|Co-operative Housing: Experiences of Mutual Self-help (Habitat)|
Access to land is a fundamental requirement for housing. Co- operatives normally need one of two types of access: (a) new land; or (b) secure tenure on land which members are already occupying with a view to upgrading.
Land tenure and allocation are intimately linked to the political framework in every country but, at the risk of over-simplification, two basic types of land system can be identified:
(a) The State owns all land and, through various agencies, allocates that land for housing, community facilities, industry and other uses. Once land has been allocated it is normally held on a lease which must be renewed periodically. A fundamental feature of this system is that land is not transferred at a market price but at no cost (excluding fees and charges) or at a price determined by the government.
(b) There is a private market in land and land is transferred on a willing seller/willing buyer basis.
Few countries have exclusively private systems as the State, either at national or local level, usually owns land. "Mixed systems" are more prevalent. However, it is noticeable in many countries that the supply of public land is dwindling and that co-operatives must turn to the private market and pay market prices.
Public land in "mixed" systems is normally priced lower than market land, sometimes substantially lower. Therefore, co-operatives usually try to obtain public land first. However, two things must be kept in mind. Public land allocation can be a very slow process and building costs often increase quickly. It might be cheaper to buy land at the market price than to wait for public land. Secondly, public land allocation is often closely related to the political process and co- operatives must judge whether this process will enable them to obtain land when and where they want.
It might also be mentioned that dearer market land in the right place may be better than cheaper public land in the wrong place, i.e., with regard to location, infrastructure and soil conditions. There are cases of co-operatives buying land in areas which are not zoned for residential development and then being unable to sell the land in which they have invested their members' money.
One of the reasons why co-operatives are formed is that members feel that in many cases it is difficult, if not impossible, for an individual with limited means to acquire land. A cooperative can combine the resources of the members in two main ways.
(a) It combines their financial resources, however limited, so that land acquisition in a private market can be achieved as a group. The co-operative is acting like any developer who first acquires land before building. This was the experience of co-operatives formed under the Pagtambayayong Foundation land acquisition project in the Philippines.
(b) In a situation where land is allocated by government or by a local authority the market price of land is not normally a consideration excluding fees and charges. The resource the co- operative provides is that it can mobilize the members thereby providing an institution with which the public authority can deal. A co-operative can also lobby more effectively than individuals utilizing political processes. The Cotton Printers Workers Co- operative Society obtained land from the City of Bulawayo through effective lobbying. The José Isiais Gomez project in Nicaragua required secure tenure on existing land and the initiative did not come from the residents initially but from a sympathetic ministry which assisted in forming a community organization.
The above examples look at a very simple process where primary co-operatives are formed at the local level and set out to acquire land either through the private market or through government allocation. Their efforts will be facilitated if there is already in place a national system for providing land to co-operatives. This is rare in developing countries but some progress has been made with having land allocation agencies give some kind of priority.
The Ethiopian housing delivery system is biased in favour of co- operatives which receive priority in allocation of serviced land, although the allocation system can be very slow. There have also been some moves in Zimbabwe for local authorities to give some priority to co-operatives.
The Pagtambayayong Foundation was created initially to obtain access to land through joint purchase and is a very simple form of institutional support to the co-operative groups. As there is no specialized institutional support to housing co-operatives in Zimbabwe, the Cotton Printers Workers Co-operative Society turned to the political arena and made representations in the capital at a high level when their efforts to obtain public land in Bulawayo seemed to be baulked.
In more developed co-operative housing systems in Europe and North America the supporting organizations often acquire land first before identifying a co-operative which might like to use H. This is necessary because of the extremely competitive land development context. Land banking in this way should be considered in many other countries where land acquisition is a serious constraint.