Tenure Security as an Indicator of Incremental Housing

Last week I attended a seminar presented by Urban LandMark on their Tenure Security Facility Southern Africa Project.  It was held at the World Bank office in Pretoria with video conferencing from Angola, Mozambique, Malawi and the UK. Attendees included municipal representatives, researchers and consultants. While my research has to this point focused on incremental housing, the seminar introduced me to incremental tenure security – which I now believe is a key indicator in tracking incremental housing.

Countries across sub-Saharan Africa have various levels of informal settlements, particularly in growing peri-urban areas. The process of legalizing tenure is more than often long, complicated and costly. The lack of tenure security means that households can be easily lose their home through expropriation and forced evictions. This makes it difficult to motivate people to invest in their homes and create safe and healthy living environments when they know at the back of their minds through decades of political challenges that it can all be taken away.

What’s being done to ‘formalized’ informal land tenure?

We learnt from a case study in Malawi presented by Siku Nkhoma of CCODE that there are in fact well-structured informal land management practices in informal settlements. The research demonstrated that through social networks in the area, an informal system is in place that facilitates households to trade and hold land both on an ownership and rental basis. For informal land ownership, the local chief provides documents and agreements to secure land tenure. While these agreements aren’t recognized by law, the social structure of the community and trust in the chief, develop a sense of confidence in land ownership.

Similarly, a study presented by Allan Cain, CEO of Development Workshop Angola (DW), showed that in Huambo, a comparable land tenure security system is in place in that is upheld by social networks and a chief. In their survey they found that in formal housing in Huambo, 70% of occupants have a written purchase contact but non with legal titles, and 30% of occupants have no proof of access at all. In informal housing areas, 45% of occupants have no proof of access, 31% have written contracts, and 23% have a verbal agreement. DW is now working with the municipal government on a land tenure mapping and recording tool, which will create street names and property addresses, regularizing these informal settlements. This will give residents access to services and secure the tenure on their property in a manner that is recognized legitimately.

The City of Johannesburg has also developed a regularization approach to formalizing informal housing settlements. Theregularization programme provides legal recognition for tenure security for informal settlements through community participated approaches including enumeration and occupation permits. An expected 35 000 households over 23 settlements now have tenure security. In addition they also improved services, some enumeration, basic future layout plans and improved information in the City’s Land Information System, which merges the Deeds Office, Valuations, Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and the planning department into one database.

So why is tenure security an indicator of incremental housing?

The delivery of housing takes place through a value chain of activities. Security property rights is the first part of the housing value chain. Incremental housing though HMF has a role in each aspect of the value chain. In informal and formal housing settlements, secure land tenure is the basis for any future investment on the property. It is uncommon for a household to save their money or attempt to borrow money to invest on improvements to the property that they live on, when they do not feel that it belongs to them. Only when ownership title is secured, housing is a resource that can be traded, and accordingly has a value in the market. The property can then be an asset and used as collateral when obtaining a loan. Therefore, tracking property ownership levels, particularly in urban and peri-urban settings where legalized secure housing tenure is limited, may demonstrate the opportunity for incremental housing and housing microfinance. Tenure security allows households to leverage their property as an investment and motivates them to capitalize on opportunities to improve their home.

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