Family members stand outside their frail wooden house in rural Guatemala.
Unsafe, unsanitary housing is a major problem for Guatemala’s poor.

Housing Poverty in Guatemala

Christmas Campaign Aims to Alleviate Housing Crisis

  • With a housing deficit of more than 2.2 million homes, Guatemala is desperate for solutions for families trapped in unsafe, unsanitary living conditions.
  • A simple cement block house with a solid foundation and weather-resistant roof can dramatically improve a family’s health and well-being.
  • Cross Catholic Outreach partners with local Catholic dioceses and organizations to shelter families in need of a safe place to live.
  • Your gift through the Cross Catholic Outreach Christmas Catalog can answer a family’s prayer for a good home.

Guatemala’s Housing Crisis

From the crowded and impoverished communities of Guatemala City to the clusters of tiny, weather-worn dwellings that dot the vast countryside, Guatemala has a housing problem — and the statistics bear this out. One recent estimate places the housing deficit at 2.2 million homes.

The Guatemalan government also estimates that 500,000 families are at daily risk of a landslide or mudslide, and thousands of homes are damaged or destroyed by floods or landslides each year.

In human terms, this means tens of thousands of Guatemalan families are currently forced to take refuge in makeshift shelters built with inadequate materials such as mud, cane and tarp. Most also go without basic sanitation services and cook their food over open flames in crude indoor kitchens that lack adequate ventilation.

Related: Our 2022 Vision to Relieve Poverty in Guatemala

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Effects of Inadequate Housing

It is no surprise that a person living under a leaky roof, on a dirt floor, in a smoke-filled space is going to experience dire health consequences.

As it turns out, Guatemala’s leading cause of premature death is pneumonia, an illness frequently caused by exposure to wind, rain, cold and indoor smoke inhalation. In addition, a dirt floor brings harmful parasites into the home, leading to an increase in anemia and diarrhea and even stunting children’s communication development (perhaps in part because so many kids miss school because of illnesses).

Health isn’t the only issue. Inadequate housing impacts every area of a person’s life. It increases anxiety, impedes sleep, wears away one’s sense of dignity, and exacerbates and perpetuates the deep poverty in Guatemala. It also makes families feel insecure. Without a way to effectively lock and secure their homes, the poor often fall victim to theft; and without sturdy building materials, their homes are flooded and their possessions destroyed.

Causes of Guatemala’s Housing Shortage

The most obvious reason for the lack of safe, secure housing in Guatemala is poverty. It, along with insufficient access to financing, leaves a large percentage of the population unable to improve their living conditions.

In Guatemala, nearly 1 in 4 people earns less than $3.20 a day, and nearly 60% of families fall below the poverty line. As families struggle just to put food on the table, there is no money to invest in good construction materials or professional laborers. Instead, they must make do with what they have, patching inferior materials together and cramming too many people into too small shelters that require frequent repair.

Another issue is Guatemala’s long history of land ownership disputes, going back to when Spanish colonizers relocated indigenous farmers to the most unproductive farmlands and culminating in the brutal 1960-96 civil war. Today, property rights are often cloudy, as the poor typically lack title and official documentation to back up their claims of ownership. Housing development is unlikely to occur when the fear of eviction is present.

Related: Addressing Poverty in Guatemala

Solving the Housing Crisis

Cross Catholic Outreach is eager to help solve Guatemala’s housing crisis.

Globally, our typical approach is to partner with local Catholic dioceses and other organizations that understand the hardships their communities face and know how to provide solutions.

The most practical solution is often to build a concrete block house with a solid foundation, lockable doors, secure windows and a heavy-duty metal roof. Many are designed for earthquake and hurricane resistance. And while some are just the basic structure, others come with amenities such as electrical wiring and even indoor bathrooms. In other cases, a family might not need a new house but only a remodeled kitchen with a properly ventilated stove.

When possible, we strive to involve the beneficiaries in the process. The goal is not just to give a house but to empower the poor. This can mean helping them acquire a clean title to the land, educating them on home ownership, including them in the labor, requiring a token financial contribution, and inviting them to participate in additional activities such as a microenterprise program or a prayer group.

In Guatemala, Cross Catholic Outreach is currently working in two dioceses — the Diocese of Santa Rosa de Lima and the Diocese of Suchitepéquez-Retalhule — to provide safe, sturdy homes. We also provide temporary shelter at a confidential location for abused women and their children.

The need for housing is great, but we are calling on Catholics across the U.S. to give poor Guatemalan families the safe homes they long for. Many prayers have already been answered through this effort, and many families have rejoiced at finally being able to sleep in their beds without fear of the next storm. With your help, we can extend that blessing to even more families!

Related: Explore the history of the Church in Guatemala

This Christmas, Give the Gift of Safe Shelter

No family should be without a safe place to live on Christmas.

This holiday season, I invite you to remember Guatemala’s poor with an incredible gift that will change their lives, by giving through the Cross Catholic Outreach Christmas Catalog.

The Christmas Catalog is a simple and meaningful way to incorporate almsgiving into your annual Advent and Christmas observances. As you explore the catalog, you will be able to “shop” for gifts benefiting the poor and can choose the ones that most touch your heart — such as providing a home for a Guatemalan family. It’s very much like the experience of selecting Christmas gifts from a commercial catalog, but these gifts are very different. They allow you to Be Someone’s Miracle, blessing needy families around the globe.