Friday, April 28, 2006

'death of freedom'

Five thousand people attended Durban's 'death of freedom' rally. The Mercury reports. Here's a quote all South Africans should remember, from S'bu Zikode, one of the leaders of the squatter organizing group Abahlali baseMjondolo:

"How can we celebrate freedom when we only hear tales of freedom or see people's lives changed for the better in other parts of the country, but never in our communities? We cannot celebrate, we have nothing to be cheerful about. We are the forgotten people who are expected to be content with sharing five toilets among 5 000 people. How can a community of 5 000 people celebrate when it is expected to make do with six [water] taps?"

In the past, Abahlali members have been brutally punished by police when they have attempted to exercise their right to public protest. This time, thankfully, everything apparently went off without a hitch.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

housing projects for squatters

The administration in India's capital, says it will build 10,000 apartments in the next two years to replace the city's burgeoning shantytowns, Express India reports. Of course, this will not come close to keeping up with the city's projected population growth.

the human rights of corporations

Back in November, I blogged about a European Court of Human Rights decision that a successful adverse possession claim over some property had violated a corporation's 'human' rights. Now the case is being appealed to Europe's top rights panel. The Financial Times has a brief report.

at it again

Zimbabwe's still going after squatters, this time burning down a 200-family settlement in Masvingo city. reports.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

police state tactics against squatters

A politician in the South African Province of KwaZulu Natal is proposing a new law that has apartheid-era resonance: the "Prevention of the Re-emergence of Slums Act." It would make it a crime for squatters to seize unused land--and, undoubtedly, would require a new police force to patrol the areas where squatters might invade.

Such an act is based on a fundamental misconception of why shantytowns form. People don't live in crude shacks because they want to. They don't come to the city thinking, "Here's the future I'm looking forward to: I'll go to Durban and live in a mud or tin hut without water and electricity. That sounds great." They come to the city hoping desperately to find a job. And they move into shantytowns because there are no other options. No one builds housing they can afford.

Of course, some of the rhetoric about the proposal attempts to make it sound well-intentioned: The Act "would recognise the existing slums for upgrading and outlaw the erection of new slums," said Local Government, Traditional Affairs and Housing MEC Mike Mabuyakhulu. "We will never win the war on the eradication of slums if we do not vigorously maximise our housing options and prevent the erection of new slums....The envisaged act seeks to achieve this. We are convinced that without such an intervention our slum clearance programme will be an exercise in futility."

The bottom line, however, is this: criminalizing the erection of new squatter communities is a police-state ordinance not a housing policy.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Dharavi Deal Moves Forward

The math seems a bit skewed: the Mumbai government has knocked down 169,184 huts in Dharavi for redevelopment out of which 25,591 tenements have already been constructed." DNA (Daily News & Analysis) reports.

Water most expensive for city's poorest

"In one month I pay just about as a family that has access to tap water pays in a year," a Mexico City squatter tells El Universal. The profit that goes to the water dealers, so the article reports, amounts to 20 times the average minimum wage.

Shack blaze leaves 250 homeless

In South Africa: a fire in a Durban squatter community. What the article doesn't say: that the government's policy of preventing squatters from getting electrical hookups was what really caused the blaze. Squatters with electricity wouldn't be using candles.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

squatters come up with own rehab plan

A visionary approach, led by squatters, to demolish their huts which were getting uncomfortably close to the runways of Mumbai's airport and create a new community right nearby. Many of the squatters work at the airport and feel commuting would be a great harm to their lives. Interestingly, the squatters are being advised by P.K. Das, an architect who is also a leader of Nivarra Hakk Suraksha Samiti, an aggressive pro-squatter agitating group. Mumbai Newsline reports.

unFreedom day

A dozen years on, it's time for irony, not celebration: April 27th in Durban, South Africa.

Abahlali BaseMjondolo, a terrific new squatter community organization, has joined with several tenant groups to lead a day of mourning for the new South Africa. As the groups explain in their press release:
The first democratic elections were held in South Africa on 27 April 1994. The promise of that day was equality, a vision that all South Africans might be able to share the country’s wealth, that all would be equal under the law, that all would have inalienable rights. That day is commemorated as "Freedom Day", and its memory celebrated in a national holiday each April 27th. As years have gone by, the hope has turned to bitter irony. Twelve years after the first democratic elections, the gap has increased between the rich and the poor!

What are we fighting for?
Decent Houses for All in the City
Free Basic Services
Basic Income Grant for All
Unconditional access to all resources of this land
Rights for All informal workers
A health, clean environment
Equality for All, including all vulnerable groups (women, children, sick/disabled).

