Informal settlements in Kosovo are widely characterized by a lack of access to basic infrastructure and social services. As such, inhabitants often live in very poor conditions and hold a marginalized position within society. A lack of security of tenure is also a prominent characteristic of informal settlements, which are typically not built in compliance with spatial plans, lack the necessary construction permits, and are not registered in the cadastral records. Notably, it can be particularly difficult to gain security of tenure in cases where homes are constructed on municipal or socially-owned property, which can leave inhabitants especially vulnerable to forced eviction.
While many municipal officials have a robust understanding of informal settlements, there is still a degree of misunderstanding with regards to the meaning and definition of the concept. A number of municipalities use either too restrictive or too broad a definition, which can be an obstacle to properly identifying all informal settlements in their areas of responsibility. As such, those settlements where inhabitants are most vulnerable might not be prioritized for regularization plans and projects.
Throughout Kosovo several municipalities are undertaking the drafting of spatial plans. This is one of the primary mechanisms through which municipalities can identify and regularize informal settlements in their areas of responsibility. Most municipalities did include the identified informal settlements in their spatial plans, which is an important step towards resolving security of tenure and access to basic infrastructure and social services. The policy framework foresees that regularization in situ should be the norm while regularization by relocation should only be a last resort pursued in exceptional circumstances where security of tenure or adequate housing cannot be met in place. In line with this, municipalities generally opt for in situ regularization. However, there are some exceptions in which relocation of inhabitants occurred because security of tenure could not be provided or the settlement is located in an environmentally hazardous area. Such a strategy of relocation has been shown to work well in cases where inhabitants are empowered through effective consultation with the municipality and participation in decision-making.
The importance of participation and inclusion of informal settlement inhabitants in the processes of identification, spatial planning and regularization should not be underestimated. Where formal mechanisms for participation exist (such as committees established for the purpose of including all stakeholders in the regularization process), the affected communities generally feel more positive towards their respective municipalities, more informed about municipal initiatives affecting their homes, and more included in the decision-making processes. Conversely, where no such formal or informal mechanisms exist, inhabitants are often ill-informed and feel that their opinions and concerns are disregarded by the municipality.
All informal settlements throughout Kosovo should be identified and included in municipal spatial plans, and in situ regularization should be undertaken where possible. Moreover, it is of paramount importance that local institutions develop means to include inhabitants in the processes related to the regularization of informal settlements. Furthermore, municipalities should look for ways to establish mechanisms to exchange information and best practices regarding regularization. To support these processes, there is an evident need for continued technical and financial support to local-level institutions throughout the identification, spatial planning and regularization processes.
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