Recognizing Rights & Dignity: Building Green, Affordable Homes in Jordan
It’s no secret that our country has problems with water and energy. Jordan is one of the most water-scarce countries in the world and depends almost entirely on oil and gas imports.
Pressures have grown in the last five years as hundreds of thousands of people fleeing war in Syria have taken refuge here. The country is desperately short of homes. At least 100,000 new housing units are needed right now, and as things stand, these will be built in a haphazard way without consideration of comfort levels through cold winters and hot summers or energy and water consumption. This will only worsen our country’s resource crisis and further impoverish low-income families. Building green is not only our only sustainable option but also the only fair and humane one.
But people usually think that green, healthy housing is expensive and not an option for poorer groups. House prices and rents have been pushed up – by more than double in areas like Mafraq. This means that many low-income local families are living in poor and crowded conditions.
At Jordan Green Building Council (Jordan GBC), we are challenging the perception that affordable homes have to be built to poor quality. We believe that improving building performance doesn’t always mean that a building has to be high-tech. Sun and wind are free resources and simple design techniques with a marginal additional initial cost, can make a huge difference.
This is why we collaborated with Habitat for Humanity Jordan to initiate Green Affordable Homes - a project to create green and affordable housing in low-income areas in Jordan. The initiative raises environmental awareness and lowers building operating expenses through efficiency measures, convincing building owners to make the switch to greener properties and training local builders on the implementation of green building techniques and materials.
But the initiative is also about human rights and human dignity. Living in a home with healthy, comfortable, indoor environmental standards and enables a level of water and energy supplies that they can afford is a human right for all regardless of income or social status.
In 2014, we held an awareness-raising session under the Green Affordable Homes project for local community based organizations, at which basic green building concepts were shared and where the issue of going green was discussed as a common social responsibility. We completed the first pilot for a green affordable home project in the village of Aqraba next to the Syrian border in 2015. One year later, our impact assessment showed that five other families in the same area had adopted our approach and built their homes based on the green affordable home design and construction techniques that we provided. Recently, a sixth homeowner contacted us to ask for a visit to his home for inspection and green recommendations. This is truly grass roots demand taking off from within the community and using Jordan GBC only as enablers.
Building green is not only our only sustainable option but also the only fair and humane one.
Source: Aya Rabab'ah
As for me, my interest in affordable housing began when I was still an architecture student. One of the first things I learned was that building social trust with people is crucial and this comes before building foundations and structures. It’s not always easy for people to accept new ideas, and it is definitely not easy to implement those new ideas even after accepting them. However with the right communication approach, barriers can be overcome and trust established. This has been our approach with the Green Affordable Homes project and I remember how impressed I was when I saw the way our construction expert listened to every single word a local builder was saying, without any interruption, to achieve great results.
So where do we go from here? We are now scaling up the project with support from the Moving Energy Initiative - an international partnership aiming to sustainably reduce environmental pressures through clean energy access in areas of mass human displacement. In 2018, we will build five new green affordable homes and retrofit 40 existing homes.
This project also includes awareness-raising sessions for local communities in five different locations in Jordan, in addition to building technical capacities for local contractors and construction workers. The training programme actively includes builders of different nationalities and backgrounds in order to create more cohesion between refugees and host communities.
And this we hope will be one of the project’s lasting successes - creating community cohesion in a part of the world where conflict has forced pressures of unemployment and housing shortages on both displaced people and the communities which take them in. Our aim is to build on experience through more collaboration and partnerships until we make green affordable homes a widespread reality in Jordan.