Housing Policy Matters: A Global Analysis

By Shlomo Angel | Go to book overview

14
The Availability of Land

Land and Housing

The first essential condition for a vibrant and well-functioning housing sector is the availability of residential land, in ample supply and at affordable prices. For example, throughout the twentieth, when land in the rapidly urbanizing developing countries was available and affordable, poor migrants to the cities could and did house themselves -- gradually building houses and communities through self-help and mutual aid -- without government aid, without access to mortgage credit, and without entering the formal housing market. Access to land in these cities was indeed the key to affordable housing, and in many places it still is.

In this chapter we focus on the factors that affect the supply of urban land for housing. Other than geographical features (such as steep or muddy slopes or flood-prone river beds) that limit the availability of buildable urban land, the key influences on the availability of residential land are three components of the housing policy environment: the property rights regime, infrastructure development, and the regulatory regime. A fourth factor affecting the supply of residential land is the competition from other land uses or land hoarding as a form of saving, as a hedge against inflation, or as speculative investment.

The property rights regime affects the availability of land in a number of ways. First, a more primitive regime, with more land being part of the commons or with private persons and public agencies having weak or unenforceable claims on land, allows for the alienation of lands for residential use at no (financial) cost:

Customary chiefs, religious leaders, patrons, and grass root political bureaucracies have been instrumental in settling new migrants to the city on public, private, and customary land. Initially, these submarkets did not involve any form of transaction or exchange of money as a price for the plot, rather, the act of "settling" implied a formal act of allegiance, symbolic subservience, and integration into a client network under the authority of a local patron. [ Durand-Lasserve, 1990, 47]

Second, when formal land markets are not sufficiently developed, they may give rise to informal land markets. Formal land markets require proper surveying

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