Reading glasses. Light bulbs. Organic dog biscuits. Toilet paper. For do-gooding consumers who want to give while getting and partake in a bit of good, old-fashioned social responsibility while loading up their virtual shopping basket, there’s seemingly no limit to the type of items that have been given the TOMS treatment.

But get-one give-one homes? Impossible you say? 

Not at all thanks to World Housing, a Vancouver, B.C.-based venture dedicated to erecting third world micro-homes from the sale of first world condo units. 

Describing itself as “the world’s first one-for-one real estate gifting model,” the scheme — World Housing's big-hearted co-founders Peter Dupuis and Sid Landolt don't just throw around the TOMS comparisons for marketing reasons, but were truly inspired by the work of TOMS Shoes founder Blake MyCoskie —  is pretty simple: With each condo purchased though certified developers affiliated with World Housing, $2,900 will be dedicated to the construction of a micro-home.

The tiny-but-durable corrugated steel homes, constructed by a network of NGO-builder partners in factories that train and employ local youth, are typically 130-square-feet, insulated with rice husks, wired for electricity, equipped with a rain catchment system, and elevated to protect its inhabitants from flooding. The homes will be given to recipient families living in landfill communities — essentially garbage dump slums where residents scavenge through mountains of trash as their livelihood.

Thus far, World Housing has focused its outreach to landfill communities in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico; Phnom Penh, Cambodia; and the Philippine capital city of Manila. Eventually, the organization hopes to expand to similar communities in South America, India, and Africa with the ultimate goal of provided shelter to 30,000 deserving dump-dwellers by 2020.

The first World Housing-certified condo development is a “super prime” waterfront project in Vancouver that will generate more than 400 micro-homes for families in Cambodia once it hits the market later this month. Certified developments in Toronto and Ohau are also in the works.

“We cannot possibly overstate the incredible social change that is created by gifting homes to the most deserving people on earth,” remarks Dupuis in a recent press release. “The conditions of landfill communities are the worst in the world; these people are literally surviving off of the garbage of others, spending hours a day trying to find clean water and food for their family. Receiving a home gives a stable living environment to help create a better life.”


It’s pretty profound, really — knowing that the fancy new high-rise condo you just forked over a pretty penny for has resulted in someone less fortunate receiving a roof over their head. At the very least, it erases any first world guilt associated with your brand new custom Italian cabinetry, spa tub, and Miele washing machine.

This is all fantastics stuff but there is a lingering and very much valid question: Why should folks buy condos that support housing in far-flung developing nations when there’s a crucial need for safe, affordable housing in developed nations. Why not build micro-homes for those affected by poverty a little closer to home?

The World Housing website responds:

We strongly believe that charity must always begin at home and as good local citizens we must support local causes first. We also know that small contributions to the developing world make a big difference. Consider this: once you have made your contribution locally, is there anything you can do to help in the developing world? Spreading your goodwill makes a difference to everyone.

The cost of housing is so high in developed countries that our formula doesn’t work. We can build a home for $2,500 USD in Cambodia; that’s not possible in developed countries. In addition, we believe homelessness in developed countries is everyone’s responsibility–led by government–because everyone pays taxes. World Housing supports initiatives to create affordable and Single Room Occupant housing at the local level.

Do watch the excellent video that I've embedded below for more on the big-hearted mission of World Housing. And I'd love to know what you think about a buy-one give-one housing model — would you jump on the chance to buy a condo, provided that you're on the market for one, that gives you the chance — no premium involved — to help improve the living conditions of someone else? 

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