Lisa HinelyPO Box 4233
Nonprofit Technology and ManagementAustin TX 78765 USA
Legalization of Land in Mexico

During the 1970's and 1980's, the number of "irregular" colonias in Mexico increased, especially in the large cities and along the US border. This resulted from a lack of housing, a population shift to those regions, and worsening economic conditions. While during the 1960's and earlier it was typical that low-income families would rent, or live with relatives in over-crowded conditions, the combination of available land close to the city, and affordable public transportation, made "colonization" a more attractive option. Irregular colonias were established on private, public, ejido, and communal lands. (Ejido lands are agricultural lands expropriated from large private holdings and redistributed to communal farms following the Mexican Revolution.)

There are various types of colonias that can be called "irregular". They include simply occupying land that is not being used. There are also illegal neighborhoods, situations generally where there is legal title, but with some sort of irregularity, or where the development violates local zoning or other regulations. And finally there is illegal acquisition of ejido lands.

Clearly, with irregular colonias there is the advantage to the homeowner of cost. However, there are disadvantages to the homeowner, as well as to the city and to the legal owner of the land. They include lack of security in the home's equity, risks to health or safety from poor construction or siting, lack of utilities, loss of property without compensation, and loss of property tax base.

For many years, the Mexican government ignored the fact of the irregular colonias. While technically against the law, they served the purpose of providing housing, without cost to the government. There was a federal government agency responsible for regularizing titles, but it was almost inactive until 1989. At that time, policies changed and a serious effort at legalization was combined with strong measures to prevent more settlements.

The process of legalization can be started by the government, by the homeowner, or by the legal landowner. Early in the legalization efforts, the government carried out investigations to determine the property lines, the state of the house and its services, and such. Later, the residents participated by preparing these reports. After that step is complete, the government negotiates with the land owner to try to agree on a fair price or other disposition of the property. If this isn't possible, there is a court process to reach a decision. Depending on the circumstances, the government may waive taxes and fees as part of the settlement.

While the issue of irregular colonias is complicated, with rights and wrongs on all sides, many Mexican settlements have been regularized, providing better protections for the owners and for the larger communities.

In May and June of 2003, Lisa Hinely visited the state of Morelos, in central Mexico, with the Center for Global Education. One of her areas of study was low-income housing. She is available to present these topics to your organization, in lecture format or as an interactive learning experience.

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