Thermal Rehabilitation, an Efficient Solution for Housing Improvement

Thermal Rehabilitation | WindowsRomania has many housing problems because more than 80% of the houses were built more than 35 years ago and the large majority of the owners cannot afford to do the necessary maintaining repairs.
One of the biggest problems is poor thermal insulation of the houses and apartments which conduct to large losses of heat and to expensive heating bills.

In Arges County, the large majority of the people live in blocks of flats built in the communist era and without the possibility to pay for major repairs or improvements. Because of this, the inhabitants in this area need an affordable solution to resolve the thermal insulation problem.

In 2007, Habitat for Humanity Pitesti started a program dedicated to this kind of intervention and this program was a real success. By the spring of 2011, this program helped over 250 families to improve the thermal insulation of their houses.

In Romania, the cost of heating in the winter season is almost double than the rent paid by a normal family.

The rehabilitation program developed by Habitat for Humanity Pitesti reduces the housing costs with over 40% making a big difference in the families’ way of life.

Thermal Rehabilitation | New WindowsWith an average budget per repaired unit under $2,000, this kind of housing rehabilitation has a significant impact on the family’s life with fewer expenses for Habitat for Humanity.

Project goals:

  • Increasing the living conditions for people in need of decent, affordable housing;
  • Decreasing the payments for house heating or cooling;
  • Avoiding health problems generated by low temperatures in the houses (especially affecting the children).

By covering the exterior walls of the houses with thermal insulating materials and/or replacing the old exterior windows and doors with new energy efficient ones the heating loss is radically reduced. The new materials used for thermal insulation will assure improved comfort in the homes for a very long period of time without other interventions.

Improving the thermal insulation of the buildings allows not only an increase in thermal comfort but also a radical improvement in the external appearance of buildings, as you can see in the next photos.


Thermal Rehabilitation | BeforeThermal Rehabilitation | After

Innovative Solutions for Affordable Housing

Innovative Affordable Housing | Old BlockDuring the period that I worked for Habitat for Humanity, I tried to find new and innovative solutions to resolve in some way the lack of houses in Arges County, Romania.
Between 2005 and 2007, my team helped through hundreds of volunteers to renovate three 35 year old blocks with 31 apartments. Comparing the results of renovation with the financial resources used to complete these projects, I can say that creating affordable housing by renovating old buildings was very successful. Unfortunately, the number of old buildings to renovate is limited so it was the time for a new solution to create affordable houses.

In April 2007, ten months after we started negotiations with the Oarja Village planning commission, the mayor and the local council, we succeeded in signing a partnership contract with the Oarja City Hall that gave us free use of two pieces of land near the old renovated blocs.

Innovative Affordable Housing | VolunteersThis was a big success for us because in that area we already had the entire infrastructure we needed (water, sewer system, garbage disposal, and electricity). Unfortunately, these two pieces of land were very narrow and finding the best building solution was a challenge for us. After we analyzed the facts, consulted an architect and conducted more discussion with the planning commission in Oarja we decided that the best solution for that location was to build two new blocks of flats. In this way it was possible to build 16 apartments on the same surface of land appropriate for just two individual houses.

In 2007, we started the construction works for the first four apartments. The total cost for one apartment was about $14,500 at that time when a similar apartment in Pitesti city (10 miles away from Oarja village) was on the market for over $40,000.

Goals of the project:

  • Building new homes for people in need of housing;
  • Secure tenure of the homes;
  • Decreasing the monthly payments for families (rent, heating, etc.);
  • Avoiding health problems generated by bad living conditions (especially for the children).

Innovative Affordable Housing | New Affordable HousingThe construction solution used was a concrete structure for the blocks and a wood panel structure for the walls and roof. The exterior walls of the apartments were covered with thermal insulation and the exterior windows and doors were complying with high thermal insulation standards in order to reduce the heating loss and costs. The construction works were done by the partner families and local and international volunteers with supervision from Habitat for Humanity Pitesti specialists. The materials used for building the apartments were chosen in order to assure improved comfort in the homes for a very long period of time without other interventions.

This project created 16 new affordable housing units in the Habitat Oarja Neighborhood and will ensure normal standards of living for over 30 adults and 35 children.

About Neighborhood Development in Romania

Romania | Neighborhood Development Romania is evolving after fifty years of communist regime and another twenty years of turbulent transitioning toward democracy and a free market economic system. These periods have left deep scars on the Romanian society. The lack of interest from local and national public authorities led to the emergence of additional poor areas and neighborhoods, inside or around the Romanian cities. Improper housing conditions, unemployment, lack of sanitary systems, electricity and heating, difficult access to education for children and health problems are everyday problems faced by many Romanians.

In order to create the premises for economic development in these areas it is necessary to elaborate and implement policies and measures specially designed to redevelop these distressed neighborhoods.

There is a big need for specialists in neighborhood development since this area of the economic development field is almost nonexistent in Romania.

In the last years, the central and local public authorities became interested in collaborating with specialists and forming partnerships with organizations specialized in community development to develop policies and procedures and to promote economic measures that may help these distressed areas.

Arges | Neighborhood DevelopmentCreating a group of specialists who know how to use economic development strategies to redevelop distressed neighborhoods will be a positive step towards breaking the poverty cycle for the people living in these communities in Romania.

Revitalizing distressed communities using programs such as housing rehabilitation, entrepreneurial skills training for local people, on-job requalification programs for unemployed, facilitating access for kids to education, etc.  will stimulate the general economic development of Romania.

A Journey from Luxury Villas to Affordable Housing

In 2005, when I joined the Habitat for Humanity team, coming from the for-profit construction sector, my friends told me that I was crazy because I was giving “luxury villas for affordable housing”.

