Designing for Belonging in San Vicente, El Salvador

We believe the world’s most vulnerable families deserve more than a home — they deserve a safe space to belong. This is why we’ve never built one-off homes.

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We believe the world’s most vulnerable families deserve more than a home — they deserve a safe space to belong. This is why we’ve never built one-off homes.

We build communities.

Communal living affirms the dignity of low-income families by empowering them to take ownership of their space and increasing their likelihood of exiting poverty.

Affordable housing developers know this, however, very few of them build at scale with the unique needs of their future residents in mind. The failure to address the specific needs of communities can lead to families abandoning their living spaces, which is the story of more than half a million homes in Latin America.

Mass developments can also neglect the natural environment of an area. When developers ignore the ecosystem of a community, nature threatens families rather than helping them.

New Story is committed to designing human-centered communities that help families live safer and greener lives.

San Vicente, El Salvador

Rendering of San Vicente community

We’re partnering with award-winning architect firm, Skolnick, to build a holistic community for 200 vulnerable families in San Vicente, El Salvador.

These families are currently squatting in temporary shelters near a flood zone with a high risk for landslides. Authorities plan to evict them later this year.

We’re working quickly to complete the 33.5-acre community with an innovative design that will increase their quality of life and reduce their environmental footprint.

Current living conditions of the families we’re supporting in San Vicente
A mother and her daughter in their current living conditions in San Vicente

Designing for belonging

Relationships largely influence your quality of life. When you have a space to belong, you’re more likely to thrive. In partnership with Skolnick, we’ve designed San Vicente as a place to build relationships for the long haul.

Rendering of San Vicente project
A site overview of San Vicente
“Planners and designers must create places that encourage social interaction, foster personal bonds, and promote intergenerational care. Communities must include resources to engage in healthy and life-enhancing activities such as sports, crafts, and gardening. These amenities will engender a sense of ownership and responsibility on the part of the citizens and make of them ‘good neighbors.’” — Skolnick

Location is key — especially for vulnerable families

The most common reason families in poverty abandon social housing is its location. Developers often make housing affordable for low-income families by building on cheap land. This land is far from the city with little to no access to public transportation, restricting families from accessing economic opportunities such as schools, services, and jobs. Cheap land can also force families to move too far from their familiar space, which disrupts their established network and rhythms.

We’re relocating the 300 families of the San Vicente community within a 25-minute walk of the city, next to major roads that allow people to come and go with ease. It’s also not far from the land where families have lived for years. The location of San Vicente will give vulnerable families a sense of familiarity while empowering them to integrate with the nearby city.

Homes help families grow

The starter home in San Vicente is three bedrooms and one bath, with the capability for families to easily renovate as families grow or their needs change.

Each home has a front porch and a large window facing the community to encourage social interaction with neighbors. Families requested large windows so they can easily watch their kids play outside and run a business from their home if they wish. Large windows lower to the ground can serve as storefronts for tiendas.

Rendering of San Vicente homes

Empowering ownership

Shared amenities at San Vicente will encourage residents to take responsibility for their living spaces. Thanks to El Salvador’s Ministry of Housing and San Vicente’s Municipality, the recreation area will include three soccer fields, a basketball court, and a pool. The facilities will help neighbors foster relationships and practice a healthy lifestyle.

Solutions reducing vulnerabilities

We’re partnering with the natural environment to reduce families’ vulnerabilities. For instance, passive ventilation will cool every home. Using the direction of the wind and sun orientation, homes are positioned to work with nature rather than against it.

Passive ventilation helping families stay cool in warm climates

Skolnick is establishing four main objectives to help preserve nature in San Vicente:

  1. Redirect and filter stormwater and existing water culverts
  2. Retain existing trees on site
  3. Preserve and supplement native plantings
  4. Maintain natural corridors for wildlife

The intentional use of greenspace and rainwater is helping residents stay safe and live greener lives.

Architectural solutions making use of rainwater

Flooding is a primary threat for vulnerable families in El Salvador. In San Vicente, bioswales in the shared commons will collect and filter large amounts of rainwater during the summer months. Gardens will catch roof runoff. Planted medians will provide shade and stormwater management. And the shared commons between housing block spaces connect residents to natural spaces and also provide wildlife corridors through the site.

Master plan for green spaces

Human-centered design

We’re proud Skolnick shares our values of designing with families. Families’ feedback is a cornerstone of the innovative San Vicente community.  

“We are impressed with how intentional Skolnick is embracing the culture of El Salvador in this design,” says Pau, Program Manager of New Story’s Impact Team.

As we listen to those in need, we can build sustainable solutions that work best for them and their surroundings. San Vicente is proving the possibilities when we work together — for the good of our neighbors and their environment.

Renderings of San Vicente