Opinion

Why can’t affordable housing be smart?

Kulwant Singh | Updated on: Jan 19, 2018

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Schemes for the poor have failed because the dwellings are not safe, decent and convenient. This should change

The challenge of providing affordable housing to the Economically Weaker Sections (EWS) and Low Income Groups (LIG) makes a regular appearance in State and Central government policies. To address this challenge, the Centre over the decades has drafted any number of housing projects with the intention of making housing not just affordable, but secure and inclusive, too.

The idea of a slum-free India may appear utopian considering the state of our cities at present, but Prime Minister Modi is trying to turn things around with the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana.

The scheme, launched in June 2015, aims at providing 20 million homes to the poor by creating a Mortgage Risk Guarantee Fund that is designed to encourage developers in investing in the scheme. Slashing interest rates and introducing subsidies are among other steps taken to garner interest of the weaker sections. Still in its nascent stage, there is a long way to go before we see any positive results.

Providing four walls of brick and cement is not housing. Factors such as access to public institutions, social inclusiveness and home security will have to be given equal attention.

Way forward If we were to take a look at why most housing schemes fail to draw genuine occupants, it is for the very same reasons each time. Houses are too far from workplaces, which means additional commuting time and expense. In a slum, basic amenities such as electricity and water are often acquired at dirt cheap prices. There is a certain degree of empathy and firmness that these projects lack, which consequently takes away effectiveness.

There has been substantial research and number-crunching on the number of homes required to meet the present and future deficit. The cost per unit for these homes is placed at a modest ₹1,50,000. EMI and interest rates should be in tandem with the income of the EWS and LIG. The RBI is showing some real zeal by slashing the interest rates to make the loan and investment markets attractive. Implementation of the Credit Risk Guarantee Scheme could give an impetus to finance institutions by capping loan default to the extent of 90 per cent. States and Centre’s schemes on affordable housing will have to find a common thread so that logistical hurdles are bypassed.

The UN-Habitat approach Cities in South East Asia witness the largest scale of urban migration, making affordable housing the need of the hour. Pro-poor housing in these cities is riddled with challenges that governments find extremely difficult to tackle. The most generic challenge is acquiring land within the city itself. With large scale transport and infrastructure projects being caught up in litigation tussles, residential ventures are generally pushed to the periphery of the city. Ownership is often not completely handed over to the residents, which generally kills their enthusiasm to take personal initiatives in upgrading the houses and neighbourhoods.

The UN-Habitat approach is designed at targeting these specific areas that skip the vision of policy makers. The characteristic elements of the approach are:

Security of tenure : Occupants should be provided with a degree of tenure security which guarantees legal protection against forced evictions, harassment and other threats.

Affordability : A house is only established as affordable if the occupants do not have to compromise on other basic rights of life.

Habitability : A habitable home is one that renders complete satisfaction, making occupants feel safe from all natural and social hazards.

Location and accessibility : Economic activity, education and health-care have to be at a convenient distance. Modes of commute and incurring expenses have to be considered.

Social integration is the most crucial component that has to be assimilated into any affordable housing scheme so that the poor get a sense of belonging and strive to improve their neighbourhoods. Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) proposed for all-round urban development looks at deploying a list of guidelines that are targeted at making human settlements safe, resilient and sustainable. If acquiring separate land isn’t viable, upgradation of the slums can be a feasible way of providing decent housing to the poor.

Role of NGOs Company law that got amended recently has paved the way for multiple CSR initiatives dedicated at improving the housing for the poor. Habitat for Humanity with its committed efforts has set an example for other domestic NGOs working towards contributing to the affordable housing programme. The Asia Pacific Housing Forum 2015 is said to have discussed some state-of-the-art housing solutions that collaborate with the concept of adding technology to build smart cities.

Since smart cities and affordable housing are overlapping Central government projects, it is necessary that the government of the day be a part of such discussions.

‘Housing for all by 2022’ has at the least given a reason to expect that the country’s urban housing situation will improve in the coming days. With the services and construction sectors anticipated to grow at a phenomenal rate, employment growth is inevitable. Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra and West Bengal top the housing shortage list and will benefit most from this scheme.

A 6.5 per cent interest subvention on housing loans coupled with a raised income ceiling of ₹3 lakh for EWS and ₹6 lakh for LIG, makes it a promising scheme; a much wider target group is expected to benefit.

The writer is India Advisor, Urban Basic Services, UN-HABITAT

Published on January 28, 2016
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