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Nicaragua Project Description -
High Quality Low Cost Housing
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Facts & Figures, Cost Summary, Estimate:

The attached table, "Resumen de Mano de Obra", summarizes the costs of the project in labor, purchased materials with some import component, fuel, purchased materials that are 100% local, and tools. Purchased materials with import components were about C$70,000, purchased local materials were C$31,000, tools US$65 (at the parallel market rate this would be C$61,000). The total cash expenditure is C$162,000.

Taking into account that some outside labor will be occasionally required, allowing for contingencies, and for occasions on which other materials will have to be purchased, we recommend that a budget of C$300,000 be established. With such a budget it should be possible for the government to routinely see the production of houses of much higher quality and larger size than it is now accomplishing with the double or triple this amount.

We strongly recommend against trying to cut the budget down to the last dollar. This is a formula for failure. The project is currently cheaper than any other with comparable quality, and almost as cheap as the Plan Techo. Equally important, the expenditure on imported items is very low. Having an adequate budget will assure that the work continues and that the experience is spread. A lower budget will mean that unexpected problems cannot be dealt with, production will slow or stop, people will be frustrated and disappointed, and the project will fail. When a large production is achieved and the process is solidly established, efforts can be made to trim costs to the bone. To do so in the development stage is penny wise, pound foolish.
  • Purchased materials with an import component total about C$70,000. These include cement and lime which have an import component of about 80% principally because a large amount of energy (oil) is used in their manufacture and the equipment is imported. Fuel: gas, oil, and diesel. And products containing metals: nails, hinges, rebar.

  • Purchased local materials total C$31,000. This is for purchase of caņa castilla. Although this is a 100% local product, the coop did not have any on its land or access to any, so they had to purchase it.
  • Tools cost about US$60. We have priced all tools in dollars since the tools for this work were brought almost entirely from the US and because we do not information on local prices for most of the items.
Some of the tools are produced locally and others can be. Every effort should be made to increase this production. At this moment there is a great shortage of even elementary tools. We found it difficult to purchase a pick, a rake, and had to go to Managua to get a wheel barrow.

The power tools: chain saw, electric circular saw, drill are strictly imported items. These tools are relatively cheap yet result in tremendous increases in productivity. They appear to produce a much greater increase in productivity per dollar spent than do heavy (and expensive) equipment such as band saw mills, etc.

Oxen. Oxen appear to be an excellent possibility for local transport of materials in areas such as San Dionisio. They are produced locally, do not require imported fuel, and are quite effective in the rough terrain (often lacking roads) in which much of the work is carried on. Materials are chosen so that distances are small. We did not use them on the model house because the coop was promised a tractor and MIDINRA decided not to invest in oxen. There are a limited number of oxen so that wide use would require raising and training more of them.

Labor. On site labor is about 346 person days. Labor for producing materials: lumber, tile, sand, stone, is 204 person days. On site labor includes all the work normally associated with building a house: excavating and constructing the foundation, carpentry for walls and roof, placing roof tiles, plastering walls, etc. Labor for producing materials includes making the tiles, cutting trees and sawing them into lumber, and other items that are often purchased and listed under the category of materials.

Since this is self-help labor, we do not strictly need to account for its value in Cordoba. Using the wage coop members currently receive, the total cost of the project is very low, about C$450,000. Allowing a somewhat higher rate, but still not as high as carpenters and masons, the cost still remains under the original budget of C$600,000.

To give an impression of the commitment of time that this demands from the coop or from another group we can note that if every family in the country were to allocate 2 days per week from the family to building their own housing (this is 2 days from the whole family, not from each person), then the whole country would have new houses in 6 years.

This is not meant as an accurate prediction of how long such a process would actually take, it is meant to give an impression of the power of the method. Assuming that things would not go smoothly, what if we were to consider that it would take twice as long, 12 years, or 3 times as long, 18 years. In either case the result would be unprecedented in the world. No one has ever rehoused an entire nation (in spacious, beautiful, high quality homes) in such a short time.

What would be required to do this. It would be principally an organizational and educational problem. In this sense it would be analogous to the literacy brigades. Cuba's transformation of the literacy of its country was unprecedented at the time. No country had ever produced such a dramatic change in the literacy of its people. Nicaragua could do a similar things with its housing





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