Hurricane-resistant Home Improvement in the OECS

Making low-income housing in the OECS safer and environmentally sustainable
through property insurance and home retrofit programs.

NRDF Hurricane-resistant Home Improvement Program | Program Strengthening

Safer Housing for Low-income Earners in the Eastern Caribbean

Throughout the Eastern Caribbean, most families live -- and many work -- in individual houses. In addition, these houses have become substantial assets for those families in the region who own their homes, and in particular for low-income homeowners. With few other resources available to rebuild or repair houses affected by natural or other hazards, damage to or loss of a home can leave a family homeless, out of work and in financial peril. In a hazard-prone and environmentally sensitive region such as the Caribbean, it is essential to properly account for these factors in the siting and construction details of a home to ensure the safety of the structure and its occupants and to minimize the impact of the building and its use on the surrounding environment. Property insurance can also limit the financial impact of hazard-related damage, however, low-income residents rarely have access to such insurance. 

Hurricane-resistant Home Improvement in St. Lucia

In St. Lucia, the National Research and Development Foundation (NRDF) offers a hurricane-resistant home improvement program (HRHIP) for low-income earners. This program trains local builders in safer construction, offers small loans to families wishing to upgrade their homes and provides the services of a trained building inspector who approves materials to be purchased, checks minimum standards. Low-income homeowners who have strengthened their homes through the HRHIP can obtain property insurance through the program. NRDF established the HRHIP in 1996, with the assistance of the USAID/OAS Caribbean Disaster Mitigation Project (CDMP), and has operated it continuously since its inception. 

Between 1996 and November 2002, NRDF disbursed 345 loans under this housing program, with an average loan size of EC$11,000 (approximately US$4,100). The majority of these loans (68%) were for either extensions to existing structures or the construction of new structures. The remainder of the loans was for repairs and renovations, purchases or relocation of homes. While these loans are considered risky by traditional financial institutions, due to the level of earnings and lack of collateral on the part of the borrowers, repayment rates have been strong in the NRDF housing loan program. Over the life of this loan program, only 5 loans have had to be written off. The number of rescheduled loans has grown in recent years, however, reflecting the recent poor economic performance of the country.

In addition to making loan funding available to homeowners who would otherwise not have access to mortgage funds, the focus of the HRHIP is to assist low-income homeowners in retrofitting their homes to make them more resistant to the effects of tropical storms. In support of this objective, the program has provided training on safer building techniques to builders and artisans who construct lower income housing and has prepared minimum building standards for reference by both homeowners and builders. Assistance with drawing up the bill of materials and with quality control of the construction was originally provided by an estimator associated with the program and later was provided by the program's loan officers.

Use of the Safer Housing and Building Standards 
Guidance Documents in Home Loan and Construction

Loan Process
Construction Quality Control

Reference: Guidelines for the Implementation of a Safer Housing and Retrofit Program for Low-income Earners

Reference: Minimum Building Standards and Environmental Guidelines

Interview and loan application phase  

Environmental Guidelines applied in site review and site visit

Minimum Building Standards applied in design review and preparation of construction drawings

Construction phase

Minimum Building Standards and Environmental Guidelines used as reference during site visits to review construction quality

Loan completion phase

Minimum Building Standards checklist used to ensure compliance and for issuance of Certificate of Completion

By making homes stronger, these properties become a more attractive risk to property insurers. Through a local insurance broker, NRDF was able to establish a group-based insurance program that is available to all participants in the NRDF HRHIP program. In addition to providing coverage for damages, group-based insurance programs promote safer housing construction by requiring the implementation of hurricane-resistant retrofit measures for entry into the insurance scheme.

St. Lucia HRHIP Review and Strengthening
After seven years of operation, a thorough review of the HRHIP was called for to update the procedures and revitalize the program. Studies conducted during the first half of 2003 focused on refinement of loan procedures, enhancement of the quality control of construction and the development of two guidance documents, Guidelines for the Implementation of a Safer Housing and Retrofit Program for Low-income Earners and Minimum Building Standards and Environmental Guidelines. These guidance documents were developed for use by NRDF as well as by other institutions in the region that offer or are interested in offering safer housing assistance to low-income earners. 

In the review of the safer housing program, the hiring of a full-time building officer was identified as a critical step to strengthening the construction quality control element of the program. The building officer position will be responsible for assisting the homeowner with the project plan and material selection to ensure the incorporation of safer building components; testing the selected builder for knowledge of safer building techniques; and inspecting the building during construction and upon completion for compliance with safer building standards. Initial funding for this position has been identified through an EU-funded housing program. NRDF added a full-time building officer to its staff in August 2003.

Assistance for the program review and strengthening was provide by the OAS, wit funding from the World Bank and the Government of Brazil.

Guidance Documents

Use of these materials: These documents were developed with funding through the World Bank and copyright for it remains with this institution. The materials developed under this project are intended for wide use and distribution. To support wide use, this document may be extracted or reproduced, as part of safer housing initiatives, provided that appropriate acknowledgement of the source document and copyright holder is retained.

  1. Guidelines for the Implementation of a Safer Housing and Retrofit Program for Low-income Earners
    This document describes an appropriate structure for a Safer Housing and Retrofit Program, the administration of a revolving loan program for safer housing retrofit and improvement, minimum standards and construction quality control for home retrofit and group insurance programs for the low-income earner. The Guidelines have been prepared based on the experience of the NRDF with the administration of such a program. This document is targeted at government institutions and other private sector organizations in the Eastern Caribbean that are or will be administering housing programs for the benefit of low-income earners. In the preparation of the Guidelines, it was presumed that new housing programs that are developed based on this model will be administered as part of an existing organization that has some experience with loan programs.
  2. Minimum Building Standards and Environmental Guidelines
    This document has been compiled to provide guidelines to local builders and agencies in St. Lucia involved in safer housing/retrofitting work, so as to ensure that such work is carried out in the most effective manner. This document highlights the basic minimum standards for retrofitting and quality control tips for both new and existing wooden houses and recommends environmentally sound practices in locating and preparing the house site, drainage and disposal of wastes. Its purpose is to inform homeowners of the proper design and construction of safe housing and to serve as a reference for builders, artisans and inspectors. Inspectors play an important role, as frequent and informed inspections are necessary to ensure that structures are being built correctly and safely.

    This document is not intended to be a detailed construction manual, but presents a summary of the recommendations of the writers' experience, observations and research over the years. It is intended to be used as a reference/guide for artisans, builders and homeowners in St. Lucia. Specific solutions are not offered, but the document details a number of options that the homeowner can use in preparing a site and building a home.

Other Materials

Last Updated 10 September 2003