Nina Varghese

Twenty-three-year-old Ajit Kumar was not just new to the job but to the city too. Back home in Uttar Pradesh, his folks worried as to how he would manage in Chennai, as he did not understand the language or what he would do for food.

On his arrival in Chennai, Ajit Kumar found that there was no cause for worry. The software company that had hired him had leased out a number of apartments close to his place of work. Most of the entry-level employees of this company stayed in these apartments. All the services required such as cooking, cleaning, laundry and drinking water supplies were taken care of.

As the work culture in the city evolves with the boom in information technology and related services, the demand for transit housing has been growing. House owners in areas where the demand is high, especially Anna Nagar and South Chennai are cashing in on the boom and are leasing out their apartments to companies as transit homes and chummeries.

There are two reasons for this change in the otherwise conservative Chennai landlord. The first is that there is lot more transparency when dealing with companies. The second reason is that when tenants don't stay for very long, there are no demands on the house owner.

Mr R Rajagopalan, Vice-President, Administration and Finance, Cognizant Technology Solutions, said Cognizant does not lease apartments for its employees and does not provide residential complexes in the campus. However, Cognizant does have fully-furnished service apartments or transit houses in all locations where it has development centres, to help associates travelling on deputation for a few days to a couple of months depending on project requirements. There is no cost to employees during their stay in any of these apartments. Cognizant also extends use of the transit houses for a period of 15 days for employees on transfer to other locations, before they can find their own accommodation.

Cognizant has also pioneered the concept of identifying secure and comfortable accommodation for the entry level trainees from other locations for a pay-on-use basis, by tying up with third-party vendors. This helps the trainees to settle down faster and to focus on the job rather than being worried about getting the right type of accommodation.

Being a pay-on-use basis, the trainees do not have to deposit advance payments but just pay for the tenure of usage of the apartments. This also helps the trainees overcome language or culture barriers, and helps them occupy quality apartments specified by Cognizant.

In the case of Cognizant, Mr Rajagopalan said that the company has transit houses and some service apartments, in Chennai, Bangalore, Pune and Hyderabad. Cognizant identifies the service apartments and transit houses closer to the work premises within a radius of about 6-8 km to help associates save time, energy and money in terms of commuting.

Cognizant saves approximately 40 per cent of accommodation costs on the rack rate quoted by hotels through such transit houses, Mr Rajagoplan said.

The average business stay for associates is two days. However, those on transfers do tend to stay on for a longer period before finding suitable accommodation.

Developers too are cashing in on the boom in service apartments. For instance, Marg Constructions is developing a complex of 84 service apartments in Siruseri, on the Old Mahabalipuram Road, where a number of IT companies have their development centres. This project is set in four acres and the total built up area will be 1.84 lakh sq ft with row houses, three- and two-bedroom apartments. The total project cost is about Rs 40 crore.

Mr G.R.K. Reddy, Managing Director, Marg Constructions Ltd, said that these apartments would cater mainly to the personnel who work in the IT companies on this stretch.

These apartments are designed as service apartments and would have wider corridors for the cleaning trolleys to manoeuvre. Each apartment would have a kitchenette, in case the tenant wants to cook something light. There will be a convenience store, laundry services, a fully equipped kitchen, clubhouse, gym and swimming pool. The apartments will offer all the facilities of an upmarket hotel and are 30 per cent cheaper, he said.

Mr Reddy said that the companies prefer that their employees stay in and around the same place as this would make logistics easier. In this particular case, the travelling time would also be cut down, he said.

Hotels too have introduced the concept of service apartments. The customer can enjoy all the comforts of a hotel and at the same time enjoy the personal touch. Star City has service apartments at three locations in the city. At Star City on Bazullah Road in T. Nagar, the tariff ranges from Rs 1,750 per day single occupancy of a studio apartment to Rs 4,750 per day for quartet occupancy of a 2-bedroom apartment. At the Star City on Cathedral Garden Road the tariff ranges from Rs 1,250 for studio apartment single occupancy to Rs 3,750 for quartet occupancy of a 2-bedroom apartment. On Crescent Park Street, Star City charges Rs 4,000 for four adults and two children for a three-bedroom apartment. Service apartments will soon be available for all segments in Chennai. Courtyard, a JW Marriott hotel, which is set to open in Chennai soon, will also offer some service apartments.

(This article was published in the Business Line print edition dated October 9, 2005)
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