When people think of Habitat for Humanity, they likely first consider the construction of new houses in the United States and other countries around the world. Indeed, the heart of Habitat for Humanity’s mission remains the provision of affordable, dignified housing for all people. However, the organization has a much broader mission than building new housing and repairing old, damaged structures to make them suitable for habitation. One of the organization’s most important initiatives involves advocacy around the world. People who struggle with homelessness and poverty need a voice in politics, and Habitat for Humanity fights for the policies and laws that will most benefit this demographic.
Recently, Habitat for Humanity undertook its first global advocacy campaign. Called “Solid Ground,” this campaign operates on the belief that access to land is the most essential factor in providing families with safe and decent housing. Around the world, too many people don’t have rights to the land on which they live, and this puts their safety and security constantly in question. Land ownership systems around the world are broken, and most people who struggle with homelessness have no means of securing a land title. Because Habitat for Humanity’s housing construction efforts are only effective when the families they serve have access to the land upon which a home can be built, the organization created Solid Ground to address this issue.
Solid Ground and the Fight for Access to Livable Land
About 75 percent of the land people around the world live on is not formally registered as owned by the people who have a home there. Because so many countries are included in this struggle, Solid Ground has adopted a strategy that spans multiple continents while remaining tuned in to the specific needs of local communities. This strategy focuses on changing land policies and systems to enable people to live securely in quality homes. To do so, Solid Ground largely relies on the partnerships that it has built with local allies to motivate policymakers in countries around the world and lobby for policies that increase access to land.
Because the fight for land can be complicated, Solid Ground has identified four key initiatives, and the teams behind these programs can respond appropriately to the needs that each area addresses. These four initiatives include upgrading slums, making communities more resilient in the face of disaster, tackling gender and property rights, and securing tenure for occupied land. Solid Ground largely serves as a central umbrella to unite several different initiatives and advocacy efforts operating around the world.
Providing a centralized place for these efforts to share success stories and tribulations will bolster the initiatives in each country around the globe. In addition to the larger global effort, Solid Ground also includes multiple domestic campaigns. These campaigns work at both the state and local levels to identify the key policy changes that need to happen to make land more accessible to people in need and secure land rights for people who live on unowned land.
A Look at the Work So Far
While the Solid Ground initiative is relatively young, the effort has already gained a great deal of traction in the struggle for land rights around the world. In Australia, for example, rapid urbanization has resulted in the development of slum conditions in communities across the nation. Numerous people have limited access to clean water, sanitation facilities, and electricity. To address this issue, Habitat for Humanity Australia has advocated for Australian AID to develop a new urban strategy for the whole Asia Pacific region while providing more funding for shelter initiatives and revisiting the question of access to land.
In Bulgaria, the Roma people face a great deal of marginalization, both social and physical. As a result, Roma people tend to live in areas that have very little regulation and oversight. Often, these individuals live in homes that are built illegally as they have no rights to the land. The local Habitat for Humanity has made strides in amending legislation on a national and municipal level to make it easier for these individuals to claim rights to the land. In addition, the organization is pushing for better public infrastructure aimed at vulnerable populations with a focus on Roma people.
In El Salvador, housing policy and processes are nearly nonexistent. As a result, slums have formed across the country. Solid Ground is currently in the process of conducting a systematic study of El Salvadorian land issues to identify the mechanisms that will have the greatest effect on land access. This research is being translated into awareness campaigns that will empower the general public to push for better policies and put pressure on their legislators.
Individuals in the Dominican Republic are guaranteed the right to housing, yet the country needs an additional 2 million homes to meet the current deficit. Because of the lack of housing, forced evictions and terrible living conditions are commonplace. The Dominican Republic Habitat for Humanity teamed with local partners last year to start the Casa Ya campaign, which pushes for municipal protocols that provide protection against forced evictions. The campaign will also address the issue of informal settlements and slums.