It can be challenging to understand, study and address land rights worldwide, yet we know that access to land and housing lie at the heart of ending poverty. Globally, 75 percent of people lack proper documentation for the land on which they live. Millions of people live in constant fear of eviction, unwilling to leave their homes in case they are never able to return. Women are half of the global population, yet they are routinely and systematically denied rights to land. One out of every seven people on the planet lives in a slum. Our ability to meet the demand for housing in the developing world is outpaced by the rate people are moving to cities. And when a disaster strikes a community without proper land laws in place, people lose their homes and their ability to recover.
Housing, both in the informal and formal sectors, fosters strength, stability and self-reliance. With security of tenure, people are more likely to invest in their homes, their families, and their communities. Control over land is a means of economic and social empowerment for women. Improving security of tenure can provide a pathway to remove other barriers to development, including infrastructure, services and public facilities. Further, land rights determine the speed of its recovery following a disaster.
This is why, in 2016, Habitat for Humanity International decided to initiate their first global advocacy campaign, Solid Ground, to mobilize existing and new supporters to influence policy makers toward promoting policies and systems that improve access to land for shelter. Solid Ground is tackling the issue through four main approaches: expanding security of tenure, promoting gender equality in property rights, upgrading slums, and making communities more disaster resilient.
Habitat for Humanity national organizations and our 17 global partners – including members of the World Urban Campaign – are now implementing the campaign in 40 countries and collectively have improved access to land for shelter for more than 1.5 million people. Now halfway through the campaign, we are excited to share a snapshot of the campaign’s successes!
Security of tenure in peri-urban and urban areas of Zambia is a major challenge for those living informal settlements such as Chipulukusu and Twapia resulting in many families living without any form of legal documentation to prove they own the land they live on. Habitat for Humanity Zambia, with the support of the Solid Ground Campaign, worked with the Ndola City Council to improve the tenure security of residents by issuing the residents the Land Record Cards. The Land Record Card offers legal recognition to households living in unplanned settlements. In the first month after the decision, the Ndola City Council issued Land Records Cards to 3,000 households, directly benefiting approximately 15,600 people.
Advocacy has changed the approach and subsequently the impact Habitat for Humanity Honduras has had on land rights in municipalities across Honduras. Through Solid Ground, Habitat for Humanity Honduras has been advocating for the creation of municipal policies for social housing, specifically policies that aim to increase the access families have to social housing and land. To date, over 200 municipalities have approved policies addressing access to land and housing, which are expected to impact nearly 1 million people. The 2016 report, “Monitoring Municipal Investment in Social Housing,” conducted in 102 municipalities where this methodology has been implemented showed that 106,420 families — nearly 500,000 people, have already benefitted from these policy changes through improvements, rehabilitations, new house buildings, access to land and basic utilities. While Habitat for Humanity Honduras has seen huge successes through their advocacy efforts, they are committed to continue working with the municipalities that have yet to pass the policies and to monitor the implementation in municipalities where they have passed.
As a young woman, Estella played guitar in her father’s Latin pop band. Now 83 and wearing her long, silver hair in a messy bun, she dances around her kitchen in Puerto Cortės, singing lyrics from back in those days. “I am happy again,” she says.
Estella has had many good times during her eight decades. She also has had her share of very difficult stretches. Most recently, she and her 23-year-old grandson, Manuel, had been living near the Caribbean coast, in a shack made of scrap materials. Their home had electricity but no bathroom.
During the heavy rains common to this area, Estella and Manuel hurried around as the structure flooded, hoisting food and beds on cinderblock to keep them from getting soaked. Sometimes, the wind picked up and flipped the flimsy roof inside out, and everything got ruined.
Estella now welcomes the storms. She and her grandson live inland, in a new Habitat house. Although the time it took to build the two-bedroom house was relatively quick, the life-changing development represents years of advocacy efforts and collaboration between Habitat Honduras, other community stakeholders and city officials.
Habitat for Humanity Philippines has taken an innovative and creative avenue of advocacy: development of an online policy tracker to engage other stakeholders in the process and enhance accountability of decision makers. They are reviewing existing presidential proclamations relating to secure tenure and informal settlements and the status of their implementation and filed a house bill resulting in official inquiries into implementation. Habitat for Humanity Philippines have used their congressional oversight function to hasten executive action on implementation of three presidential land proclamations benefitting 46,000 families — 230,000 people.
The work happening through the Solid Ground Campaign in Zambia, Honduras, and the Philippines represents just a few examples of how diverse stakeholders are coming together to improve land access for shelter. As we commemorate the half-way point in the campaign, we would like to express our gratitude for the partnership and support of those who have helped make the campaign a reality. We celebrate the advocacy efforts accomplished and look forward to the opportunities ahead.
This was originally posted on worldurbancampaign.org.