Address home truths about homelessness

The housing problem must be taken as a political agenda by all parties in the next elections. Along with food security, Right to Education and Right to Information, a proper legislation has to be brought in this regard.

Published: 03rd November 2013 12:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 02nd November 2013 10:59 PM   |  A+A-

Shelter is a basic human need. From time immemorial, mankind’s urge to house his family under a roof has grown as a social instinct. The process of urbanisation has transformed this urge from personal plain to the domain of political decision-making. 

Urbanisation’s fast pace across the globe pulled more than half of the population into the urban settings. In India, out of 120 crore of its population, 38 crore live in urban areas. Urban population growth (at 2.8 per cent) pushed our urban percentage from 27.8 per cent to 31.6 per cent. Indian urbanisation’s filthy face in the slums is a national shame. Though the ‘crorepati emergence’ from the slum was an international hit, having a roof is still a pipedream for our millions.

During the Tenth Plan period, we had a shortage of 2.4 crore houses in urban areas. But in 2012, the National Building Organisation (NBO) said shortage has been reduced to 1.8 crore. The factors of obsolescence and congestion still remain serious. It means a good number of people are to be satisfied with dilapidated, old houses. Often married couples are forced to share a room where other adults live. Out of the 100 homeless in India, 95 belong to economically weaker sections and low income groups (EWS 56 per cent, LIG 39.4 per cent).

Globally, governments have varied strategies to address the problem of homelessness. Countries like Singapore and Denmark adopt a universal approach where the target group constitutes the whole population. Decent and affordable housing has been declared a universal right in such countries. But countries like Canada, Malaysia, US, China and European Union are adopting the targeted approach which we are practising. Direct subsidies to build a house and rental allowances are experimented. According to Jones Lang Lasalle, California is a success story in implementing  low-income affordable houses. 

In India, the role of private players in housing has increased manifold in the last few decades. But the so-called developers are concentrating only on the high-income group housing since it can be easily marketed. They scout for greenfield ventures with low-priced land—often grabbed—and convert it into a marketable housing stock.  Banks have lent huge quantity of money to this sector but not yet come forward to cater for affordable low-cost housing. But still 7.25 per cent of India’s GDP is given as housing loans. Compared to China (12 per cent) Thailand (17 per cent) Malaysia (29 per cent), it is much lower.

In the major states, urban housing shortage has been declining over the last five years. States like Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Kerala, Maharashtra, West Bengal, Delhi and Tamil Nadu have reduced their shortage considerably, but unfortunately in Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh, the shortage has increased. Nationally, the shortage has reduced from 2.47 crore to 1.87 crore. This shows that with proper intervention, housing problem can be addressed both by the state and the market. 

In the rural sector though, the government is struggling hard to fill the gap as the private sector has not yet come forward with a comprehensive strategy. Indira Awaas Yojana has become the flagship of rural housing, but the allocation by the Centre per house is a meagre `52,000. Rajeev Awaas Yojana and Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission have recently started addressing the housing question in the urban sector, but allocation and spread are quite insufficient.

Housing problem of our nation has to be taken as a political agenda by all responsible parties in the next elections. Along with food security, Right to Education and Right to Information, a proper legislation has to be passed by Parliament in future regarding housing. State governments and local governments also play a pivotal role in resolving this issue.

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