Land Tenure for the Urban Poor

Funding body: Department for International Development (DFID).


To review and disseminate examples of innovative, intermediate tenure systems and their impact in improving security of tenure for urban low-income groups and reducing distortions in urban land and housing markets.

Duration: 1st April 2000 – 30th June 2001


The following were produced as outputs of this project:

  1. A book reviewing major examples of innovative tenure systems and their impact in improving security for the urban poor, planning and land management and tenure security. The book was launched at the World Urban Forum at UN-HABITAT, Nairobi in Appril/May 2002 and at a Cities Alliance seminar on “Secure Tenure for the Urban Poor” in Washington DC in May 2002
  2. A documentary Film (transmitted on BBC World television in June 2001) as a contribution to the United Nations Istanbul +5 Conference.
  3. A video version of the film in VHS and BetaMax formats in English, French and Spanish (available from TVE International, mail TVE distribution for information on delivery).
  4. An information or media pack entitled ‘Land Rites’ for international distribution to media networks, NGO’s etc.


Security of tenure, or the lack of it, is emerging as a key factor in the ability and willingness of poor households to protect themselves from the threat of forced evictions, or to invest in improving their living conditions. Recent approaches have varied between the extremes of removing unauthorised settlements or granting residents full freehold titles to their plots. These approaches impose further suffering on the poor, or grant them windfall benefits which distort land markets and may even encourage further unauthorised subdivisions. Various intermediate forms of tenure, such as Certificates of Use, Community Land Trusts, ground rent, condominium titles and transfer development rights, have been introduced to increase rights and security without intensifying land market distortions. These appear to offer improved security without raising expectations and can be implemented without recourse to legislative or administrative reforms. However, no comprehensive evaluation of the performance of such progressive, intermediate systems in practice has yet been undertaken. This project reviewed the extent to which key examples have improved perceived security and encouraged local investment in dwelling and settlement improvements.

Security of tenure for the poor has been recognised by the United Nations as one of two issues (with governance) which will form the key issue for UN-HABITAT’s future programmes. These include a new Global Campaign for Secure Tenure and should be seen as the strategic entry point for the effective implementation of the Global Plan of Action for the Habitat Agenda and considers that legal recognition of tenure is one of the most signifiant steps that a national government ran take towards giving expression to the right to housing. The research provided a survey and assessment of innovative approaches which was presented at the UN Istanbul+5 meeting in 2001.

Security of tenure is a basic requirement in enabling the urban poor to survive and also improve their economic status within increasingly market based land markets. Providing households with appropriate forms of tenure security which are affordable to the poor, and protect the rights of tenants, women and other particularly vulnerable groups, is a prerequisite to reducing poverty and providing access to employment and essential services. Which cross cutting themes (i.e. gender, environment, sustainability) will be addressed by this project

Gender was a central concern of the project, as many women are denied access to security of tenure on equal terms to men, even though a substantial proportion of households in many countries are now female headed. This severely disadvantages both women and their children from obtaining secure accommodation. The provision of affordable and secure shelter can reduce the need for poor families to settle in environmentally sensitive or hazardous locations and therefore improve the urban and peri-urban environment. Effective tenure systems can also enhance economically and socially sustainable urban development. The project reviewed intermediate forms of tenure which seek to address these issues and assess the extent to which they have succeeded and offer lessons for other locations. It also identified the cultural and institutional factors which need to be considered when transferring such approaches from one context to another.

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