What are we against?
Forced Relocations
Water and Electricity Cut offs
Lying Politicians
State Repression, police brutality and impunity
Land Theft

The unFreedom day festivities will begin at 12 noon at St. John’s church on Rippon Road in Claire Estate in Durban, S.A.

Friday, April 21, 2006

the demolition fascists

Nangla Machi, a self-built settlement of 40,000, was destroyed by the Delhi authorites a few weeks back. MidDay offers this moving response.

Probably over a third, perhaps more, of urban India is composed of slums, but they are everywhere regarded as non-city, an illegitimate, invalid parasite onto what a city should be, a stigma on our image.

Why are slums, so integral, so important and so economically useful to the city in its entirety always, everywhere regarded as being so not-city.

Are our conceptions of cities too idealised to accommodate its greatest reality? Do we view cities as being so non-village or non-poor that we don’t like the very idea, let alone the reality of how its poorest live?
They are in fact what our cities should be — hospitable, inventive, resilient and full of survivors and entrepreneurs. In order to save our cities we need to save our jhuggis. This is the slogan that greeted all visitors to Nangla Machi, the city that is no more.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

The real estate deal called Dharavi

This says it all: "International players will start bidding for Dharavi." It's from an article in the Financial Express, which notes that 535 acres of land in Dharavi, Mumbai's largest squatter community, will be auctioned for a likely price of Rs 4,000 and Rs 7,000 per sq ft. (between $90 and $150 per square foot) Says one developer: "The land at Dharavi is flat and horizontal. Whenever such land is redeveloped, a lot of area is released for development of skyscrapers."

Sound like a squatter's worst nightmare.

Erdogan shows hypocrisy on gecekondu issue

Turkey's Prime Minister R. Tayyip Erdogan, who is presiding over massive squatter demolition in Ankara, was himself a land invader in an Istanbul squatter community. That's the word from Mustafa Mutlu, a columnist for the newspaper Vatan, as translated by the Turkish Daily News.
Vatan's Mutlu examines Erdogan's latest condemnation of those who build and dwell in illegal gecekondus (shanties) this week. Speaking at the 6th Congress on Housing, Erdogan was quoted as saying: "And to those who try and raise sympathy for these people by saying, 'Those poor and miserable people had a house, and now it's been taken away from them,' I say how are these people poor and miserable by your account? This [gecekondus] is a racket. We are providing homes for YTL 200 monthly payments. Let them go and use these apartments." Mutlu notes that this is by no means Erdogan's first tongue-lashing of gecekondu owners and builders. He recalls words from Erdogan in October of 2004, when the premier announced that gecekondus in Ankara were to be razed to the ground.

Noting that he will stand by the veracity of these words by Erdogan, Mutlu goes on to highlight the particular hypocrisy contained in this stance, asking: "Who was the politician who built a gecekondu on forestland in Sultanbeyli? Does anyone remember? Yes, it was the prime minister himself." Mutlu then recalls a court case against Erdogan for illegally constructing a villa in Sultanbeyli in 1986. He also reminds readers about how Erdogan received a 10-month prison sentence for violating the Forest Law in 1990 but that the sentence was converted into a fine and in 1998 the entire episode was expunged from the record.

How the squatters won

It's a story bound to warm Hernando de Soto's heart: The Jamaica Gleaner reports on a Jamaican squatter community that resisted government-led eviction efforts and whose residents now have the title deeds to their lots.

But before you can say "the blessings of private property be upon you," note this: most residents are improving their homes with loans from the government's National Housing Trust, not with mortgages from private banks. This is not liberating dead capital, a la de Soto; it's a subsidy program. The same money could have been given to the same people when they were squatters--and their homes would have been improved sooner.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Even the smaller cities

One in four residents of Berhampur, a city of 290,000 people in just inland from the Bay of Bengal in India's Orissa state, is a squatter, according to this article from The Statesman. This may indicate a sea change in urbanization, as smaller cities, too, begin to grow at unprecedented rates.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

more murambatsvina?

Word in Harare is that the city government will start knocking down the informal kiosks and homes people have built since last year's demolition drive. Thousands of families are living in 'holding camps' around the city after the massive uprooting of 800,000 people during last year's 'operation drive out trash.' By the end of this month, thousands more may be rendered homeless or jobless. The UN's IRIN News reports.

Friday, April 07, 2006

demolition, then a deal

Real estate types are the same all over the world. They use fear to get what they want.
Squatters on the beach in Fiji were resisting a tourist development on the land they occupied. They went to court for a stay of demolition while the facts were sorted out. But the developer didn't wait. He tore down a squatter's hut before the court had a chance to hear arguments. After witnessing the demolition, the squatters agreed to move, the Fiji Times reports.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

A city of contrasts

Rocinha, the largest and most urbanized favela in Rio de Janeiro, is full of contrasts. In parts, it has the infrastructure and commercial development of the legal city. But far up the hill, some still live in wooden shacks with unpaved streets and no electricity. Viva Favela reports, in Portuguese.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

A U.S. shantytown

Voice of San Diego offers a three-part look at a squatter communtiy of Mexican immigrants in Carmel Valley.

