In 1999, the authorities in Bogota set up a land bank, MetroVivienda, in an attempt to remedy some of the city's housing problems. This agency subsequently bought, and continues to service, a substantial amount of land in the city. In a paper published in Habitat International recently, Alan Gilbert of University College London evaluates that experiment, based on formal interviews with the directors of MetroVivienda, discussions with the national housing authorities and with cognoscenti of the housing scene in Bogota, several visits to project sites and an extensive reading of the local housing literature.
Land markets in most poor cities do not work very effectively and contribute to making social housing unaffordable. While the establishment of public land banks has not been successful in alleviating this problem, Gilbert argues that Bogota's efforts have had some measure of success, although the agency could never achieve the ambitious goals set for it.
Gilbert describes the different approaches of the agency over the last decade, pointing out that MetroVivienda was set up to provide serviced land for private developers to build affordable housing for the poor. It was an attempt both to improve shelter conditions in the city and to confront the continued expansion of informal urban development.
Gilbert identifies several challenges faced by the agency, including the fact that its estates had developed too slowly and that it never managed to sell its land cheaply. The quality of the accommodation built on its estates has also been criticised. The agency failed to encourage renting, initially even trying to discourage owners from renting out units built on its estates. In addition, it always faced strong opposition from the private sector, despite regular efforts at collaboration. Gilbert also points out that MetroVivienda and its political masters never learned a key lesson from earlier public housing programmes - that no agency in a poor city could ever build enough housing to satisfy those with the greatest need.
Today, the agency no longer buys land and prefers to work in association with private landowners. While Bogota in effect no longer has a state land bank, it does have an interesting set of tools with which to confront land speculation and to discourage owners from holding on to serviced land. ''Whether this set of tools will be able to confront the perennial problem of providing land for affordable social housing remains to be seen," Gilbert writes. He concludes that Bogota provides many lessons for governments in poorer cities about how and why they should take measures to improve the working of the land market.