The United Nations Habitat Global Land Tool
Network Land Value Tax Project

Alanna Hartzok


[Reprinted from GroundSwell, November-December 2006]


A GroundSwell interview with Alanna Hartzok, Scotland, PA GroundSwell editor: You have been working with United Nations Non Governmental Organizations. What is your relationship to the UN NGOs and how long have you been involved with them?

Alanna Hartzok: In 1980 I was invited by Dr. Lucile Green, founder of the World Peoples Assembly movement, to participate in three weeks of WPA meetings and conferences in Japan. People from more than forty countries were there, including Gennady Gerasimov who later became Chief Foreign Correspondent for the Soviet Union during the Gorbachev years. Dr. Harry Lerner was another important person in this movement that I met for the first time in Japan. Lucile and Harry both became mentors of mine, Harry later inviting me to give lectures on the land problem and land value tax at NGO symposiums he organized at the United Nations.

Having been introduced to the world of UN NGOs, I suggested to the International Union for Land Value Taxation that they apply for official UN NGO status through the Department of Public Information. Pat Aller, who had worked at the UN for a period of time, graciously did the heavy lifting of filling out the application forms. The application process was challenging because the IU had its original founding papers destroyed due to the bombing of London during WWII. Pat and the IU staff, primarily Barbara Sobrielo at the time, succeeded after much perseverance and the IU became a UN NGO in 1993. Pat and I served as the two representatives. During the past few years the IU has been accepted as a consultative organization with the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) and now has fifteen UN NGO representatives from several countries.

Editor: What is UN Habitat and what is your relationship with it?

Hartzok: The official mission of UN Habitat, the short name for the United Nations Human Settlements Programme, a major UN agency, is to promote socially and environmentally sustainable human settlements development and the achievement of adequate shelter for all. Habitat has been quite inclusive of the participation of NGOs and civil society in general, and city mayors and other public officials in particular. Our active involvement with UN Habitat dates specifically to 1996 when I participated in the NGO Forum at the Habitat II conference in Istanbul. Since the so-called Earth Summit of 1992, NGOs have organized their own sessions as parallel civil society sessions during official UN conferences. More than 15,000 people participated in the NGO Forum in Istanbul where I organized and conducted six sessions on land value tax. I also followed the official proceedings of the UN nation state ambassadors, particularly the Land Access section which recommended land based taxes and land value capture. We wanted to make certain that those sections remained in the official documents. You will recall that Mary Rose Kaczorowski participated in Habitat II as well, representing Common Ground as a civil society organization.

The Land Access section of the 65 page official document did indeed maintain its important statements about land and poverty issues and the recommendations for land based taxes and land value capture. The first Habitat conference, held in Vancouver in 1976, had contained an even stronger and longer section advocating land value tax. Pat and I made good use of these recommendations for land value tax in papers we wrote and distributed at various UN events. These documents can be found in the Articles section of www.earthrights.net.ur

UN Habitat has grown in stature within the UN system since the Istanbul conference. Anna Kajumulo Tibaijuka joined UN-HABITAT as Executive Director in September 2000. Today she is the highest ranking African woman in the United Nations system. A Tanzanian national, she holds a Doctorate of Science in Agricultural Economics from the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences in Uppsala. She is a strong and dynamic leader who actively promotes the participation and leadership of women on all levels, both within the UN and in civil society.

UN Habitat held its first World Urban Forum in 2002 in Nairobi. I believe there were about 500 participants. By that time our wonderful colleague Tatiana Roshkoshnaya had joined the Habitat staff.

Editor: How did the Land Value Taxation and Capture Policy come to be developed for the UN Habitat Global Land Tool Network?

Hartzok: Well, after the five major global conferences of the 1990s and all their excellent action agendas, meticulously composed via consensus of all UN member states, it was recognized that the funds to implement these great ideas were not forthcoming. Hence the track called Financing for Development was launched by the UN. Pat and I followed this closely for a while, handing out our papers to many official delegates during the three preparatory conferences. I vividly remember one UN NGO session on FfD held at the Church Center across from the UN where I had hoped to have five or ten minutes to talk about land value tax. Well, I never got even that hearing and remember being cut off while I was speaking. Jeff Smith was willing and able to participate in the Financing for Development (FfD) global conference in Monterey, Mexico where he conducted land value tax workshops during the NGO forum and did some networking. While we tried with FfD, and were initially optimistic that there would be interest in LVT in this track, nothing came out of it so we pulled back. Year 2000 saw the major gathering of nearly all heads of state at the UN for the Millennium Assembly which produced a several point agenda for poverty eradication called the Millennium Development Goals. These MDGs continue to be major focal points for all UN agencies which have taken upon themselves specific ones of these goals, all of which are to include a gender perspective, meaning they are to empower and include women equally to men and be sensitive to how any particular policy approach impacts women.

