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Book Chapter

The Reporduction of Informality in Low-Income Self-Help Housing Communities

“The Reproduction of Informality in Low-Income Self-Help Housing Communities”. In Vinit Mukhija and Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris, editors. pp.59-77. The Informal American City, Boston Mass: MIT Press.

Ward, Peter M.

Insights from a major cross-national study of low income consolidated irregular settlements in Latin America (www.lahn.utexas.org) reveals a reversion to informality as previously regularized (legal) property titles become clouded by household and home owner practices such as:  informal inheritance and succession of home disbursal; as dwellings and lots are subdivided;  and as informal house sales occur without the transfer and recording of title change.   Such a reversal to title informality and irregularity appears to be quite logical, given inheritance laws and practices, householder expectations (especially among first and second generations) amid ongoing poverty, and the existence of poorly performing land and housing markets.  

The author’s ongoing research in low income neighborhoods in the USA reveals similar and parallel contemporary processes of informality and reversion to informality.  Home building in ex-urban colonias and associated informal subdivisions, as well as home improvement and urban regeneration in inner-city (first suburb) neighborhoods demonstrate informality in a number of dimensions such as:  land titling practices, financing mechanisms for home construction and improvement,  non-code compliance, lot and dwelling subdivisions and infilling, and inheritance practices – all conceived as highly rational responses to poverty and poor market performance.  Data presented in this chapter come primarily from Mexican and Mexican American communities in South and Central Texas and draw upon three major datasets compiled by the author.  The realms of informality discussed are: forms of land acquisition; types of title and proof of ownership; financing of home building and improvements;  compliance with codes; lot subdivision among kin or petty landlord-tenant arrangements;  practices of servicing and solid  waste disposal;  health practices to deal with chronic morbidity and mobility problems and aging; inheritance and disposition of property to heirs.   In addition to identifying the myriad processes leading to informality in such US neighborhoods, the chapter will outline policy directions and sensitivities that, if adopted might improve housing conditions and property transactions, and avoid the often unanticipated consequences that lead to further cycles of informality.

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