It’s hard to imagine a more difficult context than the one in which Cambodia’s community movement began, in the early 1990s. Decades of war, political upheaval, genocide and unspeakable hardship had torn communities apart, scattered people across the country, obliterated their links with the past and almost halved the population by starvation, disease, killing and aerial bombing. Cities like Phnom Penh were in ruins, institutions were destroyed and most of the country’s professionals had fled the country or been killed. But as a new democracy was being established and money began to trickle into the free-wheeling urban economy, poor migrants and survivors were drawn to the city for jobs in the new factories, on the construction sites and in the service and tourism sectors. For the poor, the city was a place of hope and opportunity, but when it came to finding a place to live, most had no option but to occupy abandoned buildings or build shacks in the informal settlements that quickly mushroomed around the city.
Evictions: It wasn’t long before the city’s rebuilding clashed with these informal occupations and large evictions began in earnest – and continue today. Cambodia had no formal support systems for the poor then – no housing agencies, no legislative mechanisms for regularizing informal settlements or providing resettlement in cases of eviction, no programs to provide basic services or support people’s efforts to improve conditions in their settlements, no housing finance of any sort. Because they had survived so much, the city’s poor were very strong, but this strength was atomized and they had no links, no organizations or support systems of their own. There were NGOs and aid agencies, but most of them operated in the welfare mode, and nobody was touching the issues of housing, land or access to finance.
ACHR intervention: In 1993, ACHR was invited by DFID-UK to make a study of the evictions, and so was drawn into Cambodia’s difficult urban poor situation from the beginning. With support from ACHR, groups from India and Thailand came to Phnom Penh to meet with people in informal settlements, understand their situation, share experiences from other countries and suggest some practical things poor communities facing eviction could do to work towards secure housing. Exchange visits were organized, in which mixed groups of community leaders, key government officers and support NGOs traveled together to India and Thailand, where they learned about community savings, people-driven housing initiatives, partnerships and funds. Soon, the first community savings groups were set up in squatter settlements in one riverside ward. The process expanded and by 1995, the savings groups established the first citywide community network.
First community development fund in Phnom Penh: Armed with this new energy and these new ideas from India and Thailand, the Phnom Penh Municipality signed an MOU in 1998 with ACHR and the new community savings network, to work together to address the problems of urban poor housing in the city. As part of the MOU, Cambodia’s first community development fund was set up – the Urban Poor Development Fund (UPDF). The idea was to create a revolving loan fund which would provide soft loans to poor communities (and later to community networks) for their housing, infrastructure and livelihood initiatives, through their savings groups, and to use the fund as a mechanism to facilitate collaboration and strengthen the capacities of the growing community movement. The fund was governed by a mixed board (which included a majority of community leaders from the savings network, with representatives from the Municipality, ACHR, NGOs and other development agencies) and managed by a small staff, with as little bureaucracy and as much flexibility as possible.
Supporting a variety of community-driven development activities: The UPDF supported the community-driven process in Cambodia by providing flexible finance and support for slum surveys, settlement mapping, land searching, affordable housing and infrastructure design, exchange visits and livelihood opportunities. Among the first community projects financed by UPDF were the pioneering housing resettlement at Akhphivat Meancheay and the bulk loans to 19 riverside communities in Russei Keo District to make prahok, the traditional Khmer preserved fish.
Expanding to other cities: In 2003, the UPDF began to support the setting up of savings groups and community networks in other cities, where many networks cultivated close partnerships with their local authorities. In 2009, the savings networks in some 30 cities around the country linked together nationally under the Community Saving Network of Cambodia (CSNC). By 2014, there were 453 saving groups around Cambodia, with 19,118 saving members and collective savings of about $625,000. Though it operated under an MOU with the Phnom Penh Municipality, the UPDF continued to support this community-driven movement as it spread around the country.
