Caribbean Disaster Mitigation Project
Implemented by the Organization of American States
Unit of Sustainable Development and Environment
for the USAID Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance and the Caribbean Regional Program


CDMP Progress Bulletin

Hurricane Resistant Home Improvement Program for Informal Housing

Bulletin Date: December 1999

Houses have become a substantial asset for families throughout the Caribbean. Expensive building materials, home based businesses, and a general increase in material possessions have made the home a significant financial investment. This investment is not without risk however. The region’s numerous and violent hurricanes have destroyed shops, equipment, and supplies; damaged valuable material possessions such as televisions and radios; and ruined clothing and uniforms required for work and school. Families are often left homeless, out of work and in financial peril.

Through pilot projects in several Eastern Caribbean countries, beginning in 1994/95, the Caribbean Disaster Mitigation Project (CDMP) aimed to assist large and small contractors, artisans and others working in the formal and informal building sectors in adopting effective natural hazard vulnerability reduction measures. Assistance to the local building sector was provided through training workshops for builders and artisans, safer construction manuals and minimum standards checklists and the provision of revolving loan funds for supporting housing retrofit work. CDMP has trained over 147 local craftsmen in safer construction techniques in St. Lucia and Dominica; another 93 builders attended safer construction workshops in Antigua and Barbuda. In pilot countries, CDMP safer housing activities are coordinated by local non-governmental organizations, with technical assistance from the Cooperative Housing Foundation (CHF), a US-based international NGO.

At the outset of CDMP, an inventory was taken to determine which countries have the NGOs and private institutions that could most effectively promote hurricane vulnerability reduction for low-income housing. After reviewing the results of this inventory, Dominica and Saint Lucia were selected as pilot project countries. Subsequently, this program expanded to include Antigua and Barbuda. The CDMP Hurricane-resistant Home Improvement Program retrofit standards and revolving loan program details are described in the Hurricane-resistant Home Improvement Program Toolkit.

In the formal sector, CDMP has supported the creation and adoption of development regulations and building codes that promote vulnerability reduction in the Eastern Caribbean.

1999 Regional Workshop on Safer Housing

Through national pilot projects, the CDMP has developed, tested and disseminated the technical know-how to make homes secure enough to withstand even Category III hurricanes. To be effective however, these ideas need to be implemented and financed at the national level. In September 1999, the CDMP organized a regional workshop on safer housing, to provide a forum for national policy makers, housing practitioners, and financial institutions to discuss the incorporation of hurricane resistant housing techniques into national housing policy initiatives and to examine financing options that will make funds available to the greatest number of families. By including these techniques at the national level, the majority of families will have the required state-of-the-art construction methods, but more importantly they will have the necessary financing to build or improve their homes to withstand the catastrophic winds and rain of the Caribbean’s deadly hurricane seasons. Presenters/ participants in the workshop included CDMP, CHF, CDB, National Research and Development Foundation (NRDF) St. Lucia, St. Kitts/Nevis Foundation for National Development and the Caribbean Confederation of Credit Unions. The final report summarizes the workshop's presentations, discussions and recommendations.

The next step for safer housing initiatives is for participants to build on these recommendations and to explore new avenues for financing. Possible financing alternatives identified at the workshop include:

1996 Lessons Learned Workshop

In October 1996, CDMP hosted a safer construction 'lessons learned' workshop in St. Lucia. Forty participants, representing NGOs and governmental agencies, attended this workshop. The principal objective of the workshop was to give interested organizations from other Caribbean countries the opportunity to review the Housing Retrofit pilot programs in Dominica and St. Lucia, and to discuss successes and constraints. A complementary objective was to develop new or modify existing procedures for ensuring a sustainable continuation of the project in the two countries, and to support its expansion into other countries. Three major opportunities for program adjustment emerged during the workshop:

  1. Greater demand for safer construction is generated if the program is integrated into existing home improvement programs.
  2. The need for broadening the source of funds which support the revolving loan funds.
  3. Expansion of the base of interested residents by increasing the present loan ceiling, which would provide access to interested residents of higher income brackets, without lessening the commitment of the program to lower income residents.

St. Lucia

Two local organizations, CARITAS and the National Research Development Foundation (NRDF), administered parallel Hurricane Resistant Home Improvement Programs in St. Lucia. The NRDF worked with both low- and middle-income borrowers, while CARITAS focused exclusively on retrofit at the low-income level. Between these two programs, 45 housing retrofits were completed; another 42 houses were retrofitted by builders and artisans trained by CARITAS/NRDF in safer building techniques. Approximately 59 houses have received added safety measures through other loans administered by NRDF.

