Building on Solid Ground

Global Campaign to Secure Land Rights for Homes

When we first met 83-year-old Estella, she and her 23-year-old grandson Manuel had been living near the Caribbean coast in a shack made of scrap materials. During frequent heavy rains, Estella and Manuel rushed to raise food and beds off the floor before the house flooded, as it always did.

Why wouldn’t they invest in a more permanent solution? Because, at any moment, their home could be taken from them. They had no legal claim to the land upon which it was built. They are not alone. Globally, 75 percent of people lack titles or other proof of rights to the land on which they live. Millions are scared to leave their homes for fear they may never be able to return. Often, after a natural disturbance, affected communities without land rights, as is the case for most slum residents, lose their homes along with their ability to recover. One out of every seven people lives in a slum, where there are no formal land rights.

Estella, Manuel, and Victor in their Habitat home in Honduras.

This is a grim picture of the global population’s ability to access land for permanent shelter, and it doesn’t stop there. In the context of property rights, women are disproportionately affected. This inequality is often due to formal and informal systems that favor male over female ownership, such as paternal inheritance systems, antiquated rules that allow only husbands to own land, or other social conventions. Women including Bohlokoa Mokhotho, Habitat for Humanity’s advocacy specialist in Lesotho, have lost their property when their husbands died. This injustice doesn’t only occur in Lesotho. It happens in Tonga, Kenya, and countries all over the world. Until a recent policy change in Bolivia supported by Habitat, its partners, and local advocates requiring women’s names on land titles alongside their husbands’, the same discrimination happened there, too.

With security of tenure, people are more likely to invest in their homes, their families, and their communities. Control over land is the most stable means of economic and social empowerment for women. When women have secure land tenure, their ability to invest in their own health and that of their children increases. Land rights are particularly important for women to build resilience and recover from a conflict or disaster.

Control over land is the most stable means of economic and social empowerment for women. When women have secure land tenure, their ability to invest in their own health and that of their children increases.

Habitat for Humanity initiated a global advocacy campaign to mobilize existing and new supporters to influence policy makers toward policies and systems that improve access to land for shelter. The campaign is tackling the issue through four main approaches: expanding security of tenure, promoting gender equality in property rights, upgrading slums (including land rights), and making communities more resilient. In 2016, Habitat for Humanity launched the Solid Ground campaign, which has now taken root in 34 countries from Australia to Cote d’Ivoire and Brazil to Bulgaria. Although the countries participating in the campaign span many time zones, languages, and cultures, they share a common barrier that denies people good homes: access to land. Improving access to land for shelter for 10 million people over three years is the goal, yet the campaign has no defined end date.

One of the 34 campaign countries, Honduras stands as a shining example of what is possible through effective advocacy. Habitat for Humanity Honduras has helped to improve land and housing policy in more than half of the country’s 298 municipalities. A study of just ten of these municipalities showed a total increased investment in housing of US$1.93 million, reaching nearly 23,500 people. Puerto Cortés, where Estella and Manuel live, was among the first cities in Honduras to work with Habitat Honduras and other partners to adopt a housing policy designed to help citizens gain access—be it legal, financial, physical, or otherwise—to land to build safe, affordable homes and create agreements with nonprofits and private businesses to support the process. Estella and her grandson no longer fear the storms. Thanks to effective advocacy and collaboration, they live inland in a new Habitat house, on land that is theirs.

From individual municipalities to global policy, the campaign is working. European Union (EU) leaders signed a new policy – the new European Consensus on Development – setting the agenda for the next ten years for EU funding for development in the global south. The policy features urbanization and housing – included for the first time in a high-level EU development-related policy – as well as strengthening the importance of access to land. The campaign also set the stage for Habitat III, the United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development, which only takes place once every 20 years, most recently in October 2016. Solid Ground was also successful in advocating for key provisions around housing, land, and community-led development to be included in the New Urban Agenda, the outcome document of the conference signed by 167 countries, which serves as a plan to help define urban priorities for the next two decades.

In just over a year, Solid Ground has influenced policy and systems projected to help an estimated 1.3 million people gain access to land for shelter. At this rate, the campaign is well on the way to its goal of supporting 10 million landless individuals, demonstrating that effective advocacy and collaboration can solve this problem.

For more information on the Solid Ground campaign, please visit the webpageAll images courtesy of Habitat for Humanity. 

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