The Bartlett Development Planning Unit


DPU Working Paper - No. 65

In Recognition of Landlordism In Low-income Settlements In Third World Cities


26 July 1994

Authors: Sunil Kumar

Publication Date: 1994

Urban low-income settlements in the Third World contain a varying mix of one or more of four tenure groups: landlords, non-landlords, tenants and sharers. Each of these tenure groups can be differentiated by the extent to which they have access to and control over resources required for housing.

Landlords can be distinguished from non-landlords in that the former exercise their access and control over resources to undertake the production of housing both for self-consumption and temporary exchange whereas the production of housing by the latter is for self-consumption.

Tenants gain and exercise temporary rights to the housing they occupy by the payment of rent whereas sharers take advantage of kinship and other social ties to access accommodation without the payment of rent. Most of the rental housing occupied by low-income households has and continues to be produced either in squatter settlements, illegal sub-divisions, upgraded settlements and sites-and-services projects.

Tenure differentiation can be analyzed from two main theoretical perspectives: neo-liberal and neo-Marxist. Research in the late 1960s, which focused initially on the residential mobility of low-income households in Third World cities and was later translated into self-help housing policies, was influenced by the Chicago school of urban ecology.

Models of intra-city mobility viewed renting as a temporary stage in the life-cycle of low-income households. The transition to and the adoption of a neo-liberal framework is clearly associated with the `enabling' housing policies promoted by the World Bank and other international agencies.

From the 1970s, the neo-liberal orthodoxy was subjected to criticism from a structuralist Marxist position. Neo-Marxists argue that housing is essential for the reproduction of labour power and that self-help housing policies, by reducing housing costs, indirectly supports the interests of capital. Moreover, self-help housing policies also enabled the penetration of capitalist relations resulting in the commodification of owner occupied housing. By the end of the 1980s, empirical studies had provided evidence of the existence of a large proportion of low-income tenant households in self-help settlements and argued that a significant proportion of such households rented their accommodation not as a result of choice but due to the constraints imposed by the land and housing markets. The focus was on owners and tenants.

A third framework, based on the neo-Weberian model of class, has not been applied to housing in the Third World. The argument of this school is that owners and tenants form distinct housing classes as a result of differing degree of access to housing resources.