Cannot wish the urban poor away; can we try new housing solutions like rental housing to accomodate them? Feb 20, 2012

Today’s newspaper carried two stories that highlight how completely clueless we (citizens, governments, bureaucrats and planners alike) are about how to address the issue of housing the poor.

The first piece of news narrates a conflict in the numbers of homeless people in Delhi. The government figure is 55,955 while NGOs in the sector claim 150,000! A 2008 survey by IGSSS, an NGO prominent in working for the homeless, put the figure at 88,410. Apparently the government survey was done in the wake of the Commonwealth Games, when many of the homeless were evicted from the city as part of a ‘cleanliness’ drive! This is a typical example of the kind of data scenario policy makers work with in India. Very often, there is little desire to arrive at authentic, realistic figures; consequently, policies that evolve are unrealistic and do not cater to the present, leave alone plan for the future.

The second story, set in Gurgaon, highlights another typical conflict. Sector 45 residents pressurize the urban development authority (HUDA in this case) to remove slum encroachments in the area, citing poor sanitation and law and order issues. The slum, which occupies government land (apparently disputed and hence not developed), gets water supply and electricity, but has poor sanitation facilities and many residents use open lands for defecation. Whereas private property owners are fully entitled to complain against slums if they see them as threats to their quality of life, clearly governments choose to wait for complaints and fail to check unplanned illegal settlements. Further, there is a spectacular failure to provide low income housing to an urban settlement that is growing as rapidly as Gurgaon is. Conflicts such as these will continue to escalate, while the government mouths buzwords like ‘affordable housing’ and ‘RAY’, which have failed to see the light of the day and provide housing in sufficient numbers to meet even a fraction of the demand.

Poverty in urban India isn’t something we can simply wish away, yet we continue to look for stop gap solutions and refuse to adopt inclusive planing in the present and for the future. I am aware that this is a common refrain and I have no innovative or practical solutions to offer. I do, however, see enterprising landlords in urban villages in Gurgaon creating several affordable housing formats for rent, from dormitories, to single room sets and tenement style housing, there is a range of options for employed migrants who can pay rentals ranging from Rs 500 – 5000 per month. That’s taking a definite step forward. It would be heartening to see the government step in to facilitate the creation of rental housing for the poor in the city, while they continue to evolve greenfield affordable housing projects as well!

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2 thoughts on “Cannot wish the urban poor away; can we try new housing solutions like rental housing to accomodate them? Feb 20, 2012

  1. AS I understood it a long long time ago, Urban rental laws made it highly unfeasible to develop formal rental development (like rental apartments etc). Has there been any reforms to these laws? I had heard that as a condition to receive JNNURM monies, cites had to fix some of these laws. Has any of that followed through? It is quite clear that if there have been changes to these laws, they aren’t really strong, otherwise we should have started to see small (studios and 1-bed)rental apartments being built by developers. The Lal-dora areas are truly being market responsive, and the least that could be done is to regulate the building standards in urban villages. Maybe by providing 5-10 year tax breaks on property taxes/rental income etc could help spur more accommodation being built exclusively for rental.

    • Exactly- the housing scenario is all about excellent spontaneous market responses that actually address the low-income segment and resist gentrification. the minute a formal intervention comes in, the dynamics go out of whack! we need to crack this and find a way of making policy interventions simple and effective and market-linked rather than subsidy-oriented. the govt circles are talking about rentals once again Bharat, but seem to have no idea how to take it forward!Romi would know better….

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