SELAVIP was founded by Fr. Josse van der Rest (1924 - 2020), a Jesuit born in Belgium who lived in Chile since 1958 until his death. His main concern was the housing problem of the urban poor. These families are not only socially excluded from our cities, but are also denied to have access to a piece of land to build their shelter.
Fr. Josse challenged us with his passionate ideas. He told us that "the problem is not the house, but land" because "once the poor have a piece of land, they can build their home by themselves". He got angry about the fact that because of land speculation poor families are deprived from a small plot that could make possible for them to gradually develop their housing process with their scarce resources.
Long-term solutions were not so important for Fr. Josse van der Rest. He wanted SELAVIP to recognize the urgent need of shelter of the poor. Experience showed him that urban poor families sometimes do not manage to survive as such if they have to live without any privacy in the homes of their relatives or friends, or in conditions of extreme insecurity and unhealthiness. That is why he insisted that it is better to have a "bad house now than a nice house in 10 more years" when it can be too late to preserve that family.
He disagreed with many professionals and institutions who discard emergency houses as a waste of money and only think of conventional solutions that provide higher quality. By forgetting about affordability, many programs make the poor wait for a "proper" house for a long time. He challenged these experts to go to the field, to talk to the poor in their makeshift homes and accept that what seems unacceptable from their professional standpoint is in fact a realistic and adequate shelter for those that cannot afford any other way to have a roof over their heads.
Fr. Josse´s ideas inspired, and still inspires, our work. The small team that operates SELAVIP tries to share these ideas with partners and groups in the countries where we work, with students and academics and in international events. Nevertheless, Fr. Josse was always open to new concepts and to learn from experience, mostly from the poor. He wanted us to adjust our work to changes in time and context of each country or project to be able to respond in an effective way to a variety of situations that are present in the world of the urban poor.