Workshop Airs Land Options for Urban Poor

Government, community and NGO representatives met Wednes­­­­day to discuss new land policy options for Phnom Penh’s urban poor, following a governmental sub-decree earlier this year encouraging urban land resolutions that avoid rural relocation.

“Since 1998, 19 communities have been resettled,” said Mann Chhoeun, the municipality’s chief of Cabinet. “Now the government prioritizes land-sharing.”

The policy shift comes after a slew of recent government initiatives relocating urban squatters to rural areas that were socially and financially disastrous to the resettled communities.

“This is a 180-degree turn in land policy for the urban poor,” said Tuy Someth, Phnom Penh Urban Poverty Reduction Project national project manager. “The government has had no clear policy on poor settlements since 1994.”

The workshop is an attempt to standardize what has previously been a disorganized, haphazard system of housing resolutions, often decided on a case-by-case basis. The workshop followed the advice of several recent studies showing that land resolutions are most successful when all parties are involved.

Most of the discussion focused on the process of land-sharing, where owners and occupants agree to share a plot of contested land.

The process, which has been undertaken successfully in Bangkok, depends on occupants relocating to denser housing, such as an apartment complex, leaving the property owner free to com­mercially develop the re­maining space.

Officials at Wednesday’s meeting were particularly optimistic about land-sharing. “Land-sharing contributes to good government by resolving disputes, lessening court burdens and improving local relationships,” said Chev Kim Heng, vice governor of Phnom Penh municipality.

Community and NGO representatives spent the afternoon presenting housing proposals for four squatter community pilot projects.

“Land-sharing is not a giant cash cow that will fall from the sky to help families,” said Paul Rabe, a UPRP land management consultant. “It is something they will have to pay for.”

Speakers repeatedly emphasized the importance of the community’s involvement and its financial contributions to housing changes.

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