Housing for the Masses – But at What Cost?
Much Needed Colonia ‘Luz y Vida’ Development Could Provide Low Cost Housing With a High Cost to the Environment

March 1st, 2009
by Thomas Tomczyk

[private]

The Luz y Vida sign in front of the project's site

The Luz y Vida sign in front of the project's site

The face of Roatan is changing. While growing urban centers house the majority of the population, low income housing developments are cropping up far from existing infrastructure. Gated community developments on prime real estate spring up for those who can afford it, and new government housing developments attempt to secure a piece of the Roatan dream for people on low incomes. But the choice of land for some new developments raises questions about cost and sustainability.

Cristobal Leuba, a minibus driver, heard about the PROVICESOL (Programa de Vivienda Ciudadana y Credito Social) program on the TV, then travelled to Tegucigalpa to train as the program coordinator. “Leuba gave us the idea and inspiration that we can achieve this,” said Joel Arguetta, a Los Fuertes pastor who coordinates Luz y Vida with 14 other project board members.

The government program aims to construct 250,000 affordable homes across the country, 1,200 of them in the Bay Islands. Luz y Vida is the first of these projects, with another project for Oak Ridge in planning stages.

A Lps. 40,000 subsidy, drawn by the government from World Development Bank funds, will be paid to each qualifying homebuyer. “We have worked out a deal, so while mainland homes cost Lps. 208,000, Roatan homes worth Lps. 325,000 will still qualify for the subsidy,” said Leuba.

For around $17,000 a family will be able to own a small home lot with magnificent views south towards the mountains of the Honduran coast. The one to twenty year housing loans will be paid at 9% interest in installments averaging Lps. 1,800 to Lps. 2,000. The entire project should cost around $4.7 million.

The project will contain 275 two bedroom, one bathroom homes. The concrete block structures will be at 42.5 square meters and placed on lots of 200 ‘barras’ or 140 square meters. Luz y Vida will be the largest ever affordable housing community on the Bay Islands and almost twice the size of the nearby and recently opened Colonia Santa Maria that has 137 home sites.

The 24.3 acre site and its only access point is situated on a south facing slope on the Palmetto road by Tres Flores. At around 120 meters above sea level the development will have a towering view of the Honduran coast and sierra Gracias a Dios peaks.

But the ‘cookie cutter’ design of homes, which replicates designs used on the Honduran coast, raises serious questions about the suitability of the housing. The designs don’t take into account surrounding island architecture, and may seem out of place. “We have decided to make the roof color green, to make the homes more like island homes,” said Arguetta. However it will take more than a coat of paint to address a failure to amend coastal designs to reinforce against earthquakes which are far more likely in Roatan than on the coast.

Further problems may stem from the topography of the site. Much of the Colonia is located on a 45 degree slope, which makes building more expensive, access from main roads more difficult, and creates a soil runoff problem. “With such a number of homes on such extreme slopes… this is a blueprint for disaster,” said Gary Chamer, a licensed architect, whose Palmetto Bay Plantation property is down the road from Luz y Vida project.

According to Irma Brady, president of Bay Islands Conservation Association, BICA has received three complaints about the project from neighbors. Several neighboring property owners worry about the negative affect of the colonia on their property values. “Beautiful old growth trees were indiscriminately cut and burned. Bulldozers cleared land of all vegetation. I do not understand how this project was allowed to proceed at this time of year,” said Chamer.

Rumors that the development is funded by Punta Cana, a Dominican Republic competitor that lost a bid for RECO, could not be substantiated and were denied by Luz y Vida coordinators. “We had presented the project to Kelcy Warren [owner of RECO] and he said we could receive funds from the [Warren] foundation he set up,” said Leuba. “Deputy Jerry Hynds said he will help us in getting the environmental permits.”

The project broke ground in June 2007. Hundreds of Cohoon palms were cut, and mountain ridges were cleared for housing sites. In what is now a common practice throughout the Bay Islands, the project went ahead without the issue of environmental permits.

At a meeting with the foreign community Mayor Dale Jackson tried to distance himself from the Luz y Vida Project. “Municipality has nothing to do with that project. I guess they put the Municipal Corporation [on the signage] as a sign of our moral support,” said Mayor Jackson. But Leuba and Arguetta said that Jackson was instrumental in securing the land and negotiating a low price. “Dale [Jackson] is a politician. He knows that with three people voting at each home, he can win an election with our support,” explained Leuba.

“Thanks to assistance to Mayor Jackson, Mr. Albert Jackson sold us the land at half price,” said Leuba, who coordinated the over $600,000 land transaction. According to Leuba the original site of the project was going to be close to Los Fuertes, but studies showed it to be situated directly over an aquifer. “We already paid money and Mr. Albert offered this other site,” said Leuba.

The next step in the Luz y Vida development will be a lottery to decide the allocation of lots scheduled for early March. [/private]

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