Punjab faces the daunting challenge of meeting housing requirements of the urban poor.

October 28, 2017

As new affordable policies are encouraging private developers to provide affordable housing for the low income group with subsidies, this requires proper guidelines and norms to ensure poor people benefit and prevent loss of welfare and health crisis.

  • Punjab is among the unique states where urban poverty is higher than rural poverty. Informal sector is expanding rapidly as a source of employment in cities. Ludhiana, Jalandhar, Ferozepur and Amritsar are witnessing rapid increase in informal settlements.
  • As job opportunities in informal sector are growing in cities of Punjab – an important part of overall urban economy, the slum population is growing at a faster rate than the urban population in cities.
  • New urban housing policies so far have been able to provide very few dwelling units. Most of the housing demand for low income classes has been met through self construction by the poor themselves in slums. But these require basic services and sanitation to reduce disease burden in cities
  • Punjab will have to ensure that its affordable housing schemes are nor misused by the private developers to divert sizeable part of the subsidies by building more expensive and bigger housing units for higher income groups.
  • The green building norms must be adopted to improve the comfort and quality of life of the poor as well 

Chandigarh October 28, 2017: Several housing policies have taken shape in Punjab to address the shortfall in housing for the urban masses especially for the urban poor in Punjab cities. If these housing schemes for affordable housing is not crafted well and implemented properly housing demand will become explosive compromising wellbeing and liveability of cites and worsen resource and health crisis. This is a serious concern in Punjab where urban poverty rates are higher than the rural poverty rates and slum population is increasing at a faster rate than the overall city population as livelihood opportunity is expanding in the informal sector that is an important part of the urban economy of Punjab.

The policies on affordable housing have now started to take roots in Punjab. The new Shahari Awaas Yojana is an opportunity to address this issue in a more holistic way. It is therefore an opportunity to set proper guidelines, and norms to guide this process.This came out of the discussion in the collaborative workshop 21st Century Smart Cities – Housing for All, organised jointly by the Punjab Regional Chapter, Institute of Town Planners and Delhi based Centre for Science and Environment in Chandigarh today. 

Housing shortage - a daunting challenge:The Task Force on Urban Housing Shortage inPunjab in 2012 has estimated housing shortage at 0.39 million dwelling units. Even though the percentage of poverty rate has reduced from 15-20 percent in 2001 to 10-11 per cent in 2011, the share of poor families is high in big cities of Punjab. According to National Building Organisation 2015Punjab has 1.46 million people in slum (2 per cent of India’s total slum population). Five cities have been identified under Rajiv Awas Yojana -- Luhdhiana, Jalandhar, Bathinda, Patiala and Amritsar that have high share of slum population. Ludhiana has 209 slum pockets and the slum population growth rate is 25 per cent in contrast to city’s annual population growth of 8.75 per cent. Jalandhar has 97 slums that have 25 per cent of city’s population. In Bathinda, slum population is 18.68 per cent of the total urban population. In Amritsar 28 slums has 36 per cent of the city’s urban population. This indicates explosive demand for proper housing. 

These slums have come up primarily because of the poor capacity of the official schemes and private developers to provide adequate formal housing for those employed in the informal sector economy. Though affordable housing schemes – central as well as state – are in place – their ability to provide for adequate housing stock at a large scale to meet the realistic demand of people in lower income groups is very limited. For instance, under the central scheme of Housing for All there is a proposal to build 42,845 housing units. But so faronly 600 units have been approved and only 336 have been constructed and occupied. This is miniscule fraction of the actual demand that is close to a million units. Similarly, there are five Integrated Housing & Slum Development Programme (JNNURM component) projects in Punjab. Under this out of 2937 dwelling units sanctioned, only 1743 have been completed. But actual demand for low income housing is in million. 

Punjab has faced barriers to providing adequate housing to poor households Availability of urban land at affordable price, rising costs of construction; high fees and taxes, poor design and quality of construction,lack interest among private developers, locational disadvantages, unfavourable development norms and densities and FAR, poor quality of mass housing,are blocking these policies.Urgent steps are needed to address these barriers. 

Slum growth is a spontaneous and legitimate part of urban economic growth that needs to be integrated with the formal planning process through participatory approaches. All income classes need to contribute towards defining of the shape, design and quality of services in the city.Big cities with high land prices are not only out pricing the poor but also the middle income group.

Paradox of housing shortage and vacant houses:  It is ironical that while there is so much housing shortage large number of new houses is also lying vacant. This is happening not only in high income categories for the purpose of speculation but also in low income housing where houses do not meet the requirement of the poor people. As much as 10.63 per cent of total urban houses in Punjab were recorded as vacant in the census of 2011. Nationally, according to the 2011 census, in urban India 12 million units are vacant; but the shortfall in housing is 18.78 million units. The crucial need is to ensure people get access to existing and new housing to lessen the burden to build newer units. This also means that if the incentive programme for the affordable housing is not designed and implemented well it may further incite misuse of subsidy available for affordable housing for speculationand defeat the purpose of meeting the housing need of all poor.