Crazy or not, I wanted to combine the experience of commercial activity with the ideals of one of the most well known international nongovernmental organizations and looking back I can say that the experience of working for Habitat for Humanity was exceptional not only professionally, but especially from the human point of view.

Colorful HousesNot many can boast that a day on the job could give them the opportunity and satisfaction of meeting such a large variety of people, from the members of the team that I coordinated, to the international volunteers who came on “holiday” to the Habitat for Humanity construction site and to the partner families who were happy to work on their own homes.

Not many had the chance to share with disadvantaged families the excitement of moving in a new house or have the joy of being able to make other people happy.

And not many have had the luck to work with so many people who really put their heart and souls into their work, like I had.

Since its establishment in 2001 through 2004, Habitat for Humanity assisted 24 families by providing them with renovated apartments. In the period between 2005 to 2011, I succeeded in increasing more than ten times the number of assisted families and expanded the types of interventions from apartment renovations to building new houses, thermal rehabilitations, home additions, water supply and disaster relief.

Under my management, Habitat for Humanity Pitesti developed relations and signed partnerships with national and local authorities, business associations, universities, high schools, and many other governmental, commercial and non-profit organizations.

The excellent relationship developed with the local authorities gave me the opportunity in 2007 to negotiate and sign a partnership with the Local Council of Oarja, which gave Habitat for Humanity Pitesti the free use of two plots of land, which were used to build 16 affordable housing units. This project was finished successfully and was followed by a second partnership signed in 2010 giving Habitat for Humanity Pitesti free land to build more affordable houses for families in need.

In the financial management field I succeeded to increase the activity and results of the organization in the conditions that the expenses were constantly decreased. In my mandate, Habitat for Humanity Pitesti applied and obtained over $25,000 in grants from Peace Corps and the US Embassy and over $75,000 in donations from different local and international organizations.

Happy HousesOther activities:

  • Successfully organized and managed large local events with over 200 volunteers and coordinated the hosting of over 50 corporate and international volunteer teams;
  • Initiated and helped to develop a youth organization with over 50 active members;
  • Initiated and managed a diverse range of community development programs: mentoring programs for disadvantaged youth, educational programs for disadvantaged families, youth community involvement programs and on-job qualification programs in constructions for young orphans.

Six years later, I left Habitat for Humanity for a one year fellowship in the United States. Being permanently concerned about increasing my abilities and knowledge in specialized training, I was happy when the Romanian-U.S. Fulbright Commission announced at the beginning of 2011 that I was awarded with a Hubert H. Humphrey Fellowship in Economical Development at Michigan State University, U.S.A. by the Institute of International Education in Washington D.C.

This was the best opportunity for me to expand my horizons in the social development field at an international level and to acquire experience in working in multi-disciplinary teams and multicultural environments.

During this fellowship program I had the opportunity to participate in workshops and conferences, related to the economic development field, which provided me with interaction with leaders from United States federal, state and local governments, multinational organizations, and the private sector.

As part of the same program I had a professional affiliation with the Office of Housing and Community Development, County Of Hawaii, U.S.A., where I conducted public policy research regarding housing and community development for disadvantaged ethnic groups (a comparison between land and housing issues of native Hawaiian population in the United States and Roma population in Romania).

A New Life for a Distressed Neighborhood

Poverty Housing in Romania

In 2005, in my first month as executive director of Habitat for Humanity Pitesti, Romania, my construction manager told me about a deserted area outside of Pitesti city.
I was intrigued by his story and we went together to see what was there.
The place had three grey, old concrete blocks of flats and a muddy courtyard full of garbage. I asked a kid who was playing with a skinny dog, what the place was. His answer troubled me: “My home.”

I started collecting information about this place, I contacted the local city hall, I wrote the first draft of the Habitat Oarja Neighborhood Project, and in one month, with the support of my colleagues from Habitat for Humanity, we were able to start this project that was ongoing for the next six years.

In the summer of 2005, we started with three families that were living without running water, electricity or sewerage.  By the summer of 2011, 47 families were already living or preparing to move-in to the same neighborhood, in decent, clean and healthy two room apartments.

Poverty Housing | Oarja, Romania

To obtain these results within just six years we initiated and signed partnerships with the local authorities, fundraised and managed a budget of over  one million dollars, organized and hosted over 1000 international volunteers from all over the world and over 2,500 local volunteers, aged from 16 to 87.

The families that moved into this revitalized area were all families in need of houses without any other possibilities to buy or build one without our help. Now they are all working and the children are going to the local school or kindergarten.

In the first year, I managed to convince the owner of a neighboring farm to give us, free of charge, a broken water tank so we repaired it and redid the entire water installation in the area. After the first results were visible and the area started to come back to life, my approaches to the local mayor became successful and we signed a partnership contract with the city hall of Oarja. With this contract, the town of Oarja gave us two plots of land free of charge in the same area to build two new blocks with 16 apartments.

Poverty Housing | After RenovationThe two new blocks were built starting in 2009 using almost exclusively volunteer work made by the partner families along with students, bankers, teachers, clerks, business people, managers, engineers, etc. from Romania and over 30 other countries in the world.

We developed a Homeownership and Community Leadership Training program for the families that were moving into this area, by teaching them family budgeting, establishing credit, being a first time homeowner and the importance and role of a homeowner’s association.

We managed to obtain a grant to build a playground for the more than 100 children that were now living in the Habitat Oarja Neighborhood and we convinced the city hall to repair the streets in the area and to make a new bus station.

This project was very challenging for my team and I and required a large amount of work but I am more than happy and proud that the final result was a reborn community that is called “home” for more than 200 people.

You can watch a short slideshow about the renovation works for one of the apartment buildings in this neighborhood.