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why affordable housing in gujarat is a riddle?

February 15, 2020

When in 2012, Gujarat Housing Board (GHB) reappeared in front of the people and the media after almost a decade long exile, there was a surge of unsettling voices among the citizens. GHB had been instrumental in providing affordable housing to the lower section of the society through various schemes in the state for a long time until it went bankrupt somewhen between 2001 and 2002, as the officials would recall and few news agencies would report.

Artist impression of Gujarat Housing Board Headquarters Dedicated for Affordable Housing in Ahmedabad.
Artist impression of Gujarat Housing Board Headquarters in Ahmedabad

Most of the officers were put to deputation on various sites; the then-recent earthquakes in Bhuj district had demanded a number of technical personnel to rebuild the city. But what went wrong and why did they have to pull the shutters? As per several claims, it is assumed that the board had deep cuts in the pockets, the cash flow wasn’t making any sense and that it had no monetary backup to survive.

The parastatal body was in ruins. Again, why? GHB used to produce mass housing on its owned land with assistance from the state, for the Economically Weaker Section (EWS) and Lower Income Group (LIG) households. The board in a way worked as a public developer and delivered housing with almost null to minimum profit margin for a long time. 

To cross-subsidize, it used to create Middle Income and Higher Income Group housing as well. However, as per some GHB officials, the main reason for such mishap was the inability to yield returns from the rental property from their old rent-to-own scheme. Since GHB went dormant, there was practically no developer for the housing demand of the lower sections in the state. Private developers wouldn’t get involved due to less margin of profit. Investments at such scale would mean too much for a municipal body.

Lined up people outside GHB press conference/Dailymai

In a press conference of GHB where they announced seven new housing schemes promising construction of 6300 housing units in 2012. The Hindu, a popular print media newspaper, reported in the year 2012 that the police resorted to lathicharge to disperse a disgruntled crowd gathered outside the office of the Gujarat Housing Board here to collect application forms for affordable houses following reports that distribution of forms would begin.

The Affordable Housing Schemes – Centre & State

The scenario was visibly clear – it did not need any numerical backing. There has been a substantial mismatch between the housing supply and demand, especially in urban areas. Megacities like Ahmedabad attract high migration of workers and students in the city, increasing in the urban housing demand. Under Rajiv Awas Yojana (RAY) of United Progressive Alliance (UPA II) under Congress party (between 2009 and 2014), the Slum Free City Plan of Action was prepared for the city of Ahmedabad which presented the housing shortage of 1,27,000 units as on 2012. Under Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana (PMAY), under National Democratic Alliance led by Bhartiya Janta Party, is a similar exercise was taken up which produced housing shortage numbers of 2,88,000 units in 2017.

Given the investments from centre-sponsored schemes in the provision of urban housing such as Basic Services for Urban Poor (BSUP) of JnNURM, Rajiv Awas Yojana, etc., the trends in demand-supply gap seems to follow the inverse trajectory of the country’s current GDP rates. 

Cities’ development is very much dependent on how the real estate market unfolds, where the jobs get located, where do the workers prefer to stay and how they are connected to the workplace and other public amenities. Without getting into much details of the concept of the housing continuum, it is to be understood that slums are also a part of the larger housing markets in the cities. Simply rejecting the presence of slums as an unhygienic and unproductive space is a regressive ideology. 

India is Facing Huge Urban Affordable Housing Shortage

Slums exist due to the inability of the market to provide pucca-formal housing to all. It is high time for the government to acknowledge the fissures in the market due to their ineffective policies and hasty implementation on the ground. The country is facing a huge urban housing shortage in the economically weaker section and lower-income groups, falling total short of almost 18.8 million dwelling units out of which 96% shortage is in these segments. A McKinsey Global Institute’s report suggests that this shortage will boom up to 38 million units by 2030. The same shortage was 24.7 million at the beginning of the 11th five-year plan in 2007.

Construction is a capital-intensive activity, the state has to provide a conducive policy environment for investments and approval for better and quick results. 

Affordable Housing, Multiple Players With Varied  Interests.

However, a generic observation would entail that providing housing is not a singular transaction between the provider and the consumer. It is rather a complex phenomenon unfolding among various factors such as availability of serviced urban land, provision of infrastructure and basic services, access to housing finance (for both the developer and the buyer), accommodating institutional and legal framework, etc.

The state-subsidized housing – which we habitually call as affordable housing – are burgeoning in the peripheries of our cities. All of us have witnessed high rise residential apartments with a boring façade between the cities when we travel across. This happens due to cheaper land costs at the peri-urban areas, eventually adding to the housing stock but rarely improving the living conditions of the people.

Imagine the kind of people who are buying and living there – these would mostly be from the poorer section of the urban society – whose workplaces lie in the centre of cities – who have to commute at least two hours as daily routine of struggle – who do not have the privilege of owning personal vehicles – who can’t afford missing a day out at work. The present implementation of PMAY Urban also appears to have acquired the unexpected virtue of ignorance for these questions. 

Need To Solve The Affordable Housing Riddle

This is what policymakers and planners must understand – housing should come as a bundle of services and not just a roof overhead.

Parastatal bodies like GHB even after constructing mass housing, miss out highly on the qualitative aspects ultimately forcing people to leave the house and settle back in slums nearer to their workplaces and the hunt for housing remains the same.

However, since the demand is so grave – everyone would desperately want to buy a house – without thinking much and create pseudo-consumption rates!

The housing aspirations are now tired. The challenge is great in front of the establishment and the people – the housing riddle is difficult to solve, don’t have one answer and can’t be solved by a singular entity. Achieving Sabka Saath is more important to reach Sabka Vikas

(The article was written on 11th January 2020. The facts and figures are based on the author’s independent study.)

4 thoughts on “Why Affordable Housing in Gujarat is a Riddle?”

    1. The world runs on political narrative and crude examples set by the people who can. I believe, and it is completely an individual’s opinion, that professionals like architects and urban designers have greater role to play in this big game. What do you mean by ‘working outside government bodies’? How many architects or designers do you see directly involved with the government? Even the broad statistics suggest that only 7% of total jobs are in the public sector, rest 93% are in the private sector. What do you think these 93% people are capable of doing? The architects and designers must engage with the people, understand their problems and devise solutions that are self-sustaining in nature. No, I do not mean for you to leave your jobs and run to slums and villages. No. I believe that people need to come up with solutions that work for both the demands – you as a professional and you as a social entity who wants to do good for the underprivileged. Rather than fretting about the investment or the money problem, invest your energies into finding solutions to it (e.g. write a proposal to Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to build toilets for poor communities.) There is so much one can do. The lack of evidence or proof that this can be done, should not demotivate you from doing it. Do it for yourself. Take the leap of faith. Set crude examples. Write the new and better political narrative for the rest to follow. All it will take is a 60 seconds of dramatic courage to start building the legacy. Good Luck! 🙂

  1. Housing board in any city mostly deals with Area level development of the site and does not take into the larger picture that people migrate to Megapolis and Metro cities for employment opportunities and not for cheap housing rents, so instead of focusing on the need and supply of housing by granting the permission of the building Soviet-style building, should rather bring into picture other sectors in it and become a cohesive board of not only housing but also including the cities parastatal Transport board and Commerce sector to make a broader plan to solve the Housing riddle that every growing city is facing.
    The article is well written but gives a surface level information of the bigger housing game of Indian cities.

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