Often overlooked by the government and private sectors, millions of ‘incremental builders’ still lack decent, affordable homes. Additionally, they are unable to access the right information on appropriate construction methods, quality building materials, formal financing channels, and training. — Image courtesy of Patrick Roque/Wikipedia

By Patricia B. Mirasol

There are untapped opportunities in marketing to and meeting the information needs of the “invisible” property market.

In a media roundtable organized by Habitat for Humanity’s Terwilliger Center for Innovation in Shelter, Jennifer Oomen, the Center’s global applied innovation lead, said that 70% of the world’s population access shelter through incremental housing, a step-by-step process wherein owners improve their living spaces as resources become available.

Often overlooked by the government and private sectors, millions of incremental builders still lack decent, affordable homes. Additionally, they are unable to access the right information on appropriate construction methods, quality building materials, formal financing channels, and training. “You can’t shelter in place if you don’t have a decent place to live,” Ms. Oomen said.

“Affordable housing is usually defined as housing that’s around P500,000 to P1 million, but the invisible housing market can’t afford even that. Their dwellings average only P200,000 or less,” said Jessan Catre, Philippine Shelter Venture Lab country Lead of Habitat for Humanity’s Terwilliger Center for Innovation in Shelter, 

As governments and organizations around the world consider how to prevent an economic and social catastrophe, it’s extremely important that they understand how local building and local housing markets really work, wrote Mr. Catre in a Thomson Reuters article.

A 2016 report by the University of Asia and the Pacific in the Philippines found that people who build their own homes incrementally made up half of the six-million-strong housing backlog in the Philippines. This so-called invisible housing market is mostly composed of the working poor belonging to the informal sector. They make do by building their homes incrementally, over the years, as family finances allow.

Media plays a key role in providing information to this invisible housing market and raising public awareness and preparedness. It is also best positioned to educate audiences on crucial topics, such as adequate building materials, labor opportunities, and financial resources toward building better and safer homes.

Willem van Der Merwe, managing director of social innovation lab 17Triggers, said media can do more in ensuring that this information is available, accessible, and relevant to the invisible housing market. “Their needs are practically ignored. Advertisers don’t really target them. Companies do not even think of them when they plan their business,” he said.

Providing this necessary information will also help support local firms that create and redesign human-centered content, products, and services that help this invisible market. Companies can meaningfully reduce the affordable housing deficit by changing how they design, market, and distribute their offerings. They will, however, also have to navigate market challenges such as lack of access to affordable financing among households and lack of investment capital that meets the longer-term nature of housing products among market actors.

The media roundtable also showcased global best practice examples of media interventions to demonstrate how information — when delivered at scale and effectively — results in marked changes and improvement. Among the examples were:

The Wicked Edition Show — a show in Kenya that seeks to tackle serious issues through truth and humor. It educates viewers on solutions that lead to access and adoption of quality, skilled, and affordable labor services. The early results of episodes 1–3 saw a 4.49 million viewership on the local NTV channel and more than 746,000 views on YouTube.

Shamba Shape Up — another Kenyan show in its 10th season. It addresses the lack of agricultural know-how of smallholder farmers by matching them with experts who help them operate their farms more efficiently; 74% reported a household increase in food or income as a result of implementing practices learned through the show.

Ni Nyampinga — a Rwandan movement that gives girls the information they need to make their own decisions and choose their own path through multiple platforms, including a magazine, a radio show, a radio drama, a club, and an SMS and telephone line. With a brand awareness of over 6.6 million people above the age of 10, Ni Nyampinga has sparked a national discussion about what girls can achieve.

MomConnect — a South African initiative that creates demand for maternal health services as well as improves the supply and quality of those services. Integrated into the national health system, it provides support to pregnant women through a text-based help desk, stage-based health messages, and a library of health information. There are currently over two million pregnant women and new mothers subscribed to MomConnect.

To address informational needs at a market systems level, information interventions need to be sustainable, scalable, and research-based. There has to be a good balance of entertainment and educating the right points. Content needs to be participatory and not instructional.

One characteristic present in each of these global best practices is a lead or anchor entity, someone who drives the development and delivery of the solution, collaborating with relevant industry partners. These anchors could be:

Government body — departments are already committed to long-term sustainability and outcomes. “It’s far easier to already align with the government to move the needle,” mentioned Mr. van Der Merwe.

Media owner — media outfits are ideal because of their existing relationship with the audience.

Production/ technology social enterprise — social enterprises often have more success in raising capital and funding which will be critical for sustained development.

Industry associations — industry associations can create information that will stimulate industry actors to create products and services that will meet the needs of target audiences.

Market actor with a long-term customer life-cycle — market actors such as telecommunications companies are able to develop minimum viable products, deploy, learn, iterate, optimize, and scale.

There is market potential for this owner-driven construction segment. “By expanding the businesses’ focus towards them, we enable the housing market and provide these homeowners with more quality options on how to better build their homes,” Mr. Catre stated.