M for Hábitat para la Mujer

Women on a construction site in Comunidad María Auxiliadora.

Comunidad María Auxiliadora, Cochabamba, Bolivia

founded on the 21st of September 1999
located in the 9th district of the city of Cochabamba in Bolivia
Size of around 35 hectares
Population of 2.460 inhabitants (412 families)
built houses of around 446
The land Comunidad María Auxiliadora is now built on.
People starting the construction of the community.

“…desde las mujeres, para mujeres, con mujeres…”

The idea of forming this community was initiated by a group of homeless women heads of household.
Their main goal was to form a community that works as a support network mainly for the neediest people of the Bolivian society which are mostly single mothers, victims of abuse and low-income families. Also, they searched for a solution to the issues of increasing land values, speculation and gender inequality.
It was important to make the housing affordable as well as sustainable and to develop women’s leadership skills.
Everyone seeking to live within the community has to agree to contribute to it. For example, they can work for a minimum of three hours a week on mutual help construction. Properties are owned by the community. This community land trust-style model of collective ownership makes it possible to keep housing prices down.
The gender focus means that only women may hold leadership positions and aims to give them and the children the best possible education and training.
Therefore, it is a very innovative approach to promote the role of women in Bolivia.

Community members in front of a renovated house.

Community members in front of a renovated house.

“…somos una familia..”

 Comunidad María Auxiliadora aims to create an atmosphere and living based on dignity, stability, security, privacy and access to education, work and health. Their vision is to be socially, economically and politically stable.

The funding for housing construction is partly being covered by loans from NGO’s and other philanthropic sources but mainly by residents’ savings. The community does not look for charity but rather uses local capacities and tools to improve their situation.

Tools provided

Tools provided


The project has successfully achieved:

Environmental Sustainability, by using mostly local and conventional material and providing access to running water and electricity and creating waste recycling.

Financial Sustainability, by not having to rely on external funding but being more independent and by providing access to income possibilities through hosting educational workshops. Also the idea of collective ownership positions the land more as a social good rather than a marketable commodity.

Social Sustainability, by encouraging collective action, cooperation and integration among community members and creating a sense of solidarity. Implementing rotating leadership positions allows every family the possibility to gain experiences in that field and prevent power abuse.

Construction site

Construction site


As in many cases of success there are also obstacles and challenges to face:

Status of the collective property title It is viewed as an informal community due to a gap in the national law in 1999. The Municipality of Cochabamba has rejected CMA’s application to be recognized as a legally incorporated entity.

Inflation of land – (from 3$/m² in 1999 to 45-50$/m² in 2013) Speculators are using uncertain land title and lucrative possibilities to move investment to the land and consequently endanger the communities foundation.

Conflicts within the community – some people have tried to ignore the principles the community is built on by wanting to sell land and make a profit.
Now, there are only members who support the principles, encouraged by what they have achieved together.

Members of the Community lobbying to be legally recognized by the state.

Members of the Community lobbying to be legally recognized by the state.


Trying to address the above mentioned problems and getting closer to gain legal recognition, the NGO “American Planning Association” (APA) supports CMA by providing them with additional tools to lobby effectively and improve their political messaging. They help out with organising construction materials for the Leadership School and give workshops to teach members of the community how to behave in order to achieve a legal status.

Women at a workshop

Women at a workshop


In conclusion, Hábitat para la Mujer Comunidad María Auxiliadora

Tackles gender issues
Reduces the vulnerability of low-income families
Developes a spirit of solidarity and collective action
Works as a role model for other areas


Participation creates a learning process and opens opportunities for improval of a situation.

Participation creates a learning process and opens up opportunities for the improval of a situation.

Tell me and I will forget
Teach me and I will remember
Involve me and I will learn. (B. Franklin)


The project is a good example of public participation, housing affordability and social and economic sustainability.
It was a finalist for the “World Habitat Awards” in 2008.

Finalist for the World Habitat Award, 2008

Finalist for the World Habitat Award, 2008


Important stakeholders:
CMA (Comunidad María Auxiliadora)
APA (American Planning Association)
ECPA (Energy and Climate Partnership of the Americas)
State of Cochabamba



Further readings:

Other case studies (South America):
Elemental – a design and building company in Chile
Favela Painting in Brazil
Rímac Reborn Project





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