I had little land rights experience prior to working for Habitat for Humanity International’s global advocacy campaign, Solid Ground. I do, however, have some local, state, and national level policy and advocacy experience gained through my work in southwest Chicago as a Youth Organizer at the Brighton Park Neighborhood Council. I was excited to make the transition to global advocacy but I didn’t know what to expect.  

Solid Ground is dedicated to increasing access to land for shelter. As I started working on the campaign, I understood the concept of “access to land for shelter” but it didn’t resonate much with me. It makes sense that in order to build a house one needs land. That didn’t seem very complex. These past few months I have gained a new understanding of what “access to land for shelter” means and my relationship to land.

My experience with land has not been complicated, or so I thought. In fact, I never had to think about it. I grew up living on the edge of a small town in Virginia on 1.8, mostly wooded, acres. We didn’t farm so we weren’t dependent on the land for our food. My parents purchased an existing house so we didn’t need to search for land to build. It seemed quite simple. I had no consciousness about why a house could be built on the land initially, how my parents got the title and transitioned smoothly into the new space, or the stability provided for me during my childhood from living on those 1.8 acres of land.    

In the United States, access to land for shelter isn’t the challenge. There are laws and systems in place that allow for people to move, build, or rent with relative ease. These laws and systems protect an individual’s right to shelter. The challenge within our system is finding affordable and decent housing in specific locations relevant to where we want to live, work, and educate our families.

For people living in the United States, the concept of access to land is unclear and confusing based on how our housing system operates. Habitat for Humanity works with families to build new, affordable, and decent homes. That step makes sense for assisting families who can’t afford to buy or rent. Habitat for Humanity partners with them to build an affordable home and provide financial assistance. In the same vein, internationally, Habitat for Humanity is dedicated to supporting families most in need of housing. In order to do so, access to land on which to build homes is the first step. This adds a whole new layer of complexity. Not only are land laws complicated, individuals do not have rights to land on where they live. Most people around the world have no land rights.

Joining the Solid Ground campaign is teaching me the importance of access to land for shelter. It is the starting point for stability and growth. Land offers opportunity and possibility.

What does access to land for shelter mean for me? I am able to freely move wherever I would like (within my price range) and I have to opportunity to buy, sell, or rent with relative ease. I can be confident that wherever I live it will have an address and is in the location’s infrastructure system. For example, in an emergency I will be able to provide my address so an ambulance would be able to find my place.

Quite simply, your way of life depends upon it and you most likely take it for granted. Well, at least I did.