Structuring Low-Income Housing Projects in Developing Countries

4.236J / 11.463J

Structuring Low-Income Housing Projects in Developing Countries

Semester: Fall 2017
Instructor: Dr. Reinhard Goethert
Credits: 3-0-9H
Schedule: R 9-12
Location: 3-329
Prerequisites: Permission of instructor
Type of subject: Lecture, seminar

The development of villages/rural areas will be the context for project explorations. The goal is to examine the efforts that have been made for rural development as a means to mitigate migration to urban areas and stem the refugee flow. We will expand beyond housing projects to look at fundamental development issues.
Recent respected studies predicate a doubling of population with a tripling of urban growth in Third

World cities by 2030. There is tremendous pressure on urban areas to accommodate this surge. A large part of growth is from rural-urban migration. Related is the overwhelming refugee flows seen in Europe, attributed by many as failure of development efforts. Reviewing what has been tried offers an insight into future policy directions.

Participants will be required to find previous development project reports to use as the basis for comparison. Ideally 3-4 projects will be compared during the term to be examined by teams of students.

General Course overview
This course explores the divergent motivations and resultant dynamics among international funders, national ministries, local authorities and project benefactors in housing projects. ISSUES OF DEVELOPMENT ARE TESTED AGAINST ACTUAL PROJECTS IN A COMPARATIVE FORMAT. The course is intended as an introduction and understanding of current issues in Third World housing policies and projects and targeted toward those interested in a practical understanding of how projects are prepared by development agencies. THE COURSE PREPARES STUDENTS TO PARTICIPATE IN DEVELOPMENT PROJECTS, AND STRESSES HANDS-ON ‘REAL-LIFE’ ISSUES THAT CHALLENGE PROFESSIONALS. IT COMBINES LECTURES AND INTENSIVE CLASS EXERCISES. WHAT MUST PLANNERS AND ARCHITECTS UNDERSTAND FOR EFFICACIOUS DESIGN?

Learning objectives – basic course structure

  • Focus of the course: developing countries, low-income, housing, the project instrument; development agencies/governments/project implementation/users. Particularly interested in issues of ‘speed’ and ‘scale’ - how can we change projects to meet these goals?
  • Fall 2017 projects to be reviewed target typical rural and village development projects
  • The objective is a basic understanding and background on Third World housing issues, and an understanding of the context in which projects are prepared.
  • Awareness of how to prepare project proposals following accepted customary practice, particularly the ‘logical project framework’ approach.
  • Identification of issues and dilemmas among the various actors when implementing projects. Awareness of the varied perspectives and motivations of the lender, government, local agencies, and users.
  • Understanding of tradeoffs and alternatives in project practice.
  • Active discussion format focuses on how to address issues, formulate an argument, and advocate a point of view
  • Interest groups formed in the class will champion one project example during the term
  • Projects are self-selected, but focused on housing.
  • A ‘Project Appraisal’ (World Bank terminology) report or equivalent which will be basis of class exploration.
  • An issues overview and discussion will be followed by a team presentation: how the project dealt with issue
  • Reading assignments or bibliography references: Handouts and web links will be available for each topic each week.
  • The teams will present a summary of the topic, following an agreed format to allow comparison; focus is on brevity and analysis; PowerPoint format. Reading will be posted on a class DropBox. Scans of relevant resources will be included.
  • Occasional ‘mini project-dilemmas’ and ‘big issues’ exercises will challenge the class and your thinking
  • An email list will be set up: 2017 (tentative)

Completion requirements

Deliverables’ at end of term:

  1. Digital compilation of weekly team issue presentations, which will be made available to class in the Dropbox
  2. A project proposal of your choosing that relates to village/rural development, following a ‘logical project framework’, an individual effort.
  3. Final debate: a 12-minute debate among the teams championing their project examined; an opportunity to review and to reflect on the project your group analyzed; it debates the question: “Which is the best project model?”

Evaluation criteria and grading (basis for a grade)
Grading is based on class participation and weekly team presentation (40%), final individual paper (30%) and final team debate (30%).



Overview and positioning of issues in the Third World. The goal is to develop a common information base for the class. We will review a ‘Housing Map” of the shifts in perspective of donors from the early 50’s to current thinking. The important ‘migrant trajectory’ will be examined, and basic list of ‘Basic Givens’ will be discussed. We will review selected readings from recent books on development constraints and strategies (Sachs, Easterly, Collier, etc.). Approximately the first two weeks will be spent in positioning the issues. Key projects will be selected for further analysis during the term.


An examination of the process of project identification, considering ‘rational’ strategies as well as political realities. A review of the key actors and their varied agendas. The project summary (for example, the Appraisal Document of the World Bank) and the process of developing the document will be considered, particularly from the perspective of rational project development. Approximately one week.


Examination of the various components of a project: explicit goals, organization, staffing, project costs and funding flow, cost recovery, beneficiary issues, community participation. One week will be spent on each topic. Approximately seven weeks.


Reflecting on the projects reviewed, and what would be useful for next projects. Review of monitoring and evaluation techniques, and debate of ‘best project’ attributes. Approximately 2 weeks.


Perceived problems that the project addresses; strategies adopted and main features of the project (where will the money be spent)
2 – OVERALL COSTS OF THE PROJECT; Funding flows (how is the money distributed down from the various levels – funds tend to go to National ministries, then flow down to
local authorities, and finally to families in support of housing, etc. How are funds recovered? (by subsidy, fees, mortgages, etc.)
3 – AGENCIES INVOLVED IN PROJECT. Listing of all agencies and their importance to the project. ‘Bubble’ diagram of how the agencies are interlinked
4 – If available, STAFFING requirements. Number, skill level. (often not available)
5 – BENEFICIARY ISSUES: How users found, selected, and what will they pay. Terms of funds, etc. to user: how funds made available (lump sum, mortgage, etc.)
6 – PARTICIPATION: How is participation handled? Who does it, for what.
7 – POST-PROJECT. How does the project handle land speculation, non-performance, subletting, maintenance? (often information not available)
8 – MONITORING, EVALUATION, FEEDBACK. How is handled in project


Changing world

  • Decline of World Bank and other multi-lateral agencies as key development players Growth of $-lateral agencies (Bill Gates, etc.) over bilateral and multi-lateral agencies Rise of China, and other so-called developing countries in development Decline of the US as model and power player. Attacks on efficacy of development aid, for example, note book “Dead Aid”
  • Challenge of speed and scale of growth

Structuring of projects

  • Goals: ‘Good enough’ vs Ideal
  • Single focus vs broad based multi-sector development
  • Large development agency vs small NGO
  • Big money vs small money: influence, change, flexibility, risk

Implementing issues

  • Power/leverage
  • with funding
  • Gifts, incentives,
  • threats Related,
  • use of media
  • Weak link the low paid government staff?

Long-term perspective - sustainability

  • Life beyond funded program
  • ‘Hello-Goodbye’ approach


  • Upgrading
  • Micro-loans for everything
  • Participation by all every time; communities rule!
  • And now ‘incremental housing’ (formerly called ‘site and services’.)

New ways of working

  • Indirect, distance support (video conferences techniques, etc.) Rise of cell phone (should internet be included?)


  • You will be seen as a leader by virtue of you attending MIT and the degree Decision-making - not details - will be most important

Projects don’t always turn out the way we anticipate. How can projects be designed to be flexible? (Or is this example just a blunder of the professionals to not recognize or accept what is happening.)