The struggle by low-income groups in urban areas to get housing and basic services is often a struggle either to get land on which to build or to get tenure of land they already occupy. Their drive to get land, their energy and their capacity are never factored into official housing policies. In many nations, the last 10 years have shown how the scale and scope of what they can do is much increased when they are organized through federations of savings groups and these federations are offering government partnerships in addressing their needs for housing and services. Where national and local governments respond positively, much can be achieved as shown by government–federation partnerships in Thailand, the Philippines, Zimbabwe, Sri Lanka and Cambodia. Even local governments with limited funding and capacity can increase the supply and reduce the cost of land for housing through allocating publicly owned land, through making available land for housing by extending infrastructure and services to new areas, and through pro-poor changes to building and land use regulations and the ways these are applied. Organized urban poor groups have also shown how they can often negotiate an affordable price with the owner of the land they occupy, if supported to do so (as in Thailand and the Philippines). Urban poor groups also find ways to narrow the gap between the cost of the land they need and what they can afford – smaller plot sizes (although this has to be negotiated with the authorities) and incremental building, and the use of credit (so costs are spread over time). This may be helped by careful use of subsidies. What delivers for the urban poor is not the provision of legal title but governments and international agencies that listen to, work with and support them, including providing finance that they can draw on as and when needed.
This Brief is based on the editorial from Environment and Urbanization Vol 21, No 2, October 2009
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