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 most in need of housing, but many families must first have access to land on which they can create a home. Increasing access to land for shelter has long been a priority for Habitat. As a prequisite to adequate housing, land is foundational to the organization's work. Most people around the world do not have the rights to land on that which they can live. Many countries do not enure people's rights to their property. In fact, the majority of the world’s land ownership systems are broken, and most people in the world who lack adequate housing are not able to secure titles to land. 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 foundational to improving housing conditions because it provides the stability necessary to ensure improvements to shelter can be sustainable and long-lasting and often serves as a springboard to even greater development within communities. This problem — lack of secure tenure experienced by so many — is exacerbated by rising urban land values and less investment in housing by governments. Informal settlements and slums grow exponentionally; structural discrimination against women persists; and millions are displaced each year due to disasters and violent conflict. 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

Slum upgrading is the practice of improving slums through a variety of infrastucture investments. Many governments recieve pressure to beautify their cities, creating an economy in which the price of land has increased drastically. Communities living in informal settlements are being forcibly evicted and pushed to the edge of cities to unplanned and poorly serviced areas, resulting in the growth of informal settlements. In many scenarios, upgrading strategies, rather than eviction, has demonstrated its potential to reduce poverty and allow people to receive basic services.  

#4: Disaster Resilience

After a disaster, tenure problems may include a heightened danger of losing a home or land, land grabbing, loss of records, and inheritance issues because of deaths. Disaster resilience is important for improving and maintaining decent housing conditions when disasters suddenly damage or destroy housing. Through integrating disaster resilient strategies, 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.

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.