LOCAL CDFs: In 2006, the first provincial CDF was set up in the northeastern province of Banteay Meanchey, as a joint venture of the community savings network, the municipal and provincial authorities and ACHR, and began giving loans to communities for various purposes. Other CDFs followed – some covering only one city or one urban district and some covering several cities and semi-urban communities within one province. Many of these CDFs also enjoyed good support from the local authorities. To help these new CDFs develop their managerial and lending capacities, the UPDF began channeling bulk loans and small grant funds to them, to support livelihood and upgrading projects developed by community savings groups linked to the CDFs. Many savings groups also began contributing shares or keeping part of their collective savings in the CDFs, so the capital in the CDFs grew. By 2014, there were 40 city-CDFs around Cambodia, and they offered community savings group members access to larger loans for more substantial projects like housing, land acquisition, community upgrading and livelihood. These local CDFs were all supported by UPDF, but each one operates independently and sets its own structure, working system and loan terms. Many city networks also run their own welfare programs, and the funds are usually managed within the CDFs. These funds also act as collaborative decision-making platforms in which development needs and projects are prioritized and decided upon.
ACCA Program in Cambodia: The community-driven process and the CDFs in Cambodia both got a big shot in the arm in 2009, when ACHR’s ACCA Program was launched. ACCA promoted a people-driven and citywide slum upgrading process in countries around Asia by channeling grant funds to CDFs, to finance a variety of community-planned housing and settlement upgrading projects in the project cities. ACCA projects in 28 cities around the country took off, and in many of those cities, the networks were able to use the modest grant funds to leverage big support from their local governments, in the form of free land for housing and contributions to the upgrading projects and the CDFs.
UPDF becomes the national Community Development Foundation: In 2013, the UPDF, which had long out-grown its local MOU, was restructured. As part of the agreement, some of the UPDF’s $2.5 million capital stayed in the UPDF (which resumed being a city-based fund, but would be controlled now by the Phnom Penh Municipality), some was distributed among the CDFs around the country, and some was kept in the new national fund that was managed by the Community Development Foundation (CDF), a new national organization that was set up to take over the UPDF’s work of supporting Cambodia’s community process. The CDF, which is managed by a mixed board which includes community leaders and representatives from government, NGOs and other stakeholders, has signed an MOU to collaborate with the Ministry of Land Management and Construction and ACHR. Besides channeling grants and bulk loans for housing, land, livelihood and other purposes to the CDFs around the country, the CDF has teams in charge of finance, community support, media and community architects to support the community process in various ways- including sometimes acting as a bridge between poor communities and their local authorities. Poor communities can now access loans of various sizes and for various needs from three sources: from their own community savings groups, from their local CDFs and from the national fund (through their local CDFs).
Indonesia has a lively and varied history of community-driven development, and in several cities, collaborative and community-driven projects to develop secure housing are showing viable, inexpensive and humane alternatives to eviction: A few examples:
In the capital city of Jakarta, the NGO Urban Poor Consortium has for many years worked with Jaringan Rakyat Miskin Kota (JRMK), a network of 38 community groups which includes 17 kampungs, 5 street vendor groups and 16 pedicab areas. The JRMK and UPC have been carrying out a variety of programs in anti-eviction advocacy, infrastructure improvements, savings, children’s education and alternative health. In the past few years, the JRMK network has worked with the Jakarta government to find joint solutions to the problems faced by the city’s urban poor. With some striking results:
The Jakarta Governor has has include 21 kampungs (poor informal settlements) in an on-site kampung upgrading pilot project. 16 of these kampungs are JRMK members, and many include riverside settlements that had earlier been threatened with eviction, but will now upgrade their housing on the same site.
The community action plan (CAP) program has become an established participatory planning program in the city.
The Governor has decided to implement an agrarian-style reform program to resolve land issues in Jakarta, to provide land in the city for housing the poor.
After being evicted from the city’s streets, pedicab drivers have been allowed back in Jakarta but the rules have not changed because they are still rejected by regional council members.
In Surabaya, the Stren Kali network of riverside squatter communities has used small grant funds from ACHR’s ACCA Program to build embankments, pave lanes, install street lights and move river-fronting houses back from the riverbanks to create space for beautiful new landscaped riverside walkways, as part of their long campaign to win the right to stay and upgrade their settlements in-situ. They also used a special grant from ACCA to organize a high-profile architectural competition to boost the national community architects process, to showcase a variety of settlement upgrading options, and to lobby with the government for on-site upgrading and secure land tenure, which is still only provisionally assured.
