ACCA is difficult to pass

A home for the poor

Although the economy is growing in many Asian countries, over a quarter of the people in cities still live in informal settlements. Since governments are not doing much about it, civil society organizations have taken matters into their own hands. The Asian Coalition for Housing Rights is a network of particularly active groups. It proves that addressing urban marginalization is not that difficult. By Somsook Boonyabancha and Diana Mitlin

It's not just the economy that is making great strides in Asia at the moment. The restructuring of the city centers and large-scale infrastructure projects are also progressing. Both of these things only make life more difficult for the poor. If their problems are to be solved, they have to participate. This is clear to the member organizations of the Asian Coalition for Housing Rights (ACHR) after decades of work. The low-income city dwellers know best what is going wrong. And it is they who most urgently want to change something.

In 2009 ACHR started the three-year program “Asian Coalition for Community Action” (ACCA). It is funded by the London International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED), which has received a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The program aims to support people in finding and implementing their own solutions. Small changes can often have a big impact, such as small roads or bridges that connect an informal settlement to the urban transport network. Water supply, sewage pipes, communal latrines and street lamps are also important (see box).

Tackle it together

It is important to ACCA that these projects are initiated by the population themselves and that the people take their affairs into their own hands. They are building capacities in their neighborhood. Successful projects also always attract public attention. Small measures help create political pressure. The ultimate goal is to get ministries and local governments to work with the civic organizations. Official collaborations between the organizations and public urban planning are to be established. The ACCA groups also demand reforms so that local politics are more oriented towards the poor and the upgrading of poor parts of the city becomes more affordable.

ACCA is implemented by ACHR members. You are convinced of the capabilities of low-income or otherwise disadvantaged people. They work with neighborhood groups who negotiate with local authorities and demand access to basic care.

ACCA aims to strengthen these initiatives. Above all, it supports small projects that upgrade informal settlements (“upgrading”). On top of that, at least one large housing project is possible per city. People implement these measures themselves. Neighborhood groups draw up project plans, conduct surveys and form partnerships.

Small budget

ACCA's budget is modest. Above all, the programs are intended to stimulate thought. The aim is to reach as many cities and neighborhoods as possible.

The highest grant is $ 58,000 per city. Starting with $ 15,000, participating organizations should implement at least five small upgrading projects, each in a different neighborhood. Some groups manage to finance up to twelve projects with this amount. Once the organizations have started their small projects, they can apply for the $ 40,000 grant for a large housing project. A maximum of seven or eight of these will be awarded per country.

In most cases, the state in turn grants grants for major projects. These are often many times higher than the original funding. ACCA pays around half of the costs for small projects. The citizens themselves contribute around a third, for the rest they collect donations or ask for support from the city administration. In the case of large projects, however, public funds make up over 85 percent of the funding on average. Ultimately, by August 2011, $ 2.3 million in ACCA funding resulted in nearly $ 41.5 million being invested in urban development.

ACCA also encourages neighborhood organizations to set up savings groups for future projects. Because authorities are more likely to invest when the residents have already successfully implemented small projects and also contribute to the costs themselves.

In 37 of the 65 cities in which large projects were carried out, the government provided the land for the apartments - either for free or as lease or rental property, which becomes the property of the resident after many years of payment. In addition, 7,000 informal residents have received titles of ownership on their property.

Groups in Cambodia, Indonesia, Nepal and Sri Lanka who completed small projects have received land ownership titles from the government. Here as well as in cities in the Philippines, Vietnam, Fiji, Thailand and Laos, the government contributed the infrastructure for large projects. Often she also offered technical assistance, donated building materials and provided construction equipment.

All projects are relatively inexpensive, because other districts should also be able to copy them. ACCA also provides $ 3,000 per city for evaluation, networking, savings projects and community exchanges. The project also invests $ 10,000 per country annually in nationwide coordination. Several national ACCA committees have already been set up.

The ACCA model shows how important the responsibility and commitment of the residents are if urban development is to include the poor as well. You need to be able to negotiate with authorities from a position of strength. ACCA was particularly successful where it was possible to build on existing activities. This was the case, for example, in Cambodia, Nepal, the Philippines, Vietnam, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Laos.

Public support

When the cooperation of a grassroots organization with the city authorities is established, ACCA supports the establishment of a “City Fund”. Both parties pay into this fund and manage it jointly. In contrast to a specific project investment, the money invested here can also be used for upgrading in other parts of the city.

The table (see booklet p. 148) shows where such funds exist and how high the participation is. Governments in seven countries were ready to participate. The amounts may still be small - but don't forget that they were raised and paid out in just two years. In 63 of 66 major projects, an official partnership was established between citizens and the city administration. They have set up joint urban development committees in which low-income citizens can work together on an equal footing with urban partners.

In many places, government agencies have even adjusted their urban planning standards. In this way they save costs and the poor can develop housing that meets their needs.

The most impressive example is the Vietnamese city of Vinh, which has changed the standards for renovating old social housing. Instead of having the projects carried out by expensive contractors, citizens are now taking responsibility. This exemplary model emerged from an ACCA project in the Cua Nam district (see box).

ACCA has already proven that it is really not that difficult to initiate change in Asian cities. The urban poverty problems are solvable. The ACCA concept makes the poor city dwellers - i.e. the demand side - the main actors. The new financial system is openly accessible and tailored to the target group. In partnership, government and citizens can work together as a team. The poor are recognized as citizens with rights and as productive people.

The ACCA model works. It tackles the problem of urban poverty in a meaningful way. And it shows how global and national financial systems should be changed to meet people's needs.

During the past 18 months, ACCA has made small investments in the following areas:

- Road construction (126 projects)
- Water supply (103 projects)
- Toilet construction (98 projects)
- Sewers (68 projects)
- Playgrounds and green areas (48 projects)
- Community centers (46 projects)
- Electricity and street lighting (30 projects)
- Bridges (13 projects)
- Waste and composting (8 projects).