Stepping up and looking to play a significant role in solving the housing crisis, AUDEO is boldly embracing the challenge ahead. 

Data from a 2018 study conducted by the Philippine Statistical Research Institute showed the housing backlog from 2017-2022 is about 6.57 million, and according to the Department of Human Settlements and Urban Development (DHSUD), that number might reach 22 million units by 2040 if nothing is done.

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to devastate communities nationwide, the country’s most vulnerable citizens will be forced to fight even harder to survive. The health crisis is not only taking lives but it is also pushing low-income families out of their homes and into the streets. Experts warn the PHL’s property problems may only get worse as more Filipinos in dire straits are looking to flock to Metro Manila in search of opportunities.

To eliminate the mass housing deficit, the Philippines needs to produce 345,000 units yearly from 2017 to 2022 and about one million units per year from 2022 to 2030. DHSUD Secretary Eduardo D. del Rosario stated, however, the housing sector fell short of its target with only 203,000 to 205,000 units annually between 2016 and 2019.

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Makeshift houses in a Barangay Tondo, Manila. Photo by Joshua Gantuangco

Playing the role

Putting a roof—a proper and acceptable roof, that is—over the heads of millions of families is a colossal task, and it demands solid cooperation among the players in the housing industry. Stepping up and looking to play a significant role in solving the housing crisis, AUDEO is boldly embracing the challenge ahead. 

AUDEO is an eco-housing startup founded by California-raised Filipina Danielle Ralleca. The company only started last December 2019, yet they’re already looking to make an impact. “What we’re trying to do is revolutionize the affordable housing industry while reducing the plastic footprint,” Ralleca told OffCrowd via Discord.

Before establishing her eco-housing enterprise, the 26-year-old was working in an industry far different from property development. “My previous background is actually in public health, so I worked with a lot of underserved communities back in California, implementing public health policies and programs,” she explained. It was in this line of work she started to become more conscious of environmental health and affordable housing.

But the inspiration behind AUDEO didn’t come until Ralleca flew to the Philippines on holiday a few years back. During this trip, she had the opportunity to visit one of the most “under-serviced” communities in Tondo, Manila. Witnessing first-hand how the residents there were living in poorly built makeshift homes and making ends meet out of waste materials, she knew thereon that she wanted to help and make an impact.

“I wanted to do more research about it…  I knew I wanted to be a part of finding a solution for that,” Ralleca said, “that opened my eyes to the different possibilities we can bring to the Philippines.”

From simply wanting to do more for the Filipino people, it became a passion and a calling. The budding entrepreneur eventually decided to pack her bags and move to the Philippines to start AUDEO.

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A set of Bloqueplás bricks. Photo grabbed from Engineering for Change

South American Eco-Blocks

After doing intensive research on what’s being done in other countries, Ralleca finally came across this unique and innovative material from Colombia called Bloqueplás—a lego-like, modular construction block composed of 90% upcycled plastic and 10% non-additive chemicals. 

These eco-blocks are typically made out of plastics that are hard to reuse or recycle, such as electronic waste, styrofoam, LDPE (plastic shopping bags), and polyethylene terephthalates (PET) products like bottles and skincare packaging. According to Ralleca, all these “waste materials” can be directly sourced from landfills and eventually processed into bricks. 

Fueled with the ambition to reduce not only the amount of discarded plastic but also the number of homeless families and individuals in the Philippines, using this material made perfect sense for the AUDEO team. 

In South America, Bloqueplás is already being used to construct high-quality, low-cost housing for underserved communities. Owing to its unique formula and interlocking design, these bricks are relatively easier to install and do not require any form of adhesives. Because of this, labor costs can be trimmed down to 50%, making the total finished costs more affordable for contractors and families looking to purchase homes using this material.

“What’s great about this is not just its environmental impact but it’s also more affordable and a lot more efficient, Ralleca explained. “For example, if we were to take a 50sqm single-story house with four workers, we could build the entire shell of the house within four days.”

As of writing, more than 2,000 tonnes of plastic waste has already been transformed into classrooms, long-term housing, medical centers, and shelters in Columbia alone. Inspired by its success, Ralleca and her squad are aiming to emulate their South American counterparts and introduce Bloqueplás to the Filipino mainstream.

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Housing made out of Bloqueplás. Photo grabbed from the AUDEO website

Turning Trash Into Homes

According to a 2015 study by McKinsey & Company, 2.7 million metric tons of plastic waste is generated in the Philippines each year, 20-percent of which is estimated to end up in the ocean. That makes the Southeast Asian archipelago the 3rd biggest polluter after China and Indonesia. 

Although the Philippines has one of the highest garbage collection rates in Southeast Asia, rubbish is not properly disposed of due to a lack of disposal facilities and sanitary landfills. Knowing this, the AUDEO team thought that it might just be a good idea to turn trash into homes. 

What AUDEO is trying to do is turn materials that would otherwise end up as waste in landfills or the ocean into infrastructure that would benefit low-income, at-risk communities. This could pave the way for more sustainable construction projects in the future, including long-term housing. 

“A 50 sqm house takes about seven tons of plastic waste,” Ralleca explained. “If we use the 81% of the Philippines’ mismanaged plastic waste (5,589 tons/day), then we can erase the 3,000,000-unit socialized housing deficit within seven years.”

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