A father and mother stand with their two young sons outside a concrete-block house with a small dog in the doorway.
Edgar, Yesenia and their two sons received a new home last year. This Christmas, U.S. Catholics can share that blessing with even more families in need.

Housing Poverty in Guatemala

Christmas Campaign Aims to Address Housing Crisis

  • Recent estimates show that Guatemala’s housing deficit still exceeds 1.3 million homes. There remains an urgent need to provide 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 in excess of 1.3 million homes.

In more human terms, this means many Guatemalan families are currently forced to take refuge in makeshift shelters built with inadequate materials such as mud, cane and tarp. Many also go without basic sanitation services. In fact, roughly one-third of the rural population does not have access to adequate latrines or toilets at home, a dangerous issue that contaminates local water and puts lives at risk.

Related: Homes Change Lives in Guatemala

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Effects of Inadequate Housing

It is no surprise that a person living in damp, drafty, muddy conditions is going to experience dire health consequences.

As it turns out, one of the leading causes of death for young children in Guatemala is pneumonia, an illness frequently caused by exposure to wind, rain, cold, and smoke inhalation from indoor stoves. In addition, a dirt floors bring harmful parasites into homes, 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 home 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, about one in four people earn less than $3.65 a day, and nearly 60 percent 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 landownership 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

Four women and three children stand beneath a rusted metal awning outside a home of deteriorating wood.
In the Diocese of Suchitepéquez-Retalhuleu, families like the Tzalams live in feeble dwellings built from rotting wood, rusted metal and other scrap materials.

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 feature amenities such as electrical wiring and properly installed latrines or bathrooms.

When possible, we strive to involve the beneficiaries in the process. The goal is not just to give a house but to after empower the poor. This can mean helping them acquire a clean title to the land, educating them on homeownership, 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 the Diocese of Suchitepéquez-Retalhuleu to provide sturdy homes for 64 families. Last year, compassionate U.S. Catholics gave generously to help build modest, comfortable homes for 59 families in the area — and the visible impact on those families’ lives makes us eager to share the blessing of safe housing with even more Guatemalans in need.

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.

Proceeds from this campaign will be used to cover any expenditures incurred through June 30, 2024, 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.