Severe damage is visible on the exterior mud walls of a Nicaraguan house.
The homes of Nicaragua’s poor require frequent repair as the cheap materials succumb to the elements.

Nicaragua’s Housing Crisis

In Nicaragua, every citizen has the constitutional right to decent housing.

A view of the streets, however, shows how — as in many other countries around the world — the hopes and dreams ensconced in law do not automatically erase the complex problem of housing insecurity.

Flimsy sticks-and-tarp shacks, by their persistent existence, raise difficult questions about the practical application of such proclamations, going back to the United Nation’s Declaration of Human Rights and its guarantee of an adequate standard of living. What qualifies as adequate? Who is responsible to provide it, and how far do their obligations extend? And, most important of all, if needs go unmet, what is a family to do?

Ultimately, thousands of Nicaraguan families conclude they have no option but to address their housing problems on their own — even though most barely make enough money to keep their children fed. Doing what they can, most end up building their own fragile shelters using inferior materials and patching them year after year with whatever scraps they can find. Each rainstorm revives the problem, flooding their floors and rotting their walls as they strive in vain for a practical solution.

Understanding the Housing Crisis

Nicaragua’s housing crisis is among the worst in the Western Hemisphere, so it’s no surprise Cross Catholic Outreach’s global house construction program has made addressing needs in that country a priority. The facts speak for themselves.

  • • A 2005 census uncovered a national shortage of 66,000 houses. There are literally more families than homes.
  • • When quality is taken into account, this number grows to a deficit of 957,000 safe, sturdy homes in a country of only about 6.2 million people.
  • • Quality construction is hard to come by when about 23% of working Nicaraguans live on less than $3.20 per day.

But the causes of the housing crisis go beyond wages and materials. That’s because landownership in Nicaragua is a confusing and controversial issue with a difficult history steeped in civil war and conflicting ideas of private property. Hurdles abound — from natural disasters to documentation problems to the legacy of internal political conflict and opportunistic land grabs. A poor farmer who does not even possess a personal identity card may be hard-pressed to produce the title to his land if challenged.

(Click here to learn how you can bless a family in need of safe housing.)

A Peek Into the Cycle of Poverty

As private and public sector efforts have failed to catch up with the demand for new homes, families have been forced to take what they can get. And the problem is not limited to inferior materials and lack of clear title. Walk through their door, and you find a variety of material deprivations.

Unable to get houses in urban areas, many find themselves stuck in rural communities that lack basic services. Their homes might have no water access or — as is more often the case — they have a shallow well that brings up contaminated, disease-carrying water. Their kitchens consist of open fires that fill the interior with toxic smoke. Electricity may or may not be available. Transportation options are limited. Any attempt to break out of poverty is slowed or even halted by this web of needs.

Such was the reality for Marisela Odalis Rugama, a poor Nicaraguan mother.

Marisela was struggling to raise her sons, Gaison and Yeral, in a shack barely suitable for livestock, let alone people. The flimsy shelter, which she shared with her mother, was a jumble of plastic, wood and corrugated metal, which could have easily become a death trap in a severe storm.

Yet, Marisela found hope, through the work of a local Cross Catholic Outreach ministry partner.

Charity workers pose with a woman and her two young children, who have been gifted a new house.
Marisela celebrates inauguration day and is presented with keys to her new home, along with a Spanish Bible as a housewarming gift.

Compassionate Housing Solutions

Today, Marisela and her sons live in a safe home, thanks to our partnership with Rainbow Network, a Christ-centered ministry committed to transforming poor Nicaraguan communities.

The homes we provide through this partnership are designed to withstand hurricanes and earthquakes. They feature concrete floors, concrete-block walls, strong metal roofs, lockable doors and electrical wiring, and are accompanied by a sanitary latrine and outdoor cooking stove.

These houses are solid. But what makes this particular program so powerful is not just quality construction — it’s also Rainbow Network’s holistic, faith-centered approach. Because building stronger walls and roofs isn’t enough by itself, our partner addresses four primary categories of need: housing, health care, education and economic development. Often, families are relocated to a new community where every house is linked to a newly installed water system and where resources such as schools and medical clinics are more readily accessible.

In Marisela’s case, she no longer has to walk to a distant community well to fetch drinking water. In addition, she now serves as a cook at Rainbow Network’s local nutrition center, which ensures a daily meal for hungry schoolchildren.

(Read more about Nicaraguan poverty and how Cross Catholic Outreach is fighting it.)

Dignity Through Housing

The Catholic faith holds that all people, no matter how poor, have been made in the image of God. For that reason, we Catholics place a high value on restoring a sense of dignity in families beset by poverty, and proper housing plays a big role in building a family’s self-esteem. Perhaps less obvious is the fact that dignity is also strengthened through the process by which those homes are given.

We want Nicaraguan families to feel a deep sense of ownership and community. We want them to take responsibility for the upkeep of their houses and the flourishing of their neighborhoods. That’s one reason why it’s so important that prayer and compassion are infused into every aspect of this work. It’s also why the houses are not just handouts.

Instead of giving a house outright, our partner offers a zero-interest loan. The family is only required to repay 60% of the loan, and the money is used to bless the community with doctors, medicines, food and other necessities.

(See how our faith in Christ is the driving force in our mission to the poor.)

Global Solutions

Nicaragua is one of many developing countries beset by a lack of safe, secure housing; and around the world, Cross Catholic Outreach is partnering with local churches and organizations to address this need.

Our current housing projects can be viewed on our website, where you can learn about other partners and how you can play a role in rescuing families from home insecurity.

As a Catholic relief and development organization committed to serving the poor, we depend on the prayers and donations from our Catholic supporters, and we are deeply grateful for all who continue to stand with us in this continuing struggle for the many families around the world that need a safe place to lay their heads. 

Donations from this campaign will be used to cover any expenditures for this project incurred through June 30, 2025, the close of our ministry’s fiscal year. In the event that more funds are raised than needed to fully fund the project, the excess funds, if any, will be used to meet the most urgent needs of the ministry.