UN Habitat has a focus on Target 11 of MDG Number 7 -- to improve the lives of 100 million slum dwellers around the world by the year 2020. In looking closely at the condition of those who are homeless or living in substandard housing in unserviced informal settlements -- the life of slum dwellers -- it became clear that there was a problem with land tenure. So a focal point on land tenure issues grew in UN Habitat. Tatiana brought the importance of land value tax policy to the attention of those working on land tenure issues and noted that it had been recommended in the official action agendas of both the Vancouver and the Istanbul Habitat global conferences. She also encouraged and recommended my participation on a panel at the second World Urban Forum held in Barcelona in 2004. (The total number participating in WUF II was around 5000.) After this session I was informed that a Global Land Tool Network (GLTN) was going to be established and that they wanted land value taxation to be included as a policy approach.

Some months after returning from Barcelona I was directed to meet with the consultants who were preparing a grant application to establish the GLTN. I met for two hours with a group of five of these consultants in Washington, DC in March of 2005 and was told that land value tax would be included in the GLTN grant. Habitat was successful in its request for the ten million dollar grant for the ten year GLTN project funded by Sida – Swedish International Development Agency. GLTN was officially launched and celebrated at the UN Habitat World Urban Forum III held in Vancouver in July, 2006. At the launching Norway announced that it was also giving a substantial amount of funding for the GLTN; I believe that is also for as much as ten million dollars.

Previous to the WUF III in Vancouver (2006) there was a web based GLTN interactive discussion or “jam” held June 5–16 which included LVT as one of the six categories. Ted Gwartney, a land value tax policy and property assessor expert, stepped up to the plate to moderate the LVT track as they were unable to contact me due to my being on the three week Earth Rights Democracy lecture tour in Australia. He and I have written a summary of the land value tax section of that GLTN jam. The entire discussion is archived on the GLTN site. Ted and I were both included in the GLTN roundtable session in Vancouver.

Others who work with the land value tax policy who participated in WUF III were Bill Batt, Heather Wetzel, Dave Wetzel, and Anne Goeke. They all found their engagement with the World Urban Forum to have been very worthwhile.

The Vancouver conference had 10,000 participants, many of them mayors and other public officials. The Canadian government and the province of British Columbia co-hosted and contributed major funds and a thousand volunteers. (The next WUF will be in Nanking, China in 2008). Towards the end of the WUF I was asked by the GLTN leadership to develop a multi-faceted LVT information program which would then serve as a basis for future LVT/C implementation projects. The “C” stands for capture, as UN documents use the phrase “land value capture.” This is what we now call the UN Habitat GLTN LVT/C Project.

Editor: Please say more about the UN Habitat Global Land Tool Network? What is it, what are its goals?

Hartzok: You can get information about GLTN on the web at www.gltn.net. To answer your question here are statements from the official documents:

  • The Global Land Tool Network (GLTN) originates from requests made by Member States and local communities world-wide to UN-HABITAT, who together with Sida and the World Bank initiated the network idea. The network is a long term initiative to support and upscale ongoing initiatives on systematic, innovative, pro-poor, affordable and gender sensitive land tools. Discussions with partner organizations and Member States led to the production of a comprehensive initial report that was produced by a team of consultants.

    There are few more contentious and complex problems in the world than those dealing with land and secure tenure…. The GLTN initiative is driven by the following perceptions: there are insufficient pro poor tools to implement the land policies found in the Habitat Agenda, which is limiting the ability of governments to implement the Agenda; and land policies tend to focus on description and analysis rather than implementation.

    The GLTN aims to establish a continuum of land rights, rather than just focus on individual land titling; improve and develop pro poor land management as well as land tenure tools; unblock existing initiatives; assist in strengthening existing land networks; improve global coordination on land; assist in the development of gendered tools which are affordable and useful to the grassroots; and improve the general dissemination of knowledge about how to implement security of tenure.

