June 13, 2023

How a Policy Change Affects the Number of Safer Buildings in Colombia

Stefano Pompei

Manager, Applied Technology and Impact

Curaduría Cero is a program launched by the Colombian government in 2017, which focuses on formalizing the houses constructed without building permits and whose value does not exceed 135 times the minimum monthly wage in Colombia, which is approximately $33,750 US. 

The legislation which established Curaduría Cero was enacted in 2017 by President Juan Manuel Santos, but it took some time before the Curaduría Cero offices were operational and able to provide services to the public. In 2018, Bucaramanga and Medellin set theirs up, and at the end of 2020, Mayor Claudia Lopez launched Plan Terrazas in Bogota. The main goal of the Plan Terrazas program is to provide the services of a Curaduría Cero, called Curaduría Publica Social in this case, streamlining acts of recognition (a kind of retroactive construction permit that includes the required minimum structural and habitability upgrades).

Additionally, by providing free technical assistance, and over $10,000 US of stacked subsidies to structurally strengthen and add a second story, the program aims to improve the safety and quality of vulnerable housing, as well as to enable homeowners to generate additional income by renting out the newly added second floor.

Build Change began its operations in Colombia in 2014 and, through its technical assistance and capacity-building programs, it has served as a trusted advisor to the Colombian Ministry of Housing, the city governments of Bogota and Medellin, and other government entities, at both the national and local level. The organization has focused on advising policy, as well as developing technical tools and workflows to facilitate improving the habitability and structural performance of informal housing. In line with this approach, Build Change has leveraged the Curadurías Cero as a strategic catalyst for promoting resilient housing solutions as they integrate the regularization of informal housing with the provision of free technical assistance to homeowners, facilitating the upgrade of their homes to meet required building standards.

Over the years, Build Change has been raising awareness to create demand for resilient housing, reforming policies to reduce bottlenecks and drive change at scale, improving access to finance to make resilient housing affordable to those in need, and building local capacity to develop engineering, construction, and program expertise.

At the national level, the organization has focused on ensuring that structural improvements are included in housing programs and supporting the development of what will be the first national code for retrofitting informal housing once approved. Locally, we have mainly worked on amendments of urban regulations and modification of subsidy policies, developing digital tools to make processes easier, faster and ultimately more efficient.

Figure 1 – Record of Build Change’s Impact, “Safer Buildings”, in Colombia (log scale) as compared to key policy changes influenced by our work over time.

The chart tracks improved houses directly impacted by programs which have received inputs from Build Change from 2014 to 2022 (Figure 1). It also highlights how each policy milestone where Build Change has had some influence or participation not only positively impacts a given amount of houses, but also has supported and enabled sustained scaling of resilient housing programs in the country, particularly in the years 2020-2022, which saw a 210x increase.

Curaduría Cero and the ongoing efforts of Build Change have made substantial contributions to the regularization and improvement of informal housing in Colombia. As the country progresses on its path towards creating a more resilient urban fabric, the continued collaboration between government initiatives and Build Change will be crucial in further scaling the impact already achieved and ensuring a better future for the Colombian people.

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