María Teresa Morales, Director of Operations for Habitat for Humanity Latin America, and the Caribbean

María Teresa Morales currently leads the research, design and implementation of programs and projects in the region. In her previous role as Director of the Terwilliger Center for Innovation and Shelter (TCIS) in Habitat for Humanity International Latin America and the Caribbean (HFHI LAC) she led market systems initiatives and the housing microfinance program focusing on the expansion of housing services and products for low-income families. She has been a panelist and facilitator in more than 15 microfinance related forums worldwide. Maria Teresa holds a master’s degree from the University of Maryland in Technology Management.

"To recognize adequate housing as a human right implies to have answers that ensure inclusion and no discrimination of human groups in a vulnerable situation"

  • A lot of people have a place to live but no land tenure, a decent place to live or access to basic services such as health, drinking water, sewage. This is known as “housing deficit”. How can microfinance create an impact to decrease the housing “deficit” in Latin America?

According to the United Nations 1.6 billion people around the world (25% of the world’s population) live in homes lacking adequate conditions and in need of improvements (qualitative deficit). In Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) the housing deficit affects around 40% of the total population. WHO has disclosed that over 106 million people lack adequate sanitation services and PAHO reports 16 million people practice open defecation.

CAF estimates there is a loss of more than 60% in the supply of water caused by the inefficient management of infrastructure and networks and UNDP data reports 80% of residential and industrial wastewater goes into waterways without adequate treatment. Regarding land tenure, UN-Habitat has drawn attention by estimating that 70% of Latin America’s population live with insecure land tenure (Agustinus, 2015) and 100 million people lack a complete house, which represents 22.5 million homes.

Habitat for Humanity clearly understands that in Latin America and the Caribbean the need for housing improvement is far greater than the need for a new house. Our research shows that limited access to subsidized improvement programs complemented with technical services has pushed low-income families from the informal economy sector to improve their homes incrementally without adequate technical advice while using savings or turning for help to microfinance institutions, cooperatives, credit unions and community money lenders, a process that could take up to 30 years.

Low-income families require more than a financial product to achieve their goal of housing improvement. Housing Microfinance is relevant because it creates an impact to decrease the housing deficit. In its methodology, Housing Microfinance contemplates the design of financial and non-financial products centered in the needs, preferences, and capabilities of families. They offer an accessible financial product with complementary non-financial services that enable to optimize financial resources and construction processes of a higher quality by offering families key technical information or technical advice services that complement the incremental process allowing the family to achieve their dream.

For the incremental construction sector, the low-income population segment is attractive and remains constant by mobilizing approximately US$57 million annually. Nonetheless, these families currently have a limited offer of financial and non-financial products and services aligned to their needs. This represents an opportunity for market actors. These families have a greater demand for land, infrastructure, adequate financing, basic construction supplies and the pace of the incremental construction process should be considered since it is sometimes compromised by the lack of land rights, limited or no access to basic services, poor construction practices and insufficient family income.

  • To face the new challenges brought by COVID-19, do you have an ongoing specific initiative to respond to it? How has the pandemic impacted the Organization’s actions and programs?

Housing became a first line of defense for families during the pandemic. It is a shelter to take care of health and avoid the spread of the virus in the communities, although a safe shelter is not a reality for more than 1.6 billion people around the world.

Aware of it, back in March 2020 Habitat for Humanity started an unrelentless response to the sanitary emergency, driven by the vision of a world in which every person has a decent place to live, where COVID-19 transmission can be contained and where people aren’t forced to abandon their homes due to the economic difficulties caused by the pandemic.

A global campaign Homes, Communities, Hope + You was launched to provide necessary tools for vulnerable families to protect themselves from the coronavirus from home. This is accomplished by providing hygiene and primary needs kits, installing public handwashing stations, providing water access in communities without access to this resource, online courses about housing and health, among others.

COVID-19 challenged us to be more effective in our programs, where digitalization and online work became a norm which required adjusting our policies and procedures; in order to work on site safety protocols had to be set in place, resources were assigned to implement protocols to guarantee social distancing and all necessary precautions to reduce the risk of spread.

As a result of COVID-19, we’ve currently developed 16 Concept Notes for projects in Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, Brazil and Paraguay and we are searching for corporate social responsibility or development funding to implement those projects that we’ve identified as a response to the sanitary and economic crisis experience by our target population. We want to continue empowering through housing and providing access to water and sanitation services as the main weapon of defense against COVID-19, as well as assisting vulnerable families in incremental housing as a key mechanism of economic recovery. Please contact Eugenia Salazar, Resource Development Manager at this email to support our initiatives in the region.

  • BBVAMF promotes women economic empowerment to succeed in business and promote their capacity to influence the wellbeing, education, and health of their families. How do you think this empowerment affects the improvement of strategies promoted by Habitat?

A gender perspective and the role played by women is key in our strategies at Habitat for Humanity; In LAC, women are still affected disproportionately by poverty, lack of income, land tenure rights, housing, overcrowding, and services impeding social distancing and adequate hygiene, leaving this population highly vulnerable to COVID-19.

In this scenario, violence against women increases. As an example, this type of reports increased 30% in Argentina in the first 23 days after lockdown, around 400 daily calls for domestic violence reached the Help Line in Lima, Peru and similar calls increased 150% in Colombia. Therefore, accessible, adequate, healthy and secure housing can save women’s lives.

We’ve demonstrated that economic empowerment is a driving force to reduce poverty at and from home and more specifically to reduce the gap between men and women caught in the cycle of poverty. Economic empowerment helps women to better understand other rights, build their economic autonomy, access goods that enable them to be free from their abusers and have a voice at government to carry out their rights.

