VANCOUVER – Buy a condo in Vancouver’s notorious real estate market and you’ll likely walk away with a lighter wallet and a sinking feeling you might have overspent. But what if you knew you were also providing a home for a family living beside a garbage dump in Cambodia, one of the world’s poorest countries?
With its official launch Tuesday, Vancouver-based World Housing hopes to make that a reality by partnering with real estate developers who want to donate a new home in the developing world for each unit sold here in the New World.
The project is the brainchild of Pete Dupuis and Sid Landolt, longtime partners in the luxury real estate business, who call it the world’s first one-for-one real estate gifting model. They both say that adequate housing can be life-changing for people struggling to survive in the impoverished slums that surround landfills.
“When you give someone a home, they become completely independent,” Dupuis said.
Since it launched in beta form last year, World Housing has already built 53 homes for families living at the Steung Meanchey dump in Phnom Penh. The 130-square-foot houses are all built on stilts, to protect them from flooding, and have access to shared bathhouses with toilets and running water.
“We’re trying to hit the U.N. standards for adequate housing,” Dupuis said. “When we built our first five homes in November, three of the families had never used a toilet.
The first Vancouver project to partner with World Housing will be Westbank Corp.’s 52-storey condo tower – designed by Danish architect Bjarke Ingels – at the north end of Granville Bridge. Dupuis expects projects in Toronto, Taipei and Honolulu will come on board later this year.
If everything goes according to plan, developers will commit to donate $3,000 from each condo sale to build a home in a dump community; $2,500 of that goes directly to construction and the remaining $500 goes to operations. World Housing isn’t a non-profit or a charity, but instead a “community contribution company” that functions thanks to a partnership with the private sector.
“The real people making the change are the developers and the buyers,” Landolt said. “Those are the heroes in the equations.”
Dupuis and Landolt hope their program will house 30,000 people by 2020, which would involve the construction of up to 5,000 new homes.
The pair were inspired to create World Housing after a chance meeting on a Los Angeles-Vancouver flight with TOMS Shoes founder Blake Mycoskie, whose company gives away a pair of shoes to a child in need for every pair of shoes it sells.
“I got off the plane and said: ‘You know what Sid. We can do that,’” Dupuis said.
Any developer who wants to get involved must first be certified by World Housing, which looks at the project’s sustainability initiatives and environmental footprint. They also need to pass what Dupuis calls the “Sid and Pete good-guy test.”
Are they active in the community? Do they give to charity? Are they, in fact, “good guys”?
Dupuis and Landolt believe that partnering with World Housing will be a massive marketing boon for developers.
“We take their project, which is a for-profit development, and we turn it into a social venture,” Dupuis said.
Besides the knowledge that their purchase has provided someone with a home, buyers will also get a personal connection to the people they have helped. They receive a plaque with the family’s photo on it, get the GPS co-ordinates to view the home on Google Earth and can even fly to Phnom Penh to meet the recipients in person.
At the other end of the equation, the families which receive the homes are closely vetted by World Housing partners working in Cambodia. The children must attend school rather than working in the dump as trash-pickers, the parents cannot work in the sex or drug trades, and the families must be considered good role models in the community.
The new houses are built very close to the dump, so that families aren’t removed from the community where they have lived all their lives.
“They don’t want to move,” Dupuis said. “It’s all about keeping the community as stable as possible and not disrupting it.”
Critically, the families own their new homes outright.
This is especially important in Cambodia, where the severe Communist strictures of the Pol Pot era left most people legally landless — a problem that still has repercussions more than 30 years after the Khmer Rouge was removed from power. In recent years, tens of thousands of poor Cambodians have been forcibly evicted from their homes to make way for large development projects, and because they lack title they have virtually no legal recourse.
The hope is that the benefits of the new housing will extend beyond the new homeowners as well.
“When we go over to the Third World, obviously six to eight people get a home, but also the community starts to change,” Dupuis said.
Construction of the new housing creates what he calls a “micro-industry.” World Housing builds a factory and finds workers among the young people who pick garbage for a living. They’re trained in construction techniques and then can use those skills to find new jobs after the project is finished.
World Housing is also in discussion with groups that work in dump communities in Mexico and the Philippines, and it hopes to start construction work in those countries soon. Dupuis says the aim is to have some of the workers trained in Cambodia travel abroad to help get the new projects up and running.
For more information about World Housing, visit its website here.