One-for-one glasses. One-for-one toothbrushes. One-for-one blankets. What started with Toms "buy one, give one" model for its ubiquitous shoes has blossomed into an entire category of companies peddling products that have a charitable giving component. World Housing, a Canadian organization created by real estate veterans, takes the trend to its logical endpoint: one-for-one housing.
How, you might wonder, is it possible that something as expensive as a home can just be given away? It can't—at least not in North America., where even small homes can cost many hundreds of thousands of dollars. Good luck getting a kind-hearted home buyer to fork over that kind of money on top of the sticker price.
This is why World Housing is focusing its efforts on slum dwellers in developing nations, where the organization can construct small, shed-like homes on stilts for $2,500. That's still considerably more expensive than a pair of shoes or a blanket.
World Housing cofounders Peter Dupuis and Sid Landolt have been in business together for 32 years. In that time, the pair sold more than 20,000 properties through S&P Destination Properties, their luxury real estate company. But after the 2009 housing bust, S&P took a big financial hit and had to lay off staff as revenue dropped. Dupuis took some time off to finish his master's thesis, which he first started in the early 1990s. After a chance meeting with Toms founder Blake Mycoskie on a plane ride, he decided to change his thesis topic to focus on what a "one-for-one" housing model might look like.
He wondered: Could it make financial sense for luxury condo sales to be linked to home construction in the developed world? "It was so obvious that if that model could live in the real estate world, we were the guys to make that happen," he says.
Dupuis and Landolt decided that the best way to make the model work was to partner with NGOs working in "dump" communities, where people pick garbage and live in homes made from scavenged materials, like plastic and cardboard. By chance, the pair met Scott Neeson, a former entertainment executive who now runs the Cambodian Children's Fund, and realized that his NGO might be the perfect first partner. "He had built a model home in a school compound, and was trying to figure out how to finance that," explains Dupuis.
World Housing and the Cambodian Children's Fund teamed up to create a housing system: Local garbage pickers in Phnom Penh rent land for $20 per month from the Fund, and World Housing funds construction of homes. The homes are constructed by locals in factories that are also built by World Housing. Today, there are two factories open, churning out about 40 homes per month.
The "buy one give one" enterprise is funded by developers, who take money out of their marketing budgets for luxury condos to subsidize the homes—and in return, they get to brand their developments as certified World Housing communities. The first certified community is a 52-story condo development in Vancouver. More are in the works in Hawaii, Taipei, and elsewhere. World Housing is also looking at new locations for its dump community housing, including in the Philippines.
"World Housing is a CCC—a community contribution corporation. We're like a benefit corporation in the states. All profits are buried straight back into the business," says Dupuis.
Dupuis claims that condo developments with the World Housing stamp of approval for one model are especially attractive to buyers. In a beta test with a collection of homes in Waikiki, Hawaii, World Housing tested the model with about 56 condos, which sold fast. But in a booming housing market, condos might sell quickly regardless.
As the organization scales up, it will face the same kinds of hurdles that plague other "one-for-one" organizations—quality control in the dump community homes, for example, could be difficult to maintain.
"In the first world, you get cynicism, and that's okay," says Dupuis.