Since 2010, the Arkom group of community architects has used been supporting a a very lively community development process in Yogyakarta – an ancient city which is considered to be the cultural heartland of Javanese culture and arts. They started by surveying and mapping 13 informal settlements (“kampongs”) in the center of the city, in different land situations: riverside squatters, communities on “Sultan’s land”, communities renting private land and squatter settlements on railway land. From the beginning, the explicit goal was to use the survey and mapping process to link these vulnerable communities (many facing eviction) into a community network, to build a stronger cooperation between the communities and the city government and to promote a more community-driven model for solving problems of poverty and insecure tenure in the city.
During the course of this initial survey, five riverside kampongs showed a lively interest in joining the process, and Arkom helped them to organize themselves, start women’s savings groups and do detailed settlement mapping to identify common problems. The maps that the community people developed became the basis for identifying and planning several subsequent community upgrading and housing projects, including paving walkways, improving riverside embankments and building bamboo community centers.
Although it began only in 2000, the national community women’s savings process in Lao PDR has grown on the strength of this country’s quiet but abundant social strength to become one of the most robust savings processes in the Asia region, with over 100,000 savings members in 600 communities and collective savings of over US$18 million – almost all of which is in constant circulation in loans for livelihood, emergencies, agriculture, animal husbandry and housing improvements. The savings process in Lao was originally supported by the Lao Women’s Union (LWU), CODI, ACHR and WCEP (a local support NGO), and district-level CDFs have now been set up in all the districts, which link together all the savings groups in that district.
For some time, an idea had been floated of finding a way to institutionalize this large, national women’s savings process under the LWU. But after years of working in partnership with the LWU and being supported by an MOU between the MOU, CODI, ACHR and the local NGO, the network decided in 2012 to take over the facilitating, coordinating and fund management work that has so far been done by LWU and WCEP, while still maintaining their close working partnership with the LWU. Since then, this energetic national network of grassroots women’s savings groups in Lao PDR has been sailing its own ship, without any NGO support, and has registered itself as a foundation: The Lao Community Development and Environmental Conservation Foundation (CDEC).
By 2015, CDEC had expanded to 567 savings groups in 27 cities and districts around the country, with over 100,000 members and collective savings of US$18 million. In some of these districts, the savings groups include all the households of the villages. Besides savings and loans, these savings groups work together on environmental and agricultural projects, community enterprises, markets, traditional crafts and mushroom growing. They also run our own welfare funds at the community level. These savings and development activities have strengthened the role of women in Lao society, and gotten poor women to pool their resources, work together, encourage each other and develop skills in financial management.
Adding housing to the list of community-driven work: With support from ACHR’s ACCA Program, the women’s savings network in Lao PDR has been able to bring the new aspects of community upgrading and housing into their work, and used those shelter activities to strengthen our networks at community and city levels. The housing project they planned and built in the Nong Duang Thung squatter community in Vientiane was the country’s first community-driven, on-site slum upgrading project, and the first urban poor community to negotiate to rent the public land they have been squatting on. And the housing projects that followed in Luang Prabang and Muang Ngoy Districts were the first cases where poor communities being evicted to make way for big development projects (an airport and a dam) were able to negotiate to get free government land nearby and plan and implement their own relocation housing projects. There were also many small infrastructure upgrading projects being implemented with ACCA support, including wells and hand pumps in rural areas (built at a cost that is much lower cost than those installed by other organizations), communal toilets, road improvements, flood prevention and community savings centers.
The community-driven development process in Myanmar – one of Asia’s poorest countries – got a big boost through the intense process of relief and rehabilitation which took place after Cyclone Nargis devastated the country in May 2008, killing 140,000 people and affecting a majority of the country’s already-poor, already-traumatized population. The storm triggered all kinds of changes and opened up new development possibilities in this very difficult country. Because the calamity was so great, and because it affected so much of the country, government authorities weren’t able to do enough and were finally obliged to open up the country to assistance from international agencies, albeit slowly and stubbornly.
Since the storm in 2008 and the big political changes that followed in 2011, Myanmar has been opening up to the world at an astonishing speed. Investors are flocking in to exploit the country’s vast natural resources and cheap labor, and market forces are making land prices soar. Evictions are increasing, and problems of urban and rural landlessness are growing. At the same time, consultants and development agencies of all sorts are flooding into Asia’s newest poverty hotspot. Most of the projects these agencies develop follow the old top-down, supply-driven model, in which poor communities are passive recipients of someone else’s idea of what they need.