CDMP has regularly assessed its safer housing programs to ensure that that the minimum standards for hurricane resistance are met. To address problems that were discovered, a training course and companion manual Basic Minimum Standards for Retrofitting were developed in St. Lucia. In the summer of 1997, CDMP undertook a study of the hurricane-resistant home improvement activities in St. Lucia. Existing guidelines, procedures and ten completed houses were reviewed to determine if alterations to the programs were required. All of the recommendations that resulted from this review are contained in the document Basic Minimum Standards for Retrofitting.

During 1998, CDMP supported the National Research and Development Foundation (NRDF) in organizing a series of local workshops on safer construction techniques. To maximize participation, these workshops were held on weekends in communities throughout St. Lucia. An existing house in the community was retrofitted as a demonstration during the workshop. Seven workshops were held during the year.  As a result of the program, the NRDF continues to offer a low-income revolving loan fund, using funds from local banks, for safer housing retrofit. 


The safer construction program in Dominica is administered by the National Development Foundation of Dominica. This program focused initially on training building craftsmen in hurricane-resistant housing techniques. In five workshops during 1996-97, 110 builders have been trained in these techniques. Recent work in Dominica focused on expanding awareness of the need for hurricane retrofitting and the existence of the retrofitting loan program. This awareness campaign included newspaper and cable TV advertisements and presentations at community schools. The campaign significantly increased interest in the retrofitting program. Additionally, the board of the National Development Foundation of Dominica approved a loan program to supplement the funds available through the Cooperative Housing Foundation. In total, NDF Dominica processed and approved 40 loan applications.   The board has voted to continue to loan program.

Antigua and Barbuda

In 1997, CDMP finalized an agreement with the National Development Foundation of Antigua and Barbuda to support a Hurricane Resistant Home Improvement Program. CDMP assistance included partial support for a director for this program, a training attachment at one of the existing CDMP program sites and access to loan funds through CHF. In December 1998, CDMP supported NDF Antigua and Barbuda in convening a workshop for the development of a national strategy for safer housing.  Participants at the workshop included people from the private sector.  A booklet on making housing safer in Antigua and Barbuda was produced, based upon discussions from representatives from the public and private sector who had attended the workshop.

Work with Credit Unions

To broaden the awareness and appeal of the safer housing programs, CDMP carried out a pilot program in 1998 with two credit unions in Jamaica. The goal of this pilot project was to determine how to market safer housing information to credit union members who are borrowing funds to build a new house or improve an existing one. During this project, CDMP reviewed the lending processes of the selected credit unions to design appropriate programs; trained credit union staff in the basics of safer housing; developed safer housing training and informational materials; and monitored the use of these materials. Review of home loan activity showed that a substantial number of loans and amount of loan funds are disbursed by the credit unions each month. Consequently, incorporating safer housing approaches into the projects funded by these loans could have a significant effect on the resilience of the local housing stock.

Because of the length of time required from initial loan application to final construction, none of the loans processed during the project were completed during the four month monitoring period of this project. The credit unions involved in the pilot project were enthusiastic about the program; they viewed the safer housing information as an important service that they could provide their membership. Safer housing materials were distributed both in statements to credit union members and individually at loan meetings. Credit union staff were reluctant, however, to question borrowers when safer housing standards were not met in final house plans. Adoption of minimum construction standards by the local credit unions or the national association of credit unions, the project found, would provide credit union staff with the necessary basis to actively promote safer housing standards. The need for education on safer housing to all groupslending institutions, homeowners, builders and government agencieswas reinforced by all participants in this project.

CDB Loan Funding for Low Income Housing Sector

The Caribbean Development Bank has recently made loan funds available to support low-income housing. These funds supplement standard housing loan funds that were previously available from the CDB. Belize and St. Kitts and Nevis are presently accessing these low-income housing funds. CDMP is in contact with CDB to facilitate access to these funds by participating countries.

Post Disaster Mitigation Assistance

In 1995, the valuable training experience and capacity building knowledge in Post Disaster Mitigation that has resulted from the Saint Lucia and Dominica pilot projects was successfully employed to aid the recovery of Antigua & Barbuda and Saint Kitts & Nevis following Hurricane Luis. (See bulletin on Post Disaster Mitigation for more details.)

Related CDMP Publications and Papers

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