Monday, May 25, 2009

squatter landlords

The Gleaner reports that some squatters in Jamaica are acting like landlords and charging fellow residents for the privilege of squatting.

This is, of course, nothing new. There are squatter landlords and squatter tenants in most shantytowns around the world. And the newspaper admits that rents in these communities are nominal and "generally below the prevailing market rate."

Of course they are: that's why people squat, because they are seeking housing they can afford. The private sector does not provide that.

Minister of Water and Housing Dr Horace Chang has said that almost 1 million people, or 1/3 of Jamaica's population, are living either as squatters or on land they do not own. A recent study of the squatter settlements in Jamaica showed that 2/3 of them had been in existence for more than two decades. These communities deserve to be recognized for what they are: normal urban neighborhoods.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

power for the people

Next billion highlights some case studies which prove that treating squatters as citizens makes for better conditions in their communities.

With examples from Morocco, Argentina, Sudan and Colombia, the article shows that squatters overwhelmingly will pay for infrastructure, and that getting access to modern infrastructure improves health and well-being in their communities and grows the local economy.

I'm not sure that I applaud the policy in Casablanca that if one person is late in paying their electric bill, the whole block is disconnected.

Still, the general idea is terrific: Squatter communities are normal urban neighborhoods, and governments have to start treating them like they are.

[All praise to Emeka for sending me the link]

Thursday, May 14, 2009

homes vs. gardens

Azharuddin Mohammed Ismail, the ten-year-old star of Slumdog Millionaire, lost his home today. It was torn down by authorities in Mumbai. The Guardian reports that city authorities said the land was needed for a garden.

An AP report suggested that the city was demolishing homes that would be at risk during the upcoming monsoon. Authorities told the AP that people who had lived there for 15 years would be relocated. But the wire service added, "such official promises of resettlement often amount to nothing. When slum-dwellers are given housing, it is often in poor-quality buildings on the outskirts of cities and far from jobs."

laws as misleading slogans

Abolish shantytowns! Sounds good as a slogan. But what it means in practice is being challenged in court in South Africa. The squatter organizing group Abahlali baseMjondolo argues that the KwaZulu-Natal Slums Act is little but cover for demolishing shack communities and forcibly relocating people without their consent, most often to less valuable spots on the urban periphery. This, of course, rips apart communities, pulls kids out of school, and makes it much more difficult, and costly, for workers to get to their jobs. The BBC has some details.

To find out more about the terrific work being done by Abahlali baseMjondolo, check out this excerpt from the new documentary, A Place in the City.

Monday, May 11, 2009

slums created by the government

Even with the best of intentions, here's what you get when governments refuse to work with squatters to better their communities and instead evict them with the promise of permanent housing in the future: slums created by the government.

The Malaysian government tried exactly this. It promised squatters new homes, moved them to temporary camps, and demolished their former communities. The result, according to a story in The Star: "While squashing squatter zones, the move has ironically created urban slums where thousands of residents are forced to put up with woes ranging from hygiene, safety to basic amenities, on a daily basis."

The article outlines the classic nightmares of bad development: elevators that don't work, so people have to hike up 17 floors. Blocked drains and standing water, so people get dengue and malaria. All courtesy of the government.

And here's the crowning indignity: "On top of these problems, the low-income occupants have suffered loss of some RM5,000 incurred from down payment, interest and penalty for the units promised. Moreover, after two years of free stay at the PPR, they have to pay rental of RM147 per month and that is to be revised to RM250."

Of course, government could have worked with the squatters to improve their own neighborhoods, with none of these negative consequences.

Saturday, May 02, 2009

the global landfill material

In communities all over the world, squatters fill in rutted streets, level the ground beneath their homes, and reclaim land from lagoons and shorefronts using one extremely common material: garbage. The New York Times reports on the dangers of garbage streets in M├ędina Gounass, a squatter neighborhood just outside Dakar, Senegal.