make bricks out of plastic waste that he uses to melt it down to a paste and then injects it into a mold of a brick that interlocks like a Lego brick.

The bricks can be made of any color that can add to the aesthetic part of the house but most importantly anyone with some basic skills can build the walls of his house like a Lego set in no time and do it cheaply. It is not totally cost free because you still have to buy prefabricated windows, doors and other fittings, bath room fixtures and electricals.

I am sure the molded plastic bricks are not free either but by building the house yourself, you can save a tremendous amount of money in labor costs. The entire house depending on size can be put together in just a few days and looks very elegant once finished. It is waterproof, weatherproof, shockproof and even fireproof making it the ideal building material.

Then there is a Polish gentleman who makes beautiful and very strong roof tiles out of recycled plastic waste the same way and exports them to many countries. The molding machines are expensive but the raw material is free so over a period of time the investment in molding machines can pay off if someone is seriously thinking of making houses affordable for the poor and making the environment free of plastic at the same time.

All over the world, there are millions of tons of plastic waste that fill up the landfills. In fact most countries do not know what to do with the plastic waste they generate everyday so some are dumping them into the oceans endangering the marine life. There is a plastic waste that covers the Pacific Ocean and rivals in size with Texas that is causing very serious threats to the marine life and more are being added to it.

Burning the plastic is not a solution because it harms the atmosphere and throwing it in landfills is not the solution because it does not degenerate easily yet we are addicted to plastic and keep on buying products that are cellophane wrapped, bottled in plastic and throw them all away.

Some countries like India are making a serious effort to ban plastic bags and plastic wrappers from the market place but we all know that a ban is only effective if it is implemented and violators punished. The Western countries are the main culprit that generate the maximum amount of plastic per capita that are thrown away but other countries that are fast developing are also facing the similar issues with plastic although the total volumes they generate pales in comparison to others.

The three basic necessities ie food, clothing and shelter in that order are the three greatest challenges facing the mankind that affects poor people the hardest. They can work at minimum wages doing unskilled work that may earn them enough to pay for food and some clothes but definitely not enough to buy their own house anywhere.

The cost of a piece of land keeps shooting up making it nearly impossible for a poor person to buy a lot and then somehow build his own house so we see the sprawl of huge slums near every major city in most countries . The favelas of Rio, the Dharawi slum of Mumbai, the endless slum in the heart of Hong Kong and its outskirts, the millions who live in slums of Manila and elsewhere point to the hard fact that the poor have nowhere to go but to live under subhuman conditions with no toilet facilities and running water.

Often fires break out in their slums due to faulty and overheated electrical wires or an explosion of a gas tank or simple neglect of leaving a burning candle unattended so whatever the cause , the fires destroy their shanties leaving them without a roof.

One person said that building millions of affordable homes for the millions of poor people is an impossible task for the private sector because it requires massive investment in land development, infrastructure development and the generation of power so only the national government in any country can do it if they have the will.

It is estimated that India alone needs over 40 million such homes in the next 10 -20 years in the vicinity of large cities because people are migrating towards the big cities in record numbers so by 2050 , half the world population will live near the cities depopulating the rural countryside.

But finding land in big and even small cities is difficult if not impossible because of very high cost of acquiring the land so the solution is to build the satellite towns around the big cities that have then to be connected with the necessary infrastructure that only the government can build. The private companies are in the business of making money so they build fancy suburbs where expensive homes are built for those who can afford them so they are not interested in affordable houses for the poor because the return to their investment is very low.

The national government has the wherewithal to take up such a massive task of building homes for everybody but it needs a lot of capital and manpower plus the technical know how to build low costs houses although it can borrow money to do so. It can also make it easy to acquire land and cut the red tapes to speed up the approval process and mobilize people and resources to work together to achieve the national goal of housing every citizen.

So I was very impressed by the gentleman who makes use of plastic waste and turns it into very strong molded bricks that fit together like Lego so practically anyone can put a house together quickly.

Here is the video link that you can watch and see for yourself.

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Here is another link to a video that shows how to turn plastic waste into beautiful roof tiles that are strong and last a lifetime.

