New Colombian Law Implements Value Capture
Rapid urban growth, concentrated land ownership, and land use regulations often contribute to a scarcity of land serviced by public infrastructure, which facilitates huge increases in land prices and incredible speculative gains. When the legal and administrative framework cannot be changed easily to let markets operate gradual price adjustments that can be taxed via existing property and capital gains taxes, value capture is a suitable approach to attain equity, efficiency and sustainable urban development.
Value capture in Colombia
This article examines the implementation of value capture in the Colombian cities of Bogota and Cali. In the early 1990s these two cities adopted land use regulations aimed at expanding their supplies of residential land and needed a way to capture most of the increases in land values that may be attributed primarily to authorized changes in land use. Implementation of the new value capture instrument poses formidable challenges to Colombian city administrators, who must identify those increases in value that are due primarily to administrative decisions.
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Under conditions of rapid urban growth, concentrated land ownership and land use regulations often contribute to a scarcity of land serviced by public infrastructure. This scarcity in turn facilitates huge increases in land prices and incredible speculative gains. When the legal and administrative framework cannot be changed easily to let markets operate gradual price adjustments that can be taxed via existing property and capital gains taxes, value capture is a suitable approach to attain equity, efficiency and sustainable urban development.
In the early 1990s two Colombian cities, Bogota and Cali, adopted land use regulations aimed at expanding their supplies of residential land. Bogota released an attractive reserved site in the middle of the city known as "El Salitre," with the intention of providing additional infrastructure and establishing special regulations to ensure low- to middle-income housing. Cali expanded its urban perimeter to include a substantial piece of swampland known as "Ciudadela Desepaz," which needed extensive infrastructure investment. The city planned to provide basic infrastructure to encourage both its own housing department and private developers to build low-income housing.
The very announcement that the respective city councils were about to promote development raised the land prices significantly. In the case of Cali, registered land transactions in Ciudadela Desepaz reflected price increases of more than 300 percent even before the City Council made its formal decision. Land quickly changed hands from a scattered group of relatively unknown cattle ranchers (and, it was documented later, some foreign and domestic drug traffickers) to land speculators and land developers. A series of administrative decisions over a 30-month period pushed land with virtually no market value to a price of more than 14,000 Colombian pesos per square meter (about US$18 in 1995). These decisions resulted in overall gains of more than 1,000 times the original land price after accounting for inflation.
El Salitre in Bogota followed a similar path of decisions by the city administration that raised the price of land substantially. Needless to say, residential housing is being occupied in both cases by middle- to high-income people, not the intended lower-income sectors.
Since cases like Desepaz and El Salitre occur regularly in major Colombian cities, the national government prepared a bill to allow cities to capture most of the increases in land values that may be attributed primarily to authorized changes in land use. Such changes include zoning, density allowances or the conversion of land from agricultural to urban uses. The bill, inspired by similar yet less stringent measures in Spanish and Brazilian laws, was passed by the Colombian Congress as Law 388 of 1997.
Colombian income tax laws, including the successfully applied Contribution de Valorizacion, a betterment levy limited to the cost recovery of public investments, are not effective in capturing the kind of extreme capital gains as seen in Desepaz or El Salitre. Law 388 of 1997, known as the Law for Territorial Development, offers several options for how local authorities may "participate in the plus-valias" through payment of the new "contribution for territorial development." Cities and property owners may negotiate payment in cash, in kind (through a transfer of part of the land), or through a combination of payment in kind (land) plus the formation of an urban development partnership, for instance, between the owners, the city and developers.
Implementation of this new value capture instrument poses formidable challenges to Colombian city administrators, who must identify those increases in value that are due primarily to administrative decisions. The challenges include measuring the relevant increase in the value of the land, negotiating the forms of payment and establishing partnerships for urban development purposes.
As part of its research and education program in Latin America, the Lincoln Institute has been working with Colombian officials since 1994 to provide training and technical support during the successive stages of preparing the regulations and implementing Law 388 of 1997. The Institute plans to work with other countries experiencing land pricing problems so they may consider value capture measures similar to the Colombian law.
Fernando Rojas, a lawyer from Colombia, is a visiting fellow of the Lincoln Institute this year. He and Victor M. Moncayo, currently president of the National University of Colombia, drafted the bill that later became Law 388. They also worked with Carolina Barco de Botero, a member of the Lincoln Institute Board of Directors, who at the time was head of the United Nations Development Program, which oversaw preparation of the bill for the national government. Martim Smolka is senior fellow for Latin America and Caribbean Programs at the Institute.
* Value capture refers to fiscal and other measures used by governments to earmark the portion of land value increments attributed to community effort rather than to actions of the landowner. In Latin America, these land value increments are often referred to as plus-valias.