Peer Exchange on Community Land Trust for Displaced Communities in Puerto Rico Inspires Bangladesh Community
By: Hannah Sholder
Emerging CLT in Bangladesh
In Bangladesh the residents of long-term internal displacement camps (known locally as the “Bihari Camps”) are considering the CLT (Community Land Trust) as a tool to help them resolve their tenure insecurity and inhumane living conditions. There are currently 116 camps across the country, housing over 160,000 individuals, who were meant to be “repatriated” to Pakistan following the civil war in 1971, which led to the birth of an independent Bangladesh. Since their original internment, a new generation has been born and grown up in the camps, and has sought out Bangladeshi citizenship as per their birthright. In 2008 they brought their case before the High Court in Dhaka, and won in an unprecedented ruling; this ruling has enabled them to vote, obtain a passport, and register for school (albeit with continued discrimination due to their camp address).
What is a CLT?
A CLT is a nonprofit organization / NGO run by and for the people of a particular locality to help ensure permanent and affordable housing along with other community-centered development. The Board of Directors are mainly residents of the community, and are typically elected by the entire community. Housing on ‘trust land’ can be bought, sold or rented, but the land remains ‘in trust’ and is stewarded by the CLT’s Board of Directors. In order to remain permanently affordable, limits are usually set on the resale or rental price.
The High Court ruling has also impacted living conditions in the camps, although not in a positive way. It has, in fact, made the residents more vulnerable to eviction given that the reason they have been allowed to stay all these years on the camp lands was due to their status as internally displaced people. Now, both the government and private owners are vying to get their land back, given that many of the camps, especially those in the capital city of Dhaka, are situated on land that has increased in value as the city’s population has continued to rise (Sholder, 2011).
Given the mounting pressures and actual evictions that have begun, the camp residents are coming to realize that they must act now in order to address their tenure insecurity. Likewise, after nearly 50 years of inaction, in terms of comprehensive redevelopment (by foreign donors or the local government), the camp residents are coming to terms with the reality that if they want their conditions to change that they must take action themselves. They are thus primed to consider options such as the CLT that have the potential to protect their community and keep it together, and to this end, three leaders associated with the Council of Minorities in Bangladesh participated in the CLT peer exchange in Puerto Rico.
Peer Exchange in Puerto Rico
Over the course of 6 days this past April, 2019, participants from countries including Argentina, Bangladesh, Barbuda, Belize, Brazil, Ecuador, Indonesia, Mexico and South Africa gathered in San Juan, Puerto Rico for a peer exchange with the Fideicomiso de la Tierra del Cano Martin Pina entitled “Recovery, Land Titles, and Dicplacement: Community Reflections”. The first 3 days were dedicated to peer exchange among the representatives from Latin America, followed by day public conference and gathering among all peer exchange participants, and the remaining 2 days were dedicated to an exchange for the English-speaking representatives. Global Land Alliance representative Hannah Sholder joined as the ‘technical support actor’ with the counterparts from the emerging Community Land Trust (CLT) in Bangladesh.
According to one of the Bangladeshi participants:
“The Peer Exchange schedule was very flexible and energetic. . . I loved visiting the Cano Martin Pena settlement which was a real first hand observation about the Community Land Trust. I have been able to build a strong network with the experts and global activists on the CLT and hope I will continue collaboration with them during the implementation of the CLT project in Bangladesh”.
Puerto Rico’s CLT
Fideicomiso de la Tierra del Cano Martin Pina is a Community Land Trust in Puerto Rico consisting of seven neighborhoods on either side of the Cano canal in San Juan. The residents of these neighborhoods joined together to prevent their eviction as plans were made to dredge and widen the canal. Through the land trust they have (a) regularized their land tenure, and (b) prevented the predicted gentrification of their neighborhood (once the canal is dredged) by placing the land in trust and establishing surface rights with resale restrictions for those with housing on the trust land.
The CLT has a Board of Directors, which is controlled by the residents (2/3rds majority). The community has also formed an elected body called the ‘G-8’ to not only support the work of the CLT through wider engagement (including educational, cultural and health-promoting activities), but they have also shaped the establishment of a public works body called ENLACE (meaning ‘connection’) that funds and carries out the dredging of the canal and other infrastructure projects.
This innovative approach to comprehensive community development has been recognized by the ‘Building and Social Housing Foundation’ (now World Habitat) and UN Habitat with the granting of the 2016 World Habitat Award. Building off this recognition, Fideicomiso has decided to establish a series of international exchanges where aspiring CLTs from around the world (but particularly the Global South) can come and learn from their experiences.
“I learned that a Community Land Trust is helping transform an informal settlement, which is located around a polluted and flood prone river channel, into a sustainable community. It provides a new model for improving informal settlements in cities without them then becoming unaffordable for the original residents.”
Applying lessons from Puerto Rico’s CLT:
“The lessons I will take back to Bangladesh include:
Community unity is most important
Through the CLT, people living on vulnerable (e.g. flood prone) land can be relocated to appropriate and secure housing
CLTs enable the regularization of land tenure
CLTs guarantee long-term affordability and avoiding displacement
The situation of my community is similar as like the other communities of the different parts of the world.” ~Imran