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Here is a video that shows how to make a power shredder to shred plastic waste that can then be melted down to make bricks and tiles.

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The technology to make it all happen is shown in detail in the three videos uploaded here. But the molding machines and setting up a factory to shred, melt and pressure mold the plastic waste into very useful things like bricks and roof tiles need investment on an industrial scale to make thousands of bricks and tiles every day that any government can help set up.

Private companies can also make money out of plastic waste by setting up their own factories thus helping the low cost housing industry so a government — private collaboration can also work.

In the communist USSR and China, their government made housing for its citizens a priority so massive tenement houses were built that are multistoried and with all the amenities like electricity, water and the infrastructure needed to reach the sites.

I have seen in Algeria a great effort by the government to build 3 or 4 story high tenements that are not as massive as in Russia or in France but quite decent with gas, water and electricity connection so almost all Algerians enjoy nice houses in almost all cities and towns but rural areas lag behind where the houses for the poor are shabby.

But Algeria has a low population of a few millions only so providing houses for everybody is easier as compared to a massive population of India that numbers in hundreds of millions so the task is gargantuan. Algeria also has massive deposits of natural gas and petroleum to fuel their economy.

In this blog I have just shown that the technology exists to recycle plastic waste to make useful building materials to make very low cost but very beautiful homes for the poor that can be replicated in any country with a little help from the government and the private sector.

The Australians are also miles ahead of everybody when it comes to making prefabricated houses that they can put up in a relatively short time. All the parts needed are fabricated in a factory, transported to the site and assembled quickly and very efficiently by trained people but these parts are made of cement and steel so more expensive although quick assembly is a positive factor.

What needs to be done is to find materials that we throw away every day and turn them into beautiful homes. The biggest cost of building a house of any size is the bricks, mortar, cement, sand, steel, wood and all the other things because these things cost more and more each year. Add to that the high cost of labor to build a regular cement, concrete house and you run into very heavy expenses that most people in the world can’t afford so they end up living in slums.

I have written a blog called How to be truly independent anywhere where I designed a beautiful house in a very rural village in Mali that the villagers built for me using only clay bricks and grass for roofing that you may like to read to know what is possible but this blog is about the urban poor who cannot build a house like that because it will not be allowed. They are also not skilled to build their own houses like those Malian villagers so what they can do?

This blog discusses the alternative that are now available to solve the housing problems but the nationwide housing development is not a small task because it requires massive mobilization of manpower and resources that only the governments can do.

India is working in that direction and hopes to provide houses for every citizen in the coming years but how successful it will be will depend on the financing, speed of construction, streamlining of regulatory rules and procedures, infrastructure development that should link these satellite townships with the rest of the country, the massive generation of power through renewable resources like wind, solar, geothermal, hydro and nuclear facilities.

When I see how poor people live in cardboard and shingles dwellings in Haiti and many other countries, I feel that the development of any country that is not inclusive is only developing to serve the rich so the poor are left behind. If you see the slum dwellers in Manila who are in millions, you will feel sorry for them because they live without toilet, water and in very flimsy shacks that can burn down anytime and do. While the expensive skyscrapers are going up in the fancy part of the city to serve the rich and very affluent, the poor are left behind in their abominable conditions.

The only reason the poor migrate to cities is because there they can find some work even if menial to make a living and survive. Building houses for them very far from the city in another province does not solve their problems because they have no employment opportunities there in the provinces. They cannot afford to commute to cities every day because of the cost of commuting so they prefer to live near the source of employment.

When some people criticize China for not allowing democracy, they overlook the fact that China has built millions of beautiful homes and apartments to shelter its citizens in comfort and provides jobs in its multitude of factories lifting them out of poverty.

By contrast in Brazil where they have democracy, the street children are treated as vermin and often killed to eradicate like rats. Their favelas are the most abominable places where poor people live so I hope all countries follow the example of China and take care of its poor.

May be India someday will succeed in building 40 million new homes. The sheer will of a nation has built the China wall so nothing is really impossible.

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