But there have been some vital community driven initiatives in Myanmar, in both the storm reconstruction efforts and in urban poor housing, which show how much poor communities can do to solve their own problems of poverty, land, housing and livelihood, when they are given a little space, and access to very modest resources, to plan and carry out their own solutions, as communities. The solutions these communities are showing are still small in scale, but they have several elements in common and show a new light.
After Cyclone Nargis, a small local NGO called Women for the World (WFW), which had been set up to help cyclone victims rebuild their lives, began working with informal settlements in the peripheral areas of Yangon, where the city’s poor live in bamboo shacks without basic services, on swampy, low-lying land under a patchwork of tenure conditions ranging from insecure renters to squatters. WFW estimates that 40% of Yangon’s population of 6 million people are squatters.
With support from ACHR and other donors, WFW began helping set up women’s savings groups, survey and map their settlements, search for possible land for housing and implement several small infrastructure upgrading projects to pave roads, lay drainage lines and develop communal water supply systems. But the most striking breakthroughs in Yangon have been in the growing number of housing projects that have been implemented so far – all of which use very modest resources to develop simple bamboo-and-wood houses, on inexpensive land purchased collectively, to provide secure land and housing for the city’s poorest squatters, for as little as $300 per family.
The work of the WFW and the network of women’s savings groups has now expanded to other cities, like Mandalay, where they are using their saving, surveying, mapping and negotiations to develop other housing projects in this very difficult context. Some of the early housing projects were financed by loans from a community development fund set up with capital from ACHR’s ACCA Program. Those modest funds continue to circulate in new housing loans, but to expand the housing possibilities, WFW has been able to negotiate for loans at lower interest rates from some microfinance institutions in Myanmar.
Despite the existence of a bewildering variety of government agencies and programs which target the housing problems of the urban poor in different ways, the Philippines continues to have enormous problems of slums and eviction, with as much as half the population in some of its cities living in squalor and insecurity in informal settlements. The country has a long and rich history of community-driven development, though, in which organizations of poor communities, and their supporters, are finding creative ways to achieve secure land and housing and space for the urban poor to participate in the city planning decisions which affect their lives. Here is a brief summary of what some of the groups are doing:
HPFP in 33 cities: The Homeless People’s Federation Philippines (HPFP) is a national network of urban poor communities that was established in 1995 within the communities of scavengers who live around Manila’s mountainous garbage dump in Payatas. The federation is now active in 33 cities, and uses community-managed savings as the core strategy of a community-led development process which includes land acquisition, community upgrading, house construction, disaster management, city-fund management and partnership with government. Over the past ten years, the HPFP has used support from ACHR, SDI and other donors to refine, expand and add to their movement in many ways, including the construction of many of their own housing projects, and support for families in government relocation projects or those using the government’s Community Mortgage Program (CMP) to buy land and make their own new communities.
Sama Sama is a community-based organization which since 1979 has been fighting to secure land, housing and development rights for the 60,000 poor households who live in National Government Center (NGC), the country’s largest slum, in Quezon City. They began by leading the resistance against evictions and bad government plans for the area, but since the NGC was “proclaimed” for social housing in 1987, they have helped organize the poor in NGC to secure their land, develop reblocking plans and follow all the steps to get their land titles.
FDUP in Quezon City District 2:
The Foundation for the Development of the Urban Poor (FDUP) is an NGO with a long history of helping poor communities to purchase land through the government’s Community Mortgage Program (CMP). With support from ACHR’s ACCA Program, they helped poor communities in Quezon City’s District 2 to set up a new citywide coalition of urban poor groups (QC UP-ALL) and establish a district-level urban poor fund for housing and upgrading assistance, managed by the coalition. The new fund (to which they mayor contributed $50,000) supported several small infrastructure upgrading projects and gave housing loans to about 120 families in six communities in the process of reblocking and buying their land, through CMP or on “Proclamation” sites.