It also allows for women to strengthen their efforts and strategies (collective and individual) for saving plans, investments, revolving funds, as well as connect with civil society organizations and the private sector through construction, material purchase, credit and loan acquisition to solve their housing needs. Housing is strategic to strengthen self- esteem, a sense of achievement and provide safety and stability for the family, empowering women and strengthening family legacy.

  • Climate change challenge is a major focus for the environmental sustainability strategy at BBVAMF. Which are some of the most significant changes in Habitats’ strategy to promote sustainable basic services?

María Teresa Morales, Director of Operations for Habitat for Humanity Latin America, and the Caribbean

Habitat for Humanity is in a constant search of innovative construction practices and materials that are accessible for the families we serve and that are environmentally sustainable at the same time.

Regarding construction, we execute interventions in partnerships that allow the development, adaptation, innovation and use of housing construction technologies that are friendly with the environment, benefit from energy renewal and improve living conditions for our families, for example, we have projects that have adapted to use solar pumping instead of gas or diesel generators, and pilot projects where we’ve use cement blocks containing 11% of recycled plastic or even 100% plastic blocks. We also work with communities to use sustainable stoves that care for the vegetation and that avoid high levels of CO2.

On water and sanitation, we’ve developed projects with partners that promote the use of water and sanitation systems for individual and community solutions that are innovative, accessible, resilient, sustainable, and inclusive. At the same time, we influence hygiene practices to preserve and manage water resources. For risk reduction and disaster response, Habitat develops and executes interventions with key actors using a relevant focus about prevention, mitigation, and disaster response to reduce the impact of adverse events and climate change. We approach this work alongside partners to achieve a comprehensive focus.

  • Regarding the challenge to promote access to basic services among the vulnerable population. What public or private policies are necessary to approach? For example, in countries such as Chile or Peru, there are norms proposed to constitutionally acknowledge the right to decent housing or to guarantee the right to access drinking water. What are the short-term effects of these acknowledgements?

Habitat for Humanity makes an intentional effort on advocacy by searching for the recognition of the right to decent and adequate housing. To recognize adequate housing as a human right implies to have answers that ensure inclusion and no discrimination of human groups in a vulnerable situation. Housing and the environment need to be accessible and habitable, ensuring safe land tenure, access to basic services and to adapt materials and infrastructure to the culture.

Short term effects of this recognition are found in the intervention of several actors such as the State, civil society, private sector, general public in different levels: legislative, administrative, policies or investment priorities. It is important that all of us identify the key barriers faced by the most vulnerable sectors to access adequate housing, prioritize the barriers to be transformed and enable systematic solutions.

“Solid Ground” is a Campaign that serves as an example of Habitat for Humanity’s work in this field, a worldwide campaign that for 4 years mobilized Habitat’s national organizations and partners in 40 countries influencing different levels of government, policies and systems, As a result, over 11.5 million people in LAC increased their access to land, housing and adequate habitat. In Honduras, between 2015-2020, 242 local governments (81% of its total) approved a Municipal Housing Policy and social housing investment was institutionalized. After monitoring its implementation, there was evidence that over US$100 million were invested and a dynamic mobilization of the social housing market was achieved benefiting over 1.5 million vulnerable people in the country.

  • In your experience as a consultant, you have been able to analyze different business models. How do you think good practices in the corporate government can help to improve how the entity functions and at the same time positively impact society?

COVID-19 has allowed us to visualize the vulnerability in the population lacking decent housing and the existing interconnection in our society. It is not enough that only a part of society has shelter to protect themselves, the lack of decent and safe housing in over 20% of the world’s populations affects us all now more than ever.

It is time that as humanity we recognize that we all are interconnected, individually only makes us more vulnerable and we should try to develop more inclusive economic models where the sustainable development indicators are everyone’s responsibility.

It is necessary to innovate more inclusive corporate government practices, with more leadership diversity that allows us to visualize different market opportunities, strengthen the satisfaction and wellbeing of our employees and design success indicators that go beyond the business. A good option could be to think about how to measure the contribution of our actions in the Sustainable Development Goals promoted by the United Nations.

Today, it is essential to visualize business from different perspectives. Market segments are not homogeneous, gender, cultural, religion diversity, etc., enables the design of a more innovative and broad business model that could create improved financial performance, a higher impact in the wellbeing of our employees, also impact the development of the communities where we work and a smaller environmental footprint.

I’ve seen that in these business models, inclusive leadership’s constant listening, and observation is key and serves as a foundation to promote innovation and to establish commitments among the organization’s work teams and a greater commitment towards the achievement of goals. The constant market analysis and communication with clients and employees is also key to have a clear guide to develop new products and make fast and effective decisions.

This could imply that business models must apply lighter and more flexible strategies, versatile communication models and quick processes linked to digital platforms as much as possible, enabling them to connect with the client. It is critical to design client centered products and services and to understand well the preferences, needs, and capacities of the context as well as the client’s reality.

From the senior leadership to the humblest employee there must be the same intensity for the expected impact and the same DNA throughout the organization. By understanding the reality of the population, we serve, we can be proactive and productive to guarantee that the products and services as well as business social value proposal magnifies the results, creating an impact in the community and society with programs that provide an investment return that isn’t only financial, but social as well and in balance with the environment.


[1]UN 2018 -

[2]Housing Deficit: (Quantitative) Lack of housing or (Qualitative) a house lacking habitability

[3]Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) 2017 -

[4]WHO = World Health Organization

[5]World Health Organization (WHO) 2015 – Water, sanitation and hygiene

[6]Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) 2019 -

[7]Development Bank of Latin America (CAF) 2018 -


[9]Housing at the base of the pyramid in Metropolitan Lima, Habitat for Humanity’s Terwilliger Center for Innovation in Shelter: