What we do / Housing Programs / Baan Mankong

Baan Mankong Urban

City wide housing development

Instead of scattered projects here and there, the Baan Mankong program aims to solve all the housing problems in a city.  Doing so requires close collaboration between poor communities, local governments, professionals, universities and NGOs from the very beginning.  So, the first step is to set up a joint city committee to provide a platform for all these groups to understand the problems together and work together to oversee a process in which all the poor communities in the city are surveyed, possible land for housing is identified (both in-situ and relocation) and the land negotiations and project planning to improve all the communities in that city starts.

In any city, land is always one of the most difficult elements, and transforming informal settlements into fully legal, formal communities is one of the most crucial parts of the housing process.  The citywide strategy allows communities and their supporters in a city to explore a number of land options.  For example, squatters are on privately-owned land might negotiate a land-sharing agreement where part of the land is returned to the owner and part is sold to the people at an affordable price. This kind of win-win solution allows the owner to get part of the land back without having to resort to eviction, and allows the people to get legal ownership of at least part of the land to redevelop their housing.  For squatters on public land, one solution is to negotiate with the land-owning authority for a long-term lease. Or if that’s not possible, then the local government might help the community to find a new plot for relocation.  Once a community has secure land, then they are ready to start planning and carrying out their housing project, with financing support from the Baan Mankong program.

A demand-driven approach to housing

By creating space for poor communities, municipalities, professionals and NGOs to look together at the housing problems in their cities, Baan Mankong has brought about an important change in how the issue of low-income housing is perceived and dealt with in Thailand:  as an important structural issue which relates to the whole city and which can be resolved.  The local partnerships which the housing program helps create can integrate poor community housing needs into the larger city’s development and then resolve future housing problems as a matter of course.

The Baan Mankong Program represents a dramatic change in the government’s role, from being a supply-driven provider of housing to being a facilitator of a demand-driven local housing co-production mechanism, in which communities, their local governments and other local stakeholders are the essential partners in that solution-making mechanism.  In all these ways, the Baan Mankong Program represents an important commitment by the Thai government to allow people to be the core actors and to decentralize the solution-finding process to cities and communities.

The Baan Mankong’s strategy of using communities – and city-based partnerships in which communities take the lead – is also a concrete way of developing local capacities and local partnerships to resolve local housing problems.  Because the Baan Mankong program allows communities to plan and implement the housing projects themselves, according to needs and priorities they identify themselves, through an extensive process of surveying, discussion and horizontal-sharing, the program creates a “demand driven” approach to providing housing.   And because the program gives communities control over the finances and control over the form the housing takes  (which could be on-site upgrading or reblocking or reconstruction, or a new community built on land they find elsewhere to buy or rent), the Baan Mankong program makes more efficient use of state resources for the poor and promotes variation rather than standard solutions.

Holistic community upgrading

The Baan Mankong program promotes a housing upgrading process that lets communities use their group power to deal not only with physical aspects of shelter like housing and infrastructure, but with human and social aspects like health, welfare, social support systems and well-being.   So apart from basic infrastructure like walkways, electricity, water supply, drainage and waste management, the housing projects are often designed to include playgrounds, community centers, community gardens and welfare houses which allow the community to look after their own elderly and disabled neighbors.

The program is also interesting in that it provides a legal government policy umbrella for all the informal communities, so the projects they undertake to improve their housing, tenure and environment are legitimized.  This merging of public policy, government funding, local partnerships and the creative energy of large numbers of poor communities creates not only a lot of good housing projects, but an inclusive, citywide platform for collaboration and for addressing many other urban development issues.

Diagram 1: Urban Baan Mankong Citywide Mechanism

Explanation of Diagram 1 (above):  CODI receives the budget from the government and uses it to support a citywide approach to housing development in Thai cities, in which the communities, the city government, the universities and other local stakeholders are encouraged to work together.  First communities in the city form a network, as one collective platform.  Then the municipal government and other intermediary actors sit together with the community network on a City Development Committee, as another collective platform.  So there are two collective platforms in each city:  one is the communities’ own collective platform, and the other is a joint platform with the other actors.  When the process starts, poor communities in the city usually have little connection with each other and therefore no collective strength.  So CODI makes it a condition that the communities need to form these two collective platforms, as much as possible.  That way, the housing development process that follows will happen in the spotlight, so everyone sees what’s going on and can contribute.  If the community network does the housing by itself, without any collaboration with other stakeholders in the city, the process almost invariably becomes unbalanced and faces difficulties.  It is crucial for the community networks to take part in the politics of the city, and to win support for their housing process from the municipal government and other actors.  This joint citywide housing development is a way of opening up the housing development process and balancing power in a city – it is a highly political process.

As a central-level organization with a limited staff and resources, it isn’t possible for CODI to manage the housing development process in hundreds of different cities by itself.  So how to facilitate a local housing process in which all the local actors – and particularly the communities – work together and take charge of solving their city’s housing problems?  A crucial part of playing that facilitating role is the citywide strategy, and the belief that citywide housing development is possible in any city, no matter what the politics in that city may be.  That doesn’t depend on a big CODI staff.  But it does depend on how the various actors in a city work together.  Outsiders can come in and stimulate things a little, show some possibilities, arrange some exchange learning, but they should not invade a city and stay too long.  In the end, each city has to handle its own affairs.

Diagram 2 : Baan Mnakong Process and City Linkages

Explanation of Diagram 2 (above):  The citywide housing development process starts with the people.  First the communities in a city survey themselves, and then they start thinking about what the solution to their housing problems could look like:  Maybe in-situ upgrading or relocation?  Maybe row-houses or detached houses?  One-story or two-story units?  The form the new housing ultimately takes arises from the particular realities of each particular situation and from the negotiations for land each community undertakes.  The housing projects all start with these realities, and then the form of change follows.  In most conventional housing development, on the other hand, the housing program comes with an already-designed form, and all the difficult, complex realities of people’s lives and community processes must squeeze themselves into that standard form, even if the fit is quite bad.  With the Baan Mankong housing, though, the form of housing is flexible, open to the community’s creativity and adjustable to suit their reality.  In fact, the physical form the housing takes is the easy part:  much more difficult to deal with are the other issues of land, politics, negotiation and people.

The growing number of successful housing projects around the country – all designed and built by poor communities themselves, in collaboration with their local governments and other local partners, with support from the Baan Mankong program – has demonstrated the efficiency and effectiveness of the people-driven model, and made it easier for CODI to negotiate for additional government budget, subsidies and program support.  In the past few years, this larger concept of housing has expanded further to include housing for the poor and landless in rural areas, housing for the poorest and homeless people in cities, and housing for people living in specific constituencies and contexts.  What began as an urban housing program has now become a big policy umbrella which channels government funds and subsidies, through CODI, to a national process of community-driven housing and development.