San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

How having a home changes lives

In 2006, more than 1,000 families in extreme poverty, most of them Nicaraguan immigrants, were evicted from a shantytown called La Candela behind the Juan Santamaría International Airport, north of Costa Rica’s capital.

The community pleaded with government officials for more time: Parents wanted their children to finish the school year, and they had to find affordable places to live.

But in just two weeks, the shantytown was cleared of its residents, and the shacks were destroyed. (The Tico Times reported on this on April 21, 2006.)

In response, a group of women from several communities organized a housing association, the Mothers-Teachers Association Project, and with the help of a priest and many donors, worked for seven years until they finally were able to own their own homes.

More than 80 families founded the association, but only 23 remained at the end. Eleven of those families are from La Candela.

The seven-year process was marked by challenges met with hard work and perseverance. Each family saved about $1,000, worked at monthly fundraising events and sold raffle tickets, produce and other food. But the hardest part, the families say, was dealing with discrimination and what they describe as “swindles” by public and private organizations.

To buy each lot and build each home, families received a grant from the Costa Rican government of $28,000. Their status as immigrants made it extremely difficult to obtain this grant. Members of the association saved money and raised more than $120,000 to pay for construction and land.

Three years ago, the first few homes were turned over to families who were up to date with association fees and responsibilities. The last key was given to the last family on Dec. 16, 2012. That day, the association threw a party to inaugurate the new community and their new lives.

The families of the Mothers-Teachers Association Project say they will never be homeless again. Here are their portraits and their stories.



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Marcus Smith

Great article,Good to see people working together to better their families and life styles.

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Don Luis

Hello Mónica!

Thanks for this article and for following up.

Yesterday I’ve had a chat with a neighbor from the small town of “Higuerón” near Canalete.
He said that they also wanted to build a residential with social aid homes there.
The person in charge of this project supposedly wanted to get people from “La Carpio” to move there.
Citizens of the “Higuerón” were opposed to this, because they feared that these people would bring trouble to their neighborhoods.
This had happened in a similar project somewhere else.

Of course, people are prejudiced, but I think somehow they have a point.

From my point of view, I’d never move somewhere without knowing what to do there.
However, if you get offered a house and can improve your living conditions and are jobless anyway, you’d take the chance.

So my point is, that a house is only part of the whole game. If you don’t have anything to eat a house doesn’t help too much and you might have to find other (illegal ways) to get food.

Wouldn’t you think it would be better tearing apart former inhabitants from shantytowns and try to get them integrated in a “healthy” neighborhood where they might be able to get a job?

It’s rather a general question, as all over Costa Rica you can see that new quarters of social aid homes come up.

Nevertheless I don’t want to play down the success of these people.
Just some thoughts regarding the topic.

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David Boddiger

All valid points, Luis. Thanks for sharing.

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Shea Medford

God bless

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Kimberly Bryan

This article is a really beautiful human story of transition.The people are lovely to share their lives so openly.It is just so uplifting to hear good things happen, sorry it took so long to come.

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George Lundquist

What a great article. Thank you for following this and showing what can happen when people work together.

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