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Housing affordability on Guam and the rise of 3D concrete printing

Starsand Technologies co-founder Ann Dela Cruz, presenting at Guam's first Asia-Pacific Real Estate Investing Summit, wearing a blue floral outfit, standing on the left side of the image.
Kyona Rivera
Isla Public Media (KPRG 89.3 FM)
Ann Dela Cruz presenting at Guam's first Asia-Pacific Real Estate Investing Summit back in April 2024.

An average single-family house in Guam is now $426,000. That’s 54% higher than the median price five years ago. The rising costs are seen to be prevalent today because of a limited supply of homes and the increase in construction costs.

Guam also has federal codes and guidelines for the structure of homes that must be met before they can be deemed habitable.

The solution to the island’s persistent cost and supply may be found within alternative methods made possible by the latest advancements in technology, such as 3D concrete printing.

Starsand Technologies is a company that designs and builds affordable homes for the middle and working class. The company is aiming to bring 3D printing to Guam in the near future to print concrete homes.

Co-founder Ann Dela Cruz was inspired to introduce this technology to the island, with a determination to address the reality that owning a home remains a distant dream for many.

“People here in Guam are not in a position where even if they worked really hard, they still cannot earn enough to make ends meet," said Dela Cruz. "There was a time when people used to dream about owning a home, but I think that dream does not exist today because of the hardship of what it takes to live on this island."

Dela Cruz, who is a local resident and real estate agent herself, shares the struggle of large families who try to make ends meet in one household.

“It’s a lot of multigenerational living. Meaning, you will literally have four or five actual households in one house, and it's uncomfortable. It's our culture, we are all family and being about together. But it's at a point where it’s not by choice,” she said.

Rob San Agustin, director of the Office of Homelessness and Poverty Prevention (OHAPP), says Guam has been at a steady rate of homelessness throughout the past decade.

“There are four different homeless populations. One being the street homeless, sheltered homeless, individuals in substandard housing, and the individuals in the Chamorro Land Trust Commission,” he said.

San Agustin said not only is affordability an issue, but also the decline in familial connection to the elderly and growing families.

“A lot of what I am seeing is that [the] elderly are losing support from their families because their kids have their own lives," he said. "They don’t want to live in their kids’ homes because they don’t want to intrude, so they end up living quietly in their own cars without their kids even knowing."

San Agustin explained that labels such as lower class and middle class have a big income gap. This means people who are not well-off can get more help from social programs such as food stamps, Medicaid, and WIC or Women, Infants, and Children program. While those in the middle class might struggle to meet the requirements.

“That’s always been a complaint, that the middle class gets no breaks. People on welfare can live off it. It’s a legitimate happening, but it is also a perspective of equity," Agustin said. "Sometimes, those in the lower class, or the lower income earners [...] may not have the same type of opportunity to have a job. Maybe they didn’t get an education."

He shares that public benefits help the homeless reach a point where they can get the next step for themselves. But the bigger issue is the fact that the help is there, but it takes years to get it.

Daime Rivera is a case manager for the WestCare Pacific Islands Hatsa program. It's a treatment program for the homeless. According to Rivera, there are 15 families waiting to be sheltered under the Guam Housing and Urban Renewal Authority (GHURA).

“I have a client who works minimum wage, full-time, but it’s still not enough to afford at least a one-bedroom apartment. It’s easy to apply for GHURA, but it’s the waiting period that actually takes long to be sheltered. One of my other clients has been waiting for three years,” she said.

As of 2023, OHAPP's San Agustin said there were 1,075 homeless individuals. Around 400 of them are street homeless, and the rest are living in tin shacks which are not meant for habitation as per the federal guidelines.

“Our FAS migrants' style of living is where the structure is not as important as culture and how you live with family. With the local population, it’s a circumstance of limited land and the growing families throughout the generations,” San Agustin said.

San Agustin adds that Guam needs to find ways to make living more affordable. He suggested looking at alternative building methods and their policies to figure out creative ways to increase the inventory of housing.

In hopes of overcoming this battle of housing affordability and supply and demand, Starsand Technologies aims to use MudBots, a cutting-edge technology that has the potential to revolutionize the construction industry by allowing for the rapid and efficient creation of housing.

This technology can be used to create affordable and sustainable housing solutions. The printer will use Guam’s natural resources to make the concrete, making it cheaper and more sustainable.

“Other manufacturers will tell you to buy their proprietary concrete. With our printers and unlike other printers, ours uses natural resources. Our printers can design the machine so that you can take as many natural resources as bamboo, fiber, sea salt. Things that Guam already has,” Dela Cruz said.

Co-founder Ann Dela Cruz says bringing this technology to Guam can also limit the cost of labor and import expenses by not having to rely on other countries to do that for the island.

“There's no doubt Guam needs this technology. The question for me was does Guam want this technology? At the end of the day, the printer itself is just a tool. It takes people to embrace the technology, to adopt it in a way that can actually transform our community,” she said.

She believes that with this technology, she can provide opportunities for people to afford a home they can be proud of.

This story was produced in collaboration with KPRG News and University of Guam's Communication and Media Program.

Student reporter Kyona Rivera is a senior at the University of Guam. She's working towards a degree in Communication and Media.