UPA in Manila:
The NGO Urban Poor Associates (UPA) has for many years been helping residents of the sprawling Baseco slum in Manila to organize and resist attempts to evict them from the valuable public land they occupy. In 2002, Baseco was “proclaimed” by the President as a social housing site, clearing the way for residents to form homeowners associations, survey, subdivide and reblock their settlements according to NHA norms and eventually purchase their land. With support from ACHR’s ACCA Program. The community used part of a grant from ACHR’s ACCA Program to build drains in one area of Baseco. After a fire destroyed another part of the slum (242 households), the UPA used the rest of the ACCA funds and some special disaster funds to help the residents survey and map the area, develop a new subdivision plan and start building simple “starter” houses there, as a big step towards formally acquiring their land.
Making the Community Mortgage Program more Citywide:
Since it was set up in 1988, the Community Mortgage Program (CMP), the Philippines government’s chief housing finance program for the poor, has loaned $250 million to 2,190 organized communities, to buy the land they already occupied or found elsewhere, providing secure land for 249,622 poor families. This scale is impressive, but for years, complaints about the CMP have been rumbling away: too much paperwork, too much time-lag between applying for and actually getting the loans (3 – 10 years!), not enough loan for site development and housing (so CMP communities tend to remain slum-like), too centralized and too geared to individual projects rather than citywide change. Several years ago, an important collaborative initiative was undertaken to re-jig the CMP, so it works better, faster and in ways that are more locally-controlled, more citywide and less driven by individual projects. Part of the CMP reform process involves letting city or district (“barangay”) governments take bulk CMP loans to finance packages of housing projects which they develop locally, in partnership with community organizations and NGOs within their constituencies, and then manage the projects and the finance mechanisms locally. This “Citywide Development Program” (CDA) is now being piloted in several cities and barangays, which are proving to be vibrant training laboratories for everyone involved.
CItywide mapping and planning in Valenzuela:
One of the cities where the Citywide Development Program (CDA) is being piloted is Valenzuela, a smallish industrial city in Metro Manila with a population of 600,000, of whom more than half live in informal settlements scattered throughout the city. The city has had two progressive mayors (brothers) who have partnered with the Valponet community network, the Homeless People’s Federation and the NGO FDUP to expand savings, develop on-site housing upgrading projects and support a people-driven barangay-wide mapping and planning process in Valenzuela. During a big ACCA-supported regional Community Architects Network (CAN) workshop that was held in June 2013, the architects helped several communities Valenzuela and Caloocan to map their settlements and develop alternative upgrading plans. This workshop gave a big push to the citywide process, and helped turn new concepts into actual projects which are now being implemented, with finance support from SHFC and ACCA. After the CAN workshop, five communities are doing upgrading planning to demonstrate community-driven upgrading options in the city, with support from the community architects of TAMPEII.
In October 2014, the team in Valenzuela collaborated with CAN to organize a national workshop on barangay-wide mapping and planning by people, in which the already active mapping and planning process in Valenzuela’s Barangay Mapulang Lupa was used as an example to teach and inspire community networks and local officials in other cities and barangays to do the same. Most of the 70 people who joined the workshop were community leaders and barangay officials from Barangay Mapulang Lupa and other barangays in the city of Valenzuela, but there were also teams of community leaders and local government officials from four other cities: Talisay, Davao, Muntinlupa and Marikina – all of which are Local-CMP pilot cities also. Nad and Tee (CAN’s two regional coordinators) and a team of architects and community leaders from Yogyakarta also joined the workshop.
On the first day, the Valponet network leaders presented the results of their intense, six-month process of community mapping, settlement profiling and savings mobilizing in 16 squatter settlements in the barangay, and put up all their figures on the walls. After some field visits, the group understood that in Barangay Mapulang Lupa, these 16 settlements can be roughly divided into three common tenure situations, with some overlap: communities living on public land under electricity transmission lines, on private land and along (and in) waterways. In the old kind of planning, each settlement would be planned and dealt with individually, as a stand-alone project, or at best, a group of settlements under the same tenure situation might be planned and redeveloped together. But if all the settlements in the barangay are to be upgraded, the planning and solution needs to include all of them, and this was one of the key lessons of the workshop. At the end of the workshop, a concrete 6-step development plan for the barangay was worked out and presented to the barangay council the following month.