The main objective of the network is to facilitate the attainment of the Millennium Declaration and the Millennium Development Goals through improved land management and tenure tools for poverty alleviation and the improvement of the livelihoods of the poor. The core values of the GLTN are pro poor, governance, equity, subsidiarity, affordability, and systematic large scale approach as well as gender sensitiveness…. (The GLTN) is pivotal for the success of Target 11 of Millennium Development Goal No. 7 on improving the lives of 100 million slum dwellers around the world by the year 2020.

I might also mention that UN Habitat has eighteen General Partners some of which are the Centre on Housing Rights & Evictions, Food and Agricultural Organization of the UN, Huairou Commission, Human Rights Watch, International Federation of Surveyors, International Institute for Geo-Information Science and Earth Observation, International Land Coalition, Lincoln Institute of Land Policy, Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the World Bank, and the United Nations Development Fund for Women. Partners include governments, local authorities, civil society and donors. Our land value tax policy work with the GLTN will certainly be of interest to many of these. Via the UN Habitat GLTN we are now thoroughly and officially engaged with land value tax policy development within the UN system. In December 2004 the General Assembly passed a resolution which ‘Encourages Governments to support the UN-HABITAT’s Global Campaign for Secure Tenure and Global Campaign for Urban Governance as important tools for, inter alia, promoting administration of land and property rights, in accordance with national circumstances, and enhancing access to affordable credit by the urban poor.’ (Resolution A/59/484, ‘Implementation of the outcome of the United Nations Conference on Human Settlements (Habitat II) and of the twenty-fifth special session of the General Assembly.’).

Editor: What does the UN Habitat Global Land Tool Network say about Land Value Taxation and Capture?

Hartzok: Well, thus far in this interview I have described our International Union for Land Value Taxation NGO engagement with the UN and its confluence with the official UN Habitat recommendations for land value tax/capture. What the GLTN says about land value tax/capture is now a rich texture of statements resulting from previous proceedings and discussions and now found in the terms of reference of the official UN Habitat GLTN Land Value Tax/Capture Project. The project goal is the development of the GLTN tool of land value taxation. With the project’s completion the what, why, where, and how of LVT will be posted on the GLTN website and summarized in a printed brochure. Here are statements from the Project contract:

  • Looking first at the instrumental justifications, paying this fee encourages a landowner to develop vacant and under-utilized land to the full extent that its value warrants, or to make way for others who will. Sites are consequently used more efficiently, dilapidated inner-city areas are returned to good use, which reduces urban sprawl. LVT deters speculative land holding and enables a society to provide sustainable and wider access to the use of land. This allows women and men, poor and affluent, uneducated or well educated, all to gain access to land in more affordable manner. It enables secure land tenure by owners willing to pay for the land advantages they find important. This approach to revenue production stimulates new business and new employment, reducing the need for government assistance.

    Economically LVT makes sense because, it does not distort market mechanisms or otherwise burden the economy the way most other taxes do. It is a cheap and efficient levy to administer because much less effort is required to track land ownership and value than to track income or sales transactions. Tax evasion on land is much more difficult than on financial wealth because land cannot be hidden, removed to a tax haven, or concealed in an electronic data system. Even in the poorest of communities the tools are readily available to implement this policy.

    There are also compelling moral reasons for LVT. Land (unlike goods and services) has no cost of production. If an ample supply of land of equal desirability were available everywhere, there would be nothing to pay for its use. In reality land acquires a scarcity value owing to the competing needs of community members for living, working and leisure space. Thus land value owes nothing to individual effort and everything to the community at large. It belongs justly and uniquely to the community. Conversely, the reward for individual effort rightfully belongs to the one who earns it. Because of differences in location, fertility or natural resources, some places are more advantageous than others. Only demand for access to these advantages gives land its value.

    Land values are created mainly by factors that are not the result of the landowner's own effort; for example, the creation of new infrastructure, new public transportation, or re-zoning. All can radically change the value of a piece of land. LVT provides a method of recouping windfall changes to land value that occur as a result of investment by the community, placing less of the burden on taxpayers who don't directly benefit. This allows reductions in existing taxes on labor (wages) and enterprise (sales). The LVT is progressive because the land tax cannot be passed on to a tenant; competitive markets, and not landlord overheads set rental prices.

    The natural world is rightfully the common property of all persons, and therefore the LVT is not really a tax, but simply the collection of rent (a user fee) on behalf of the community. For eight thousand years worldwide, LVT has been the primary basis for producing public revenue and is easy for people to understand. LVT is the appropriate instrument for the urgent fight against global inequity and poverty.