Here are two eye-catching quotes:

Over the past few years, the men have been squeezed further and further into the valley. Now, they are cornered. The small patch of land where they currently live is bounded to the east and the south by protected city parkland, to the north by a freeway and development, and to the west by land they have already been evicted from.

Inside the camps, about 200 people -- nobody knows for sure how many -- are living in conditions that can only be described as Third World. The migrants have no running water, no electricity and no permanent structures to shelter under. They wash their bodies and their clothes in the same sulfur-yellow stream that carries the run-off of farms and houses down the valley. Most simply go to the bathroom behind the nearest bush.
Migrants have lived in their shanty town of cobbled-together shacks in Carmel Valley for more than two decades. Bathing in a nearby stream and surviving on the fringes of one of the world's most affluent societies, the men have carved an existence by working on nearby farms, laboring on construction sites and working illicitly for private homeowners.

The men have been a vital cog in San Diego's economy for a long time. For decades, barely a strawberry or tomato has been picked in the county that has not been touched at one point by the hands of an undocumented migrant. Few of the vast swathes of new homes that stretch from the ocean to the desert were not built or beautified in some way by the workmanship of these men.

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

"We do not want their help or money, we want a solution to our problem."

That's what a Delhi squatter whose home was destroyed in a fire that claimed 1,500 shanties in the Indian capital's Yamuna Pushta area tells the Indo Asian News Service (via Qatar's Gulf Times.) After a fire last year, squatters were given $100 and told to fend for themselves. Now the squatters want a permanent solution.

$1 per square foot

The island nation of Dominica plans to sell land to squatters in 25 communities for EC$1 per square foot, according to this article from Caribbean Net News. That's about 30 to 80 percent off market land prices, the news service reports. The government is waiving any additional fees and the squatters will have two or three months to ante up.

As I remarked in a previous post, this still may be too expensive for many squatters.

I hope Caribbean Net News or some other paper actually goes and interviews squatters to determine if the price is right.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Let's hope

Kenya President Mwai Kibaki reports that the country will spend Sh880 billion (or approximately $11 billion U.S.) on upgrading shantytowns. But what is upgrading? "Improving accessibility to basic services such as shelter, water, education, health, security and income generating activities" can mean all sorts of things.

The Kibera upgrading has been talked about for years. I'd like to know specifically what Kibaki's government is doing. Let's hope its doing something constructive.

Rocinha & Vidigal to be legalized!

15,000 families will get titles to their homes in Rocinha and Vidigal under a new plan announced by the Brazilian government, O Globo reports (in Portuguese.)

Raquel Rolnik, of the Ministry of Cities, reports that a legal survey is already in the works for 1,800 families in Parque Royal, and that all-told, 22,000 families in Rio's favelas will get legal titles. After the city does an official survey, people in the community will have the right, collectively or individually, to file for usucapiao -- usucapio in English -- which essentially converts possession into the legal title to property.

A related article notes the difficulties involved in putting usucapiao to work. These can include problems describing the urban fabric (for instance when someone has built their house on the roof of a friend's house) and legal difficulties involving the various claimants and heirs of disputed pieces of property. And another sidebar discusses the delays in providing titles to Ladeira dos Funcionarios, a small favela in the northern Rio neighborhood of Caju. This favela has long been organized and urbanized. I visited Ladeira dos Funcionarios in 1999 and found it to be a well-organized community. The residents assocation had already passed a height limit on newly constructed buildings and was seriously considering a moratorium on all new construction to prevent overdevelopment. Yet, despite strong organizing efforts, it has been almost three years since they were promised title deeds and fewer than 1/4 of the residents have actually received them. (note: you may be required to register for globo's site to read these articles.)

Thanks to Alex for writing me about this. Memo to Alex and all who speaks Portuguese better than I do: feel free to correct any mistakes I have made or to translate more of the details from these articles. And Rocinha residents: do you know anything about this? Keep us up to date!

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Kyrgyzstan squatters

Land seizures are on the way in Bishkek, the capital of Kyrgyzstan. This report from the Benjamin Banneker Center for Economic Justice and Progress details how, in the difficult post-Soviet environment, "between 200,000 and 300,000 people made it to the outskirts of the capital and quickly built improvised houses. Some 15 years on, many of these huts stand without fences, with plastic bags for windows, garbage flying around freely. Most do not have basic conveniences such as electricity, water or rubbish collection."

Sounds familiar.