Global perceptions of urban land tenure security report: Evidence from 33 Countries

The world is rapidly urbanising, especially in emerging and developing economies. By 2050, the urban population will have tripled, increasing by 2.5 billion people (UN, 2018). In Africa alone, that number will surge from 548 million to nearly 1.5 billion, projected to double every 15 years (Marx et al., 2013). This transformation requires careful and far-sighted urban planning to avoid growing concentrations of urban poor. Lack of urban planning has already resulted in one in seven of the world’s population living in poor quality, usually overcrowded housing in urban areas (Satterthwaite and Mitlin, 2014). This equates to over a billion urban residents who dwell in what can only be considered slum housing (Revi and Rosenzweig, 2013). Particular concentrations have emerged in Africa, where UN-HABITAT (2010) has estimated that over 60% of the urban population lives in informal settlements or slums.

While there is broad agreement that secure property rights are necessary for urban development, be it in the form of equitable growth, household welfare or social or political engagement, there is less consensus on how policy can secure tenure in towns and cities. Specifically, evidence is mixed on whether de jure tenure security, provided by formal documentation, necessarily leads to de facto security in the form of perceived tenure security. In the 2000s, this discussion was dominated by the narrative that property rights need to be private and individual, expressed in a formal and legal form and backed by the state (de Soto, 2000). However, since then, the centre of gravity has shifted towards the recognition that it is neither necessary or sufficient to underpin formal property rights by titling in order to ensure security of rights, depending on how such rights are recognised and enforced in a particular context (Deininger, 2003; Mattingly, 2014). Communal property rights can, under some circumstances, be superior (Platteau, 1996).

This report aims to provide answers to three broad research question:

  1. Who is affected by perceived tenure insecurity in urban areas?
  2. How is perceived (de facto) tenure security linked to (de jure) legal status in urban areas?
  3. Does the data reveal any implications for policy?


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