Project Description

Aims and Objectives

  • Legalise the relationship between more than 2,000 families and the land on which their homes stand.
  • Guarantee affordable and safe housing.
  • Resettle people who lived in high-risk areas in a fair and reasonable way.
  • Improve environmental conditions by developing basic infrastructure and dredging the channel.
  • Ensure ownership and management of the area by the community and for the community.

The Martín Peña Channel was once a waterway that ran through the middle of the Puerto Rican capital San Juan. Impoverished squatters settled on the mangrove swamps along its banks, building more than 5,000 informal homes. The water filled with debris and silt, and with no sewer system, it became highly polluted. With nowhere for water to flow, every time it rained the area flooded, creating a dangerous situation for residents. The government decided that something had to be done and a plan was put in place to dredge the channel and drain the land.  Whilst there were obvious benefits to this plan, a potential consequence was that, with the environmental problems removed, the land (in a prime city location) would soar in value displacing the original residents.

Residents living in informal settlements around a polluted water channel and a government agency (the ENLACE Corporation) established a Fideicomiso – a Community Land Trust or CLT (a model of home ownership that develops and manages affordable housing on behalf of the community. It does this by separating the value of the land and the buildings. Land is held in perpetuity by the community enabling it to remain affordable for local people) was set up with. The government had experienced opposition and delays in previous infrastructure projects and was keen to ensure that residents’ interests were accommodated.

Between 2002 and 2004, the government consulted with communities over dredging the channel and improving the area. The communities were united in wanting to ensure that the works did not displace them. The consultation resulted in a comprehensive Development Plan and Land Use Plan which included dredging and drainage work, and also significantly the transfer of the land to the community. Initially the land was transferred to a government-owned arm’s length company: the ENLACE Corporation, with the intention that it should be transferred back to the community once a CLT had been established.

The process of setting up the CLT involved participatory workshops with the community. These workshops drew up the regulations that would govern the CLT. An Advisory Board and lawyers supported the process so that the ideas put forward by the community could be formalised legally. This period also saw the creation of the Group of Eight Communities (G8), whose role is to check that the Comprehensive Development Plan is followed by the CLT and the Corporation and facilitates communication between them. It is made up of elected representatives from 12 community organisations, increasing their collective power and voice. The Corporation led on land registration.  In 2009, a Board of Trustees was formed, made up of residents, technical and professional advisors, a member of the corporation and representatives of the Government of Puerto Rico and the city of San Juan. The same year, the Corporation transferred 200 acres of land to the CLT.