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Out of my head

November 3, 2018

The housing question

Opinion

November 3, 2018

Let’s talk some more about the PM’s housing scheme. We’ve already covered how financing the Kaptaan’s pet project isn’t going to be easy (more like, impossible) but let’s take a closer look at the some of the logistics.

I assume they’re planning to complete five million homes in five years (or just in time for – you guessed it – the next elections). By the time the project gets going, we will be left with 1642 days – assuming, of course, that nobody’s going to take a single day off in that period (assuming also that Khadim Hussain Rizvi isn’t going to get another bee in his bonnet somewhere along the line and hold the country hostage for weeks on end).

Meaning that the Kaptaan’s men will huff and they will puff and build your houses up at the rate of 3000(!) per day. Meaning 36,000 (!) per month. We aren’t talking about piddly little shacks either. These are homes costing 50 lacs each (solidly middle class and probably not in the range of those who need help the most). Maybe billionaire Aneel Mussarat’s 10,000 real-estate developers will be inspired by a speech from the Kaptaan and fight like cornered tigers and pull off a miracle.

So logically, financially, logistically speaking, the five million homes project looks like a pipe (ahem!) dream. But even if it were practically possible, is it something we should really be aiming for? Let me quote a few facts and figures with the help of leading architect, town planner and globally recognised housing development expert, Babar Khan Mumtaz (yes, he’s related – so sue me).

According to him, the “housing problem” is one of quality – not quantity – caused not so much by lack of finance or capability but by the legal frameworks and their application by urban authorities.

Let me try and summarise what Babar Mumtaz is saying. The perceived housing shortage of 10 million units (and growing) is attributed to prohibitive costs or paucity of land. However, the facts are that 90 percent of all Pakistanis (80 percent in urban areas) own their houses. There are very few katcha houses: 96 percent of the urban houses (70 percent of rural houses) have brick walls and proper roofing. Only two percent of houses have any formal housing loans. So ‘housing finance’ and ‘affordability’ aren’t really problems. Neither is the availability of land: by increasing the density of all the existing, developed urban land twice the current population of our cities could be accommodated.

However, the continuing rural-urban migration resulting in slums and katchi abadis is another matter. Fifty percent of the urban population lives in katchi abadis and up to 75 percent in slums. The rural migrants come for jobs and services, not ‘housing’ – they already have that. But they end up in katchi abadis which are initiated by ‘knowledge’ of the land market and police and political protection and which lack basic amenities.

More housing units are probably not the answer to this particular problem – most government housing projects have not resulted in any significant production of houses and many have ended up in the transfer of public land to private developers without a single house being built.

So, what the Kaptaan’s ‘housing’ project should be aimed at is improving the infrastructure of katchi abadis – that is where the real problem is. What you need is better, safer water supply and better, safer sanitation as well as security of tenure. Most of the katchi abadis are, by the current official definition, on “public” land. Transfer that land directly to the households or the abadi as a whole instead of via developers.

Katchi abadis and their residents should be allowed access to financing for the uplift of their localities as well as individual households to improve, upgrade and extend (vertically) their houses, making them more energy efficient, ecologically sound and offering greater space. The original ‘public’ owner (for example, Pakistan Railways) can be offered undeveloped land.

This will cost a whole lot less, is completely practical and will provide assistance to those who need it the most. But is anybody listening?

The writer is a freelance columnist.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @KhusroMumtaz

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