About 60 miles from the capital of San Salvador, near the Guatemalan border and on the small Molino River at the foot of a volcano, lies Ahuachapán. This city of 130,000 people holds plenty of potential — Starbucks even has a coffee blend sourced from here — but it also has its fair amount of vulnerable families experiencing homelessness.

In 2017, we built a community in Ahuachapán for 91 low-income families. The success of the first phase led the Mayor of Ahuachapán to provide more land to continue building for vulnerable families. The properties are next to each other, with only a small, beautiful cemetery separating them.

The opportunity to build two communities next to each other gave us the ability to better our process through design iteration and literally have a side-by-side comparison of impact. 

The second community in Ahuachapán, Ahuachapán 2, just had its one-year anniversary of completion. From the community layout to communication tactics to the size of the windows, construction decisions were data-driven, resulting in human-centered homes for 55 families. Today, we’re continuing to use data to track the progress of development.

Here are some of of our data-driven discoveries:

Before we build, we host a Lean Participatory Design (LPD) workshop. This time of discussion allows families to shape the design of their community. Feedback from the 55 families formed the community design and the floorplan you see below.

We learned from the LPD workshop that families needed a better way to form a sense of safety for the community. This desire led us to design the homes to face inwards towards a communal space. Now, families have a common space to connect and children have a safe area to play. This simple decision helped to increase the community’s self-reported safety score by 31%. 

Each home costs $6,948 to build and has three bedrooms, a kitchen, a living room, and a bathroom with a flushing toilet. 

This home design was our first one to include ceramic tiles. Since 61% of this community previously had dirt or soil floors, an upgrade of clean flooring reduces incidences of health conditions such as anemia and parasitic infections by more than 75%. Also, the beauty of ceramic tiles gives families dignity that contributes to their overall quality of life.

Based on the families’ feedback during LPD, we learned Salvadorans enjoy cooking and eating outside. To accommodate this lifestyle, we built each home with a roof overhang on one side and an outdoor sink underneath it.

Through post-construction surveys in Ahuachapán 1, we saw that nearly one-third of the families started a new business since moving into their homes. We explored these success stories more to discover what changes would enable more families to do the same. Many families wanted to be able to sell from their homes in a safe and easy way. Families in Ahuachapán 1 were selling from their front door, but they did not feel comfortable doing this at night, and it also took up too much space in their home.

So, we tested out larger rectangular windows in the homes so families can easily sell straight out of their house in a safe way whenever they’d like.

These windows face the main street of the community and serve as shop windows. The Martinez-Contreras family made the most of this new opportunity by starting a bakery and becoming the first family-run business in Ahuachapán 2.

As you’ll see in the report, salaried employment increased by 26% over two years, and 14% more families started earning their primary income through small businesses.

Another one of those families is Idalia and her husband, Kevin, who opened a small general store that helps them have a stable income to provide for their three-year-old son.

With new sources of income, families can make consistent payments towards their new home. These monthly payments are an accessible way for families to build ownership and pride throughout the community’s development. The payments are then reinvested into the community to help it thrive for the long haul. Once families complete payments, they receive the land title that ensures they can pass this property down for generations.

In our previous communities, the average payment rate against the expected payment rate was 51%. Currently, the payment rate in Ahuachapán 2 is 86%. This 35% increase in payments can largely be contributed to how we communicated with families from the beginning.

In Ahuachapán 1, the families associated our team as the “donors” of the community. This language created a gap in communication when it came time for families to make payments towards their home. Rightfully so, the community did not fully understand why there needed to be payments to a donor. We needed to build more trust by improving our communication.

For Ahuachapán 2, we altered our language to connect with the community better by relating as an investor rather than a donor. This helped to create more trust and clear expectations throughout the entire project. Families are happy to make their payments on their own homes, and they are eager to spend more time and money investing in their overall community. Many families are planting trees throughout their property, and they have even come together to run a recycling program. 

From the report, you’ll see how data is driving improvements across many aspects of life. But it also allows our team to build long-lasting relationships with the families we’re supporting. Surveying families from the start allows us to get an accurate picture of their problems and desires. Surveying them several months after they move in allows us to see how we can continue to help and build better homes for people who need them most.