Provide land for affordable housing: The biggest barrier is unavailability of land for housing for the poor inside the cities. Land owning agencies across the country are unwilling to give tenable land for the housing of the poor – even if it is only 3 per cent of the city’s land. Unfortunately, new central policies like Housing for All and Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana do not include tenure security or land rights for the poor any more. The scheme offers no guarantee to provide any additional legitimacy or documentation for the urban poor living in slums, and is likely to perpetuate their vulnerability. These are credit Linked Subsidy Scheme. Without land tenure local governments do not provide legal services to slum settlements as the rest of the city. Over time some of these settlements get listed/notified by the local governments and become eligible to receive services. But for most part ‘illegality’ make the urban poor vulnerable. Urban services will have to be extended to all. Illegality can make resource management more challenging. Punjab will have to find a way to address this concern.

Provide affordable housing close to livelihood sources: While planning for housing for the poor it is important to ensure that they are not taken away from the city and basic services. Higher land and housing values can limit affordable housing units for low income groups and chronically poor groups in the city core and near the transit; and potentially stifle development of affordable or mixed-income housing projects. Therefore, regulations and safeguards must attach primacy to inclusionary zoning regulations and mandatory affordable housing. The transit oriented development policy and master plan are expected to address this.Also urban planning is pushing the poor to the urban periphery and disrupting their livelihood, increasing travel distances and costs. 

Ensure affordable housing scheme is working for the poor: Nationally pressure is building up from the real estate industry to relax the definition of EWS housing and increase the area and cost criteria for low income housing. The central government schemes have allowed the size to go upto 60 sqm metro cities. In fact the real estate body industry has requested the central government to allow upto 90 sqm. This, if allowed, will lead to misuse of government subsidy for high end and more expensive smaller studio units meant for high income group that EWS and LIG households cannot afford. This will reduce supply for the bottom rungincome groups where the shortfall is 96 per cent. Therefore, Punjab will have to ensure that these schemes truly provide for the intended target groups.  

Green building guidelines for affordable housing is still weak: Though massive subsidy will flow into the affordable housing sector, the guidelines on design and material for the affordable housing sector is still very nebulous and weak. Only recently an initiative has been launched by the National Housing Bank to frame guidelines to guide the investment in the sector. Building Material and Technology Promotion Council issued guidelines on use of material and innovation construction technology. There is very little awareness regarding application of architectural design and material that can help to improve the overall resource efficiency and energy efficiency of the structure and improve the quality of life of the poor.  There is very little knowledge about low cost material, innovative architectural design that can be easily applied in low cost housing for improved quality of life. There is little discussion on community management of common services to improve service quality and healthy environment. Or design building typologies aligned to the livelihood requirements of different occupational groups in the informal sector of economy.

Help poor households to construct their own houses and adopt green features: The massive scale of the self-constructed housing sector has stirred an interest in the need to provide professional help to improve quality and safety of the structures and the overall comfort level of the occupants. Self construction grows and expands incrementally as per affordability and convenience of the poor. Progressive action is evident in several cities where a niche group of progressive architects and community groups are now experimenting with design solutions for these homes. Such examples are available in Delhi, Mumbai and other places. They are also advocating that the occupants should get involved in planning, making financial contribution, and using innovative architecture to meet the needs of the poor communities. Efforts are being made to re-skill the local masons, plumbers and other construction workers to make improved skills more affordable to the local community. Almost all dwellings that have poor structural and design quality can be significantly improved. Some of the well known initiatives are Micro Home Solutions, Institute of Urbanology in Mumbai, Savda Ghevra in Delhi etc. 

Funding support for housing for the poor: The poor people find it very difficult to arrange formal finance from the banks. Most of them are not part of formal banking system. Therefore they cannot access formal housing finance so easily. Banks are not very active in sanctioning small ticket-size loans. Housing loans to weaker sections is decreasing every year. National Housing Bank reported 50 per cent drop in home loan sanctions for less than Rs. 2 lakhs; 25 cent drop in home loans upto Rs. 10 lakh between 2012-13 and 2013-14.

There is now considerable interest to tap the micro finance for financing of the housing of the poor.  According to the National Housing Bank study of 2010, in about seven states affordable housing micro-financing projects have started including cities like Mumbai and Ahmedabad. Institutions are not forthcoming as the margin of profit is low. Under the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana the EMI to be paid on loan taken will be reduced substantially. Though there is huge demand and poor people are willing to invest credit risk and transaction cost come in the way. This needs support. 

Way forward

There are big opportunities in Punjab cities to plan and integrate the housing requirement of the low income groups who are very important part of the informal sector and the overall urban economy. This is needed for more inclusive and healthy cities for the larger welfare.  Leverage the emerging policies to address the challenges in the sector. Also increasingly, private developers are being entrusted with more responsibilities and incentives to provide for affordable housing stock for the poor. State government will have to ensure that the real estate industry follows proper guidelines and norms, sustainability features as well as requirements of community level common services at affordable cost. Take immediate steps to address the following:

-- Land availability and tenurial security

-- Make formal finance system more inclusive and affordable

-- organize professional support for building design, quality construction; Build appropriate local skills

-- Build awareness about low cost design and material

-- Ensure private investment works for the poor and delivers on adequate and appropriate housing stock

-- Help create appropriate building typologies; develop rental housing for the poor

-- Need public engagement to promote community basedplanning for housing, local services and resources management