The informal settlement of Las Peñas, on the outskirts of Cochabamba, has been refused the right to become part of the city, leaving it with no public investment for basic infrastructure and services. Las Peñas neighbourhood forced the re-sale of unoccupied plots of land at original price plus a small amount (owned by speculators taking advantage of rising property prices) for financing or co-financing community infrastructure including roads, houses and local sports and cultural amenities.

The main strategy was to notify the speculators who did not reside on their land that if within the next three months they did not come to justify their absence or take up residence there (fulfilling land social function), the property would be put up for resale to poor and young families at original price, cutting owners’ land gains. The resistance from the ‘owners’ of idle lots who resorted to lawsuits and even violence was met with vigils. However, all the ‘owners’ eventually left unoccupied land in favour of poor families.

The initiative has ended speculators’ abuse, and allowed finance for a small library, that has been opened to help children with their schoolwork. Ties of solidarity based on Ayni (a concept of reciprocity or mutualism among people of the Andean communities in agricultural work, constructions of houses and others) and the collective work of building houses according to plan were also strengthened. Residents provided technical resources themselves, such as tools for construction projects, and labour for construction projects was provided by the women and men affiliated to the community council.

From the community share of the small profits from the sale of the land, and another neighbours’ contributions, around US$40,000 was generated. Together with community work, the money was used to finance neighbourhood development such as the building, expansion and improvement of roads and storm drains, and amenities such as a soccer field, equipment for the local library and land housing for poor people – all achieved with no external help.

“This is the first experience I know that is using plus-value capture strategies [capturing the value of land for public investment] in areas of “informal” urban development. The explicit reference to traditional indigenous people collective mechanisms of land control/management (i.e. ayllus) is also inspiring, as well as efforts to protect and guarantee women’s housing rights though self-organized initiatives and strong networking at local, national and international level.”

– Evaluator Lorena Zarate

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