The problem of inadequate housing is more acute in the rural areas where bulk of the BPL population lives. Thus, this section will focus on the requirements of housing in rural India, present government initiatives and most importantly the technological requirements for constructing low-cost sustainable houses. At the end, deliberations are made on the possible future course of action for ensuring shelter to as many people as possible. Throughout the discussion, a person without a permanent house (as defined in Census of India 2001), is referred to as homeless.
India is facing a housing crunch. The national shortage stands at close to 20 million units. Expectedly, most of the shortfall is at the bottom of the economic ladder. The United Progressive Alliance and National Democratic Alliance governments have both tried to address this with centrally sponsored schemes, but still filling the shortage seems to be difficult in near future. It isn’t going to be easy. According to the central bank, the policy incentives provided by the government, such as home loan interest subsidies, have spurred activity in the segment of home loans up to Rs 2 lakh. But this segment has also shown the highest rate of delinquencies, rising to 10.4 per cent in 2016-17.
Meanwhile, according to the Ministry of Housing and Urban Poverty Alleviation, 17 per cent of the houses constructed under centrally sponsored schemes were vacant in 2017 because of poor relocation planning and missing infrastructure. Just throwing money at the housing crisis is not enough, and it comes with risks. Indian realty is facing acute housing shortage due to the mismatch between what is supplied and what is in demand, there is a huge gap between the target group for whom houses are being built and those who actually are in dire need of housing.
A recent report by CBRE states that even though India faces a housing shortage of nearly 19 million houses, there are over 10 million houses lying vacant in the country. This highlights the Indian housing paradox. It is rather sardonic that a country reeling under the pressure of not being able to provide housing to a major chunk of its population, have houses lying vacant for want of residents. Some 110,000 houses were built in 2013 and that is less than half the number of new households that are forming and that are forecast to form every year to 2031. Add to that the backlog from previous years and it is no overestimation to say that we are facing a housing crisis. As we look backward on the chart, we see that, it was only during the massive public sector housing development programme of the 1950s to 1970s that completions reached the levels now required — and that private enterprise house building only ever reached 200,000 units in one year in the mid 1960s.
It is difficult to see how these rates of house building can be achieved without state intervention to acquire land, establish infrastructure and provide investment guarantees. All political parties seem to agree and we look forward to seeing the Government’s long awaited prospectus on garden cities. It is amply clear that the country does not lack the resources or skills required to develop housing that would cater to one of the largest populations in the world. So, why are people still homeless in the country?
One of the major reasons for this disturbing trend is that homes are not specially being built for those who need them. It is the economically weaker section (EWS) and low income groups (LIG) that are homeless but the numerous numbers of residential projects being released into the market are way too expensive for them and cater to the high income groups. The major reason for the supply-demand mismatch is the lack of formal housing options for those belonging to EWS and LIG. In addition, lack of easy access to formal credit such as home loans from banks leaves them clueless.
Quality of construction and presence of available infrastructure are major issues with these homes. Smart Cities and “Housing for all by 2022” mission (HFA) must work in an interconnected manner to address the urban problems faced by our cities. Housing ‘pockets’ must be identified where public transportation can be provided either through public or public-private partnerships. Ultimately, we will have to design our cities in such way that we have work places near affordable housing, public amenities within walking distances and a safe environment for our citizens. Provisioning of Mass Rapid Transport System in urban corridors is a must.
Another reason for the high vacancy level in the residential market is the high investor activity in the housing sector. Being one of the most profitable investment avenues, the housing sector has always remained a favourite among investors looking to park their surplus earnings. As they do not invest for self-use, it adds to the vacancy levels.
NRIs also contribute towards the unoccupied inventory in the country. What is the solution to address this issue? “Incentives, policies and regulatory framework that encourages rental housing are needed desperately to address the paradox of vacant housing in the face of acute housing shortage. Best practices such as ‘registered social landlords’ or ‘housing associations’ must be explored to encourage rental housing. Issues such as the type and nature of housing supply also needs intervention. At present, the size and specifications of housing that is being built on the limited supply of land does not really match the housing needs of the urban poor.
A decent place for living is the third most basic need of a person after the needs of food and clothing. Owning a house ensures a certain degree of economic as well as social security to a citizen. It also determines the intellectual growth and has a bearing on the overall development of a nation. Providing a just sufficient shelter remains one of the most serious challenges India is facing today.
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