A place called home

A place  called home

The state of housing in Pakistan is anything but satisfactory. A State Bank of Pakistan Report from 2020 says that the country faces a housing shortage of 10.3 million units. Urban housing shortage stands at 3.4 million units while rural housing deficiency is around 6.9 million units. Given that about half of Pakistan’s population will be living in urban areas by 2040, the situation shall become worse. One must remember that after food and clothing, housing is the most essential human need.

The perception of a decent life, as enshrined in our constitution, is impossible without access to proper housing. Experts say that the annual housing need shall rise to 1.24 million units per annum by 2025. It is obvious that since adequate housing delivery is not happening currently, the backlog will continue to rise. About 62 percent of the housing need is connected to low-income groups. Reports says that with Rs 30,000 income per month, the poorest of households find it impossible to save to invest in any kind of housing stock, formal or informal. Supply of land for housing the poor, especially in cities, makes a foremost policy issue. Large cities, such as Karachi, face it more than others.

A field review of Karachi’s low-income neighbourhoods concluded that land in the existing schemes is very expensive. At present, developed land in only a few locations is available for ready occupancy. Surjani Town, Metroville-3, Shah Latif Town and Scheme No 33 are prominent amongst these. On the average, a plot measuring 80 sq yards costs between Rs 3,250,000 and Rs 3,500,000. This payment has to be made within a negotiated period. Usually, the time does not exceed six months. For lower income groups with meagre savings and virtually no asset base, it is impossible to make use of this option.

Besides, the cost of land is only a part of the required investment. Cost of basic construction and infrastructure is about the same value. Altogether, it may take a bare minimum of Rs 6 million per unit to obtain a house in formally planned localities. The stretch of time does not go beyond 1-2 years depending upon the urgency of the respective household. No subsidy of any kind is available in this case. Under the present inflationary situation, rising cost of essential construction materials is making the housing options further inaccessible. Even middle-income groups will now find standard choices very tough.

When land supply schemes for the poor and low-income groups are devised, these are made available without checking whether the allottees are really poor or otherwise. Previously launched schemes in Taiser Town and a few other locations have repeated the same mistakes. As a norm, allotments are done through computer ballot. Many investors apply in these schemes through multiple applicants and through front men. The needy groups are barely able to file effective applications. Even when their applications are accepted, the probability of winning an allotment is lower than those filing multiple applications.

Experts say that the annual housing need shall rise to 1.24 million units per annum by 2025. It is obvious that since adequate housing delivery is not happening, the backlog will continue to rise.

The time lag between allotment and possession of a plot is substantial. Households in need of shelter usually require land immediately in order to begin construction. In formal schemes, the time gap between announcement and disposal of plots with physical possession may take as long as five years. Development, infrastructure and documentation charges are added on the top of the nominal cost of plot, rendering the option more expensive.

Besides, the provision of the connection of any service does not guarantee its supply. For instance, surveys have shown that a majority of small plot category settlements in Surjani Town do not receive a drop of water from the sanctioned water connections. They obtain supplies through alternative means such as donkey carts, awami tanks or tankers. With the passage of time, the state land reserves have greatly shrunk.

In the event of non-availability of formal options, the poor used to access the informal housing options in katchi abadis. 15.9 percent of the net land in Karachi was grabbed under organised and unorganised invasions as well as illegal sub-division of state land. This option functioned well till such time that the raw land resources were available along the peripheries of the city. The intensifying urban sprawl has expanded the low-density low-rise developments far and wide. It is the middle and low middle income groups that traditionally reside in these settlements. The poor have to move further away with a drag on their household budgets due to soaring commuting costs.

The creation of informal settlements often requires direct political patronage. Workers of the political party in power, state officials, law enforcement personnel and religio-political elements are dominant categories. In desperation, the most needy are found to squat along the nullahs, railway tracks, creeks and corridors of infrastructure such as high tension wires. During encroachment-removing drives, they are occasionally removed from these locations. However, due to weak monitoring of land development, settlers return with the connivance of concerned officials. It is for this reason that scattered groups of poor have to resort to living in sub-standard over-crowded conditions or in places from where they are regularly evicted.

Across the developed and developing would, rental housing used to be a common alternative for housing the less privileged. The state used to provide subsidy to make adequate housing available to most people. With the advent of market economy preferences, the subsidies have decreased. However, through intelligent combination of situational needs and financial packages, public housing or mass housing options were kept alive. Inputs by philanthropists and corporate donors have been instrumental in improving the provision of housing to low-income groups.

In our context, rental housing option is extremely underdeveloped. The law greatly favours the tenants with practically no reprieve for property owners. Administrative indifference, lengthy litigation in cases of disputes, lack of respect for contractual arrangements, damage to the property and use of muscle power to resolve conflicts are some of the reasons the rental housing strategies have remained undeveloped. Local and provincial governments will do well to bring some reforms to tenancy conditions and make it a favourable option for small and medium scale entrepreneurs.

Published in The News By Noman Ahemd 10 December 2023