Providing options > imposing a solution

Options empower us to make decisions for ourselves. They allow us to choose. And it’s those choices that shape our lives. 

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What do grocery stores, dating apps, and car dealerships show us about humans? 

We love options. 

Options empower us to make decisions for ourselves. They allow us to choose. And it’s those choices that shape our lives. 

Unfortunately, the power to decide is often reserved for the wealthy.

The millionaire can afford to choose from more cars than the single mom in debt. 

The wealthier a person is, the more options they have. This isn’t just true for luxury items like cars. It’s true for everything — from food to careers to housing. 

The opposite is also true. 

The deeper someone is in poverty, the fewer options they have. Wealth determines options.

In our decade of addressing the housing crisis, we’ve seen a sad reality: people experiencing poverty rarely get to make decisions for themselves.

I think of people like Maura in Etzatlàn, Mexico. 

Maura was renting a home with her husband and their two daughters when they were given one day to move out. They couldn’t afford to move anywhere else, so they moved in with Maura’s parents in an overcrowded space. She kept looking for places to rent, but she couldn’t find a single affordable option for her growing family.

People near the poverty line like Maura often have to take the one option in front of them. Here’s the crazy thing: many nonprofits aren’t helping.

Many traditional nonprofits provide one solution for the families they serve. If it’s a housing nonprofit, this looks like building only one type of house and giving it to every family — regardless of their cultural preferences, needs, or desires. The result may put a roof over families’ heads but it doesn’t put dignity in their lives.

At New Story, we believe in providing families with options. 

Every family deserves the opportunity to choose the housing they need and want at a price they can afford. The key to making this possible is by viewing people as participants rather than beneficiaries. 

No nonprofit will tell you “beggars can’t be choosers,” yet many of them practice with this mindset. It’s even how we started 10 years ago. At first, we built one type of house for families who needed housing. This simple solution works and is helpful in some cases like natural disaster response and extreme poverty, but it’s not a sustainable strategy to serve the masses. That’s why we now work with the market to create the conditions where families can afford to choose the housing they want and need. 

Maura now owns a home that’s a good fit for her family of four. She could afford this home after opting into our land and housing program. Our local partners worked with her as she made monthly payments toward a land lot in a developed community. Once she completed those payments, she hired a mason to build her home. She said, “I didn’t need a home with luxury, but I wanted a pretty home.” She got to make decisions along the process that led to her owning a pretty home that works for her family. This was all made possible because we viewed Maura as an active participant rather than a passive beneficiary. We empowered her rather than imposing on her. 

Quote: It's very fulfilling to have something we own, where my daughters can grow without the fear of having to move out unexpectedly" — Maura

The power of options is a core reason our strategy starts with land. 

When families opt into our program, they make monthly payments toward a land lot. Once they complete their payments, they receive a legal land title they own forever. The land families own is now a blank slate to do whatever they want. Many families use the land as collateral to access their first housing loan. Then, they self-build their dream home like Maura or choose from one of the blueprints we provide. We start with land because we want families to take ownership of their lives from the ground up.

In Etzatlán, Mexico, we’re providing families with three housing prototypes. One we’re proud of is called Casa Next.

This prototype reduces the housing price by 20% compared to the average house on the market. And 35% of families in the Etzatlán program prefer Casa Next because of its affordability, open layout, and easy ability to expand over time.

Regardless of income level, every family has unique needs and desires. Social impact teams should be leading the way in honoring those desires by building affordable options for families.

One of my favorite parts about this work is seeing unique aspects of families show up in their homes. From the biggest details like the housing blueprint to the smallest details like the plants, every decision a family makes builds dignity and ownership in their lives.