Providing a roof
A major development issue in modern nations, availability of affordable and safe housing for all must be taken up by the Indian Government as a prime policy concern
Ensuring adequate, safe and affordable housing and basic services with up-gradation of slums by 2030 is one of the sustainable development goals of the UN. It's too ambitious a goal to attain in the next one decade as 863 million people are estimated to live in slums across the world and by 2050 they could be two billion. As per the 2011 Census, India's urban population in Class I cities has risen to 70 per cent from 64 per cent in 1991. According to the findings of the Technical Group on Urban Housing Shortage for the 12th Plan (TG-12), Ministry of Housing, 1.8 crore houses are categorised as non-livable, temporary, overcrowded and dilapidated. While the numbers of people who do not own a house are astronomical the immediate requirement of liveable units presently is estimated to be no less than two crores.
Housing has not only been a challenging task but also as vexatious as tackling population explosion. During the 50s to 70s, schemes such as 'Subsidised Housing Scheme' for industrial workers and the EWS, 'Low Income Housing Scheme', 'Slum Clearance and Improvement Programme', etc., failed miserably due to lack of community participation and built-up houses were abandoned. In the 80s, middle classes were benefited considerably by the expansion of housing financing through HUDCO, HDFC and NHB etc., but the poor and low-income sections were kept out. The 90s witnessed a shift in the strategy for the first time as income generation activity is linked to housing. The 'Nehru Rozgar Yojana' (NRY), was a 'Scheme of Housing and Shelter Upgradation' (SHASHU) integrating three objectives namely; financial assistance for micro-enterprises, training for self-employment, and urban wage employment. Sadly, the results were not encouraging due to insufficient employment and poor incomes. Renewed strategies were adopted in the 21st century. The 'Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission' (JNNURM) 2005, aimed at a reform-driven, planned transformation of urban areas. 'Rajiv Awas Yojana' in 2011 was aimed at the redevelopment of slums and curbing future creation of slums. The 'Affordable Housing in Partnership' (AHP) envisioned public-private partnerships (PPP) for affordable housing stock — both on rental and ownership basis. However, the performance of both schemes left much to be desired in terms of quality and basic amenities i.e., water and sanitation, health, and education.
Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana launched in 2015 has a comprehensive approach addressing issues that failed the earlier schemes. Rehabilitating the slum dwellings, encouraging private builders, credit-linked subsidy for HIG and LIG groups, and financial assistance to states affordable in AHP projects with PPP are the components.
The proliferation of slums is an inevitable consequence of the exponential increase in urbanisation which is a strong indicator of economic growth as it contributes 65 per cent to GDP. As per UN projections, India's urban share will be 50 per cent of the total population by 2050. Housing, rather than as a liability, should be seen as an input for growth for it harnesses the productive manpower in the urban economy and ensures sustainable urbanism. But programmes seem to have suffered from a mismatch between need, demand and people's participation. The building of houses with subsidised loans is a handy solution to the crisis. But affordability presupposes an ecosystem where production, jobs, incomes and savings grow hand in hand symbiotically in agglomeration economies; as opposed to a scenario of jobless growth, that is largely our urban story, where employment is 26 per cent of the total and mostly it's in the unorganised sector. The vast majority of the urban poor, skilled labourers and street vendors barely manage to make both ends meet, let alone savings to buy a house. For middle classes too, renting a decent accommodation is no less a luxury. Moreover, affordability far from being static is a variable for low-income groups which is affected by any change in other variables such as job, health or family size. In spite of advance remittance of subsidies, commercial banks haven't been enthusiastic in lending as they are sceptical about the repayment capacity of the beneficiaries. Housing schemes can do well by incorporating economic factors like an assured source of income rather than being driven by 'induced' demand.
A strong political will and a pragmatic approach can make a big difference. There is no dearth of ways and means. Firstly, consolidation of state-owned lands, which are sprawling properties but are grossly neglected, is necessary. The job includes freeing the land from the clutches of land sharks. It's worth mentioning the AP Government has constituted an SIT to recover grabbed public lands in Visakhapatnam. Charity begins at home, they say. Replacing the old extravagant office premises and residences with vertical modern constructions can save enormous chunks of land, of course, if only we stop relishing the vestige of colonial glory. Secondly, AHP projects in PPP can be a blessing provided they are selective in terms of the credibility of the builders and capability of the beneficiaries. Thirdly, as housing doesn't necessarily mean ownership, rental complexes for various sections of people can be built and operated on the PPP model. Credible NGOs can ensure people's participation and democratic management of the assets; this is a promising area for random controlled trials (RCT). Fourthly, subsidised lodging for the migrant workers and struggling youth can be encouraged through philanthropic organisations. At least the existing slums are saved from additional pressure. Fifth, spatial inequalities in urbanisation need to be addressed to control the influx of people to the already overcrowded cities. The Central scheme of hundred smart cities is relevant here. Finally, the outdated regulations of municipal, town and country planning regarding floor space index/floor area ratio need to be reviewed to facilitate vertical expansion. Stringent provisions are long-awaited in the rent control act for eviction of defaulted tenants so that more private rental premises can be encouraged.
Innovations in 'social housing' with people's participation were successfully tried in a few western societies. St Clements Community Land Trust(CLT) East London run by 'Citizen UK' a non-profit housing body, builds homes and sells to community participants at a much lower cost than market value by linking price to local rents. There are 200 CLTs in the UK now and are expected to become 500 by 2025. Carmel Place, in New York, a rental housing project has 55 units built with off-site prefabricated concrete frames and steel slabs furnished with built-in sofas, beds and storage; the rent is less than a third of what is paid in Manhattan. In Vienna, 25 per cent of the housing stock is earmarked as 'social housing' and a further 35 per cent is treated as limited-profit housing-association stock. Housing is regarded as a human right in Austria where low-income people are allotted houses on tenancy for life on subsidised rent. These experiments are tailor-made, though, they are worth emulating at least in case of middle and lower-income stakeholders.
The writer is a former Additional Chief Secretary of Chhattisgarh. Views expressed are personal