When 1.6 billion people worldwide do not have access to decent housing—that’s 1 in every 5 people—something needs to change. The global need for adequate shelter is enormous, but it is a cause Habitat for Humanity is committed to improving.

What is most essential to Habitat for Humanity’s ability to help families live in safe, decent, affordable housing? It is something obvious, but many people never give it much thought: land. Access to land lies at the heart of inadequate housing, preventing vulnerable communities from the most basic physical, economic and psychological security of adequate shelter.

Habitat for Humanity is dedicated to helping families in need of housing, but many families must first have access to land on which they can create a home. Although increasing access to land for shelter has long been a priority for Habitat, most people around the world do not have rights to land on which they can live, as many countries do not ensure people’s rights to their property. In fact, the majority of the world’s land ownership systems are broken, leading to a large portion of individuals in the world lacking adequate housing. To address this, Habitat for Humanity established the Solid Ground campaign to promote changes in land policies and systems to ensure that more people around the globe have a decent home.

Through the Solid Ground campaign, Habitat for Humanity is seizing the opportunity to mobilize and leverage its vast network of affiliated organizations and partners in support of access to land for shelter. As a global organization that has been working to improve living conditions since 1976, Habitat identified four key areas crucial to the mission by enabling access to land for shelter: 

#1: Secure Tenure

Imagine if your home could be taken away from you at any time. Would you feel safe? Secure? Would you still invest in the repairs and the upkeep of your home? Secure tenure is the ability to live without fear of eviction. It is the foundation for improving housing conditions because it provides the stability necessary to ensure improvements to shelter are long lasting and often serves as a springboard to even greater development within communities. This problem—the lack of secure tenure experienced by so many—is exacerbated by rising urban land values, growing slums, structural discrimination against women, and natural disasters and violent conflicts. Secure tenure is thus crucial to Habitat’s mission to provide a decent place to live for people. The process of improving tenure security can take many forms, from anti-eviction policies to the issuing of state-backed titles, to legal literacy training.

#2: Gender Equality

Did you know many women around the world cannot own property? For many women and vulnerable groups across the globe, the difficulties of gaining property rights present a bleak obstacle to obtaining decent housing and a living wage. In more than half of all countries, laws or customs hinder women’s ownership or access to land, undermining women’s empowerment. But giving women access to land rights is vital if all are to have access to safe and decent housing. When women have secure land rights, their ability to invest in their own health and their children's increases. Women are then able to improve their safety and reduce risk of domestic and gender-based violence. They have greater opportunities to get jobs, start businesses, and save money, and they increase social participation and hold greater influence in community decisions.

#3: Slum Upgrading

Here is a sobering statistic: in developing countries, 1 in 3 urban residents live in slums. Let that sink in. Many governments receive pressure to beautify their cities, creating an economy in which the price of land has increased drastically. More and more, the poor are being forcibly evicted and pushed to the edge of cities to unplanned and poorly serviced areas. Thus, an increasing number of people have no choice but to move into illegal or informal land markets. In many scenarios, upgrading strategies, rather than eviction, can show promise.  Slum upgrading is the practice of improving slums through a variety of infrastructure investments. In many cases, slum upgrading has demonstrated its potential to reduce poverty and allow people to access both dignity and a safe place to live.

#4: Disaster Resilience

In the past century, the number of disasters has steadily grown to nearly 400 a year. After a disaster, tenure problems may arise due to lost records, inheritance issues due to deaths, and a heightened sense of danger of losing homes or land. Disaster resilience is important for improving and maintaining decent housing conditions when disasters suddenly degrade or destroy housing.  Through integrating disaster resilience, communities can tackle predictable disasters and better cope with the increasing impacts of climate change.  Disaster resilience is important to incorporate into housing before a disaster strikes, as reducing vulnerabilities can mitigate against potential damage to people, housing and infrastructure. It is a critical consideration if we want to curb the number of people worldwide with inadequate housing.

Habitat for Humanity has learned from its programmatic work over the past few decades to identify four focus areas surrounding land. By focusing on these key areas—tenure security, gender equality, slum upgrading, and disaster resilience—we can help create a world where all people have access to a safe and decent place to live. Stay tuned for more information about these key areas and the work Solid Ground is achieving through this campaign. Read about how Solid Ground is working in 39 countries around the world.