Sound LVT/C policies create incentives for substantial improvement in the housing stock, provides the basis for self-financing cities, enables the benefits of the market system, and secures a fair distribution of wealth.

Editor: Does the UN Habitat GLTN LVT/C have Specific Project Goals?

Hartzok: Yes, the specific project activities will be:

  • 1. To document existing best practices and lessons learned on LVT/C.
    2. To disseminate existing best practices and lessons learned on LVT/C.
    3. To develop a curriculum for a short Internet based course on LVT/C.

    The following components will be applicable:
    1. a) Develop explanatory documents on LVC/T (global coverage)
    b) Develop SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) analysis on LVC/T (financial/social/ environmental with global coverage)
    2. a) Examples of existing LVC/T initiatives (global coverage, country specific examples)
    b) Specific SWOT on existing examples of LVC/T (global as well as country specific)
    c) Statements by key individuals/institutions on LVC/T (global coverage)
    3. a) Develop a curriculum for and the design of a short online course on LVC/T (approximately 8h Internet time and 16h offline time)
    b) Develop an online LVC/T calculator/simulator where a council/country can enter their own data and then elaborate different LVC/T solutions seeing the results in the LVC/T calculator/simulator. Calculator ought to be available on www.gltn.net.
    4. Develop brief brochure on LVC/T.
The LVT/C capacity building program seeks to enable implementation of the UN-HABITAT 1996 Action Agenda recommendations for land value capture and land based tax policy. The training material will be available via Internet to public officials, NGO and grassroots leaders, and others who are committed to ensuring access to land for affordable shelter for all.

The training will focus in particular on the capture of land value for public revenue and the land tools that are crucial to the successful implementation of this policy, such as land assessments, cadastral systems, and land registration. High-quality and affordable information ­- reliable, timely, and user-friendly -­ will be presented to help prepare governments for implementing these fiscal approaches, which, among other benefits, can create incentives for improvement in the housing stock.

Editor: Who will be directing the UN Habitat GLTN LVT/C project?

Hartzok: I am the project director and am the one responsible for its successful execution and completion. It is a big job and I certainly cannot do it alone. At the CGO conference in Chicago I convened an ad hoc group which discussed the project, at that point at an initial phase of development of the project description, and out of that meeting grew the GLTN LVT/C Project Advisory Group, which now has more than thirty participants. We are now in the process of forming working groups for the several specific project tasks. My leadership style will be that of a “focalizer” keeping the activities of the various working groups on task, facilitating communications, and keeping the overall project in focus.

Editor: How will the UN Habitat GLTN LVT/C project be funded?

Hartzok: The GLTN has allocated $20,000 to be administered through Earth Rights Institute, a 501c3 non-profit organization which is a member organization of the IU and which I co-direct with Anne Goeke. A few people have told me that this is a rather small amount of funds for such a big job. This is true, which is why it is essential that other individuals and organizations with expertise in land value tax policy contribute to the Project’s success to the best of their ability and capacity. Our advisors and working groups will be engaged on a pro bono basis until and unless additional funds from elsewhere are forthcoming. All those who actively contribute to the Project will certainly be on my short list for funding and consulting projects in the future. GLTN officials have told me that they have already earmarked funds for the LVT implementation phase which will begin sometime after this Project is completed in August of 2007. As I understand it, and this is not written anywhere which is publicly accessible, this means that cities and even countries who request LVT implementation may possibly secure seed funds for this purpose.

Editor: When and where do you expect the LVT/C project to start and how long do you foresee it taking to implement?

Hartzok: The Project is set to formally begin January 2007 and is to be completed by August 31, 2007 – eight months. The “where” is from the Earth Rights Institute office in southcentral Pennsylvania, USA and the several cities, towns and countries where our Advisory Group members reside. The internet will be our primary means of communication and the work-in-process will be posted at various stages on the ERI website at www.earthrights.net. When the Project is completed the LVT policy program will be posted and hosted on the GLTN website at www.gltn.net .

Editor: Can others be involved and, if so, how?

Hartzok: Yes, I have sent out via internet postings to those engaged in land value tax policy worldwide invitations to contribute to this Project. And as I have mentioned heretofore, there are now more than thirty experts who have thus far expressed their willingness to participate on what we now call the UN Habitat GLTN LVT Advisory Group.



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