‘Everyone has the right to safe, decent, affordable housing’; Ar. Shashirekha

‘Everyone has the right to safe, decent, affordable housing’; Ar. Shashirekha

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How to tackle housing crisis – an architect’s vision; Ar. Shashirekha, Chief Architect, Space Studio Chennai

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Ar. Shashirekha, Chief Architect, Space Studio Chennai
photographs: Space Studio Chennai

‘Home is where the heart is’; at the heart of housing lays the signs of a society that is fair, sustainable therefore stable. Housing is a basic necessity for human habitation. A society that has its housing facilities structured can look forward to reduced crime rates and improved socio-economic conditions amongst its citizens.  Lack of affordable housing, poor standards of constructions, non-compliance to regulations, undue delays and malpractices in obtaining planning permits, default by developers and lack of balance between supply and demand are some of the crisis faced by the housing industry. Lack of other infrastructure like roads, transport, connectivity, sewage disposal and power distribution are other support systems that could pose a crisis to housing development.

The great housing paradox: Homelessness Vs Vacant Homes

As per 2011 census there are 1.77 million homeless people in India, there is a housing shortage of 18.78 million which includes homelessness, dilapidated homes and obsolescent home while at the same time 24.67 million homes are vacant. This gives us a sense of the scale of imbalance faced by our housing Industry.  

‘Everyone has the right to safe, decent, affordable housing’. Unfortunately, we have a situation in our urban landscape where a substantial number of built homes are vacant while homelessness is steadily on the rise. This indicates an imbalance in the nature of wealth distribution and in the facilitation of acquisition of homes for all. Most of the vacant homes are secondary property acquired and left unused and often times where unaccounted funds are invested in. There is a demand for smaller studio homes while most developers are focused on building larger dwelling units. The EWS (Economically Weaker Section) scheme does little to help as most of the homes are acquired as a dwelling unit for house helps and are owned by the more opulent home owners as a secondary or tertiary property.

Affordable Housing

Affordable housing is the need of the hour especially in a country like ours where the number of homeless people and housing shortage are huge in numbers. A housing project can be made affordable by building where the land cost is lower, by simplifying the planning permit process, by adopting affordable building methodologies and by building smaller dwelling units.

There is no incentive for a developer to promote an affordable housing project which reduces an opportunity for vested interest by the developer’s community. Government housing projects can be improved in terms of quality and quantity to bridge the gap between shortage and under usage.

“Affordable housing

brings stability, economic diversity

and improves the physical quality

of the neighborhood.”

John Woods

We need a major policy intervention to improve affordable housing thereby making housing accessible to all sections of our society. An access to a roof over one’s head can help improve the safety conditions of our society and can contribute towards enhancing the physical quality of our neighborhood. Adopting alternate construction techniques like pre-fabricated buildings and embracing varying materials for construction like sheet metal or pre cast walls can speed up the process while allowing for substantial savings in the cost of construction.

Slum Rehabilitation and not relocation

We needed them to understand it was not just getting in the house; it was staying in the house. They needed to understand the responsibility of home ownership – HELEN WAI

When slums are relocated there is unwillingness from the slum dwellers to relocate as this often means moving far away from their place of work or livelihood. It becomes important for the policy makers to consider high rise housing blocks within the dwellings instead of investing in infrastructure far removed from their existing habitation. This will help in improving the occupancy ration and to avoid renting or reselling of the dwelling.

Dilapidated and obsolescent Homes

A house is classified dilapidated if wall materials are of grass, thatch, bamboo, plastic or polythene, according to a census classification.

There has been a 28% increase in dilapidated housing from 10.3 million in 2001 to 13.2 million in 2011, according to Census 2011 data.

Obsolescent homes contribute to 12% of the urban housing shortage with a total number of 2.27 million homes in obsolescent condition as per 2012 census report. Obsolescent homes are a danger to the occupants and to the neighboring occupants and must therefore be refurbished or reconstructed. A government grant toward the same might largely improve the living conditions.

Aesthetic Crisis

We come from land of rich heritage and richness in detail in our heritage buildings. Over years we seem to have lost our penchant for aesthetic excellence and all we get to see around us as housing projects are dull, drab buildings that do not challenge the developer, excite the onlooker and rarely adds a cheerful streak to our built environment. As we observe our built environment we can see how repressive our social housing projects are in terms of aesthetic appeal and elegance quotient.

An aesthetically appealing housing project need not mean escalated cost but might only mean the right selection of a team of architects who are willing to work toward adding beauty to our built environment through concerted effort in crafting a careful composition of mass, colors and design elements.

The Poljane housing community is an example of what might have otherwise been a dull and drab building made to stand out by the use of cheery orange on its balconies.  Color selections, shapes and compositions can go a long way in creating aesthetic excellence at no added cost thereby enhancing the way we experience spaces and our built environment.

Poor Planning Standards

Poor planning standards can lead to cramped living conditions, inadequate lighting and ventilation that might affect the physical and mental health of its occupants. Proper spatial planning is fundamental to the success of any good housing project and for social housing projects. Poor planning processes and inadequate adherence to planning standards can sabotage the very cause for which a housing project is being promoted.  ‘An elevation is what we look at; A floor plan is what we live in’ therefore it becomes crucial to ensure a well thought out and coordinated planning process is involved in the design of our housing projects both at the level of an individual unit and at group housing levels.

Poor quality control during construction

Poor construction practices, developing companies headed by non technical persons, lack of knowledge base and inadequate quality control can lead to