In 2000, ACHR and ENDA-Vietnam began collaborating with the National Women’s Union in a number of cities to strengthen community savings groups and set up city-level community development funds (CDFs) to link these savings groups and expand their development activities. The CDF network, which started in five cities, had an initial focus on livelihood activities and very small community upgrading projects. The ACCA Program has given a big boost to the national community savings and CDF process, helped add many more cities to the network, supported a variety of national meetings and workshops on savings and funds and young professionals.
ACCA has also helped the CDF network to begin tackling the more complex and more urgent issues of land and housing. Vietnam faces many of the same problems as other Asian countries of fast urban growth and increasing numbers of urban poor households without secure land or decent housing. The government has many projects and programs in poverty reduction, but they are scattered and loosely coordinated and have not been very effective. The ACCA-supported big housing projects in several cities have demonstrated an alternative slum redevelopment process, in which the residents are the designers and doers in developing healthy, secure new neighborhoods, in collaboration with the local authorities.
Linking with ACVN: In 2007, ACHR and the CDF network forged an important new partnership with the Associated Cities of Vietnam (ACVN), a national union of 103 towns and cities, which is now helping to facilitate the sharing of ideas between cities and promoting community savings and community-driven upgrading as key aspects of its work in its member cities. ACVN now works in close collaboration with the CDF network, the Women’s Union and ACHR to implement and scale up the ACCA process in Vietnam. With this national linkage between cities already in place, when a process works in one city, it spreads to other cities almost automatically.
Upgrading Vietnam’s collective housing: In this market-oriented phase of Vietnam’s development, many of the country’s old socialist collective housing projects are being bulldozed and redeveloped, as the inner-city land they occupy skyrockets in commercial value. And poor families by the thousands who live in these neighborhoods and housing blocks are finding themselves facing either eviction or the prospect of having to pay for brand new, contractor-built relocation housing they cannot ever hope to afford. This is happening all over the country. So for the CDF network in Vietnam, a key issue has been how to deal with this problem of land and housing. With support from ACCA, teams of community architects have helped communities in several cities to show a different way to redevelop Vietnam’s fund-down collective housing areas and poor inner-city neighborhoods, by getting the communities to start making their own redevelopment plans and then persuading the city and the Women’s Union to support the people’s in-situ housing redevelopment plans and work with these active communities as partners. The goal is ultimately to mainstream community-driven housing development.
One of the best examples of how this is actually happening is the city of Vinh. In Vinh, there are 99 old, dilapidated collective housing developments (both one-story row-house developments and low-rise blocks of flats), built for factory workers at the end of the war, in the 1970s, when the city was planned to become a new industrial center. The ACCA-supported housing project in Vinh’s Cua Nam Ward (which was documented in the ACCA 1st and 2nd year reports) showed a very powerful example of how a community living in crowded and run-down collective row-houses could re-plan and reconstruct their own housing very nicely, on the same site. This model is already being replicated in several other row-house type collective housing areas in Vinh, where the ACCA big project funds are already revolving through the CDF to finance housing loans in other projects, and in other cities like Hai Duong as well.
But the problem of collective housing in the five-story blocks is more tricky. 19 of these blocks (each containing 80 units of 20-30m2 each) are still standing in Vinh, and they are home to some 1,300 families. Conditions in these buildings are bad, and many families have extended their rooms with structures that project outwards from balconies and windows in dangerous ways, to add a little more space for their growing families. In 2013, ACHR and the CAN network teamed up with community leaders and Women’s Union staff to visit and map these dilapidated housing blocks, many of which are now threatened with eviction. When the team talked with people in these blocks, they learned that the ACCA housing project in Cua Nam Ward is now very well known and that people in these blocks would like to do a similar community-managed upgrading that would allow them to stay in the same place.
But the building type makes it very difficult and potentially very expensive to renovate and expand the living space. Plus, the city government has its own plans for demolishing and redeveloping these collective housing projects. The good news is that the savings groups in many of these collective housing blocks are very strong, and the foundation of community management is in place. At the end of the mapping workshop, the group had a meeting with the city, chaired by the supportive Vice Mayor, Mr. Nguyen Van Chinh, to discuss possible alternative solutions to the city’s collective housing which allow people to stay in the same place, with more management by the communities and the savings groups. A workshop in Vinh is now being planned, to discuss this further and work out a next step and possible pilot upgrading project.