Informal Settlers, Perceived Security of Tenure and Housing Consolidation: Case Studies for Urban Fiji

Type Thesis or Dissertation - Doctor of Philosophy in Geography
Title Informal Settlers, Perceived Security of Tenure and Housing Consolidation: Case Studies for Urban Fiji
Publication (Day/Month/Year) 2011
The Pacific is an increasingly urban region. Accompanying this transformation has been
the rapid growth of informal settlements in many Pacific nations. In Fiji, the site of the
research, around 140,000 people are now living in informal settlements – often in poor
quality housing, with inadequate service provision, in environmentally marginal areas,
and with no legal security of tenure.
Emerging theory suggests that understandings of security of tenure need to move
beyond a legal/illegal dichotomy and focus on perceived security of tenure. This
perceived security of tenure approach accepts that a much wider continuum of land
use rights typically exist and argues that households may engage in processes thought
vital to addressing growing informality – such as =self-help‘ housing investment (often
termed =housing consolidation‘) – in the absence of any legal security of tenure.
The research explores the nature of perceived security of tenure and housing
consolidation in a unique context: a small-island state of dominant customary land. A
mixed methods approach is taken, focusing on in-depth, semi-structured interviews with
informal settlers in seven diverse case-study settlements across Fiji (on both state and
native land). Ultimately the research seeks to inform a more nuanced understanding of
Fijian informal settlements and suggest policy options for intervening amidst growing
shelter informality.
Results suggest perceived security of tenure is more positive and housing consolidation is
more prevalent than might be expected across the research case studies – although
important differences are evident between indigenous Fijian and Indo-Fijian settlers. The
research also reinforces the importance of the land tenure variable in the Fijian context –
particularly in influencing access arrangements to settlements, perceived security of
tenure, and housing consolidation.
Perceived security of tenure approaches look to promote a wider package of policy
options for improving tenure security for informal settlers. The current research supports
an approach focusing on the in situ upgrading of current state land informal settlements
(in contrast to the traditional focus on resettlement). It is also clear that ending evictions
from state land areas – which unfortunately are still occurring, if not escalating, in Fiji – is ii
the most important means of improving perceived security of tenure for current informal
settlers on state land.
The research also focuses attention on informal settlements on native land – usually
accessed by informal, or vakavanua, arrangements where new settlers negotiate a stay
on the land directly with landowners. It is clear, however, that some of these
arrangements – particularly for Indo-Fijian residents – leave settlers in precarious tenure
situations. Informal settlements on native land also pose significant challenges as options
for state intervention in these areas are limited. On the other hand, vakavanua
arrangements do allow many low-income settlers to live affordably in central areas –
and thus reflect the resilience and flexibility of customary tenure which is so important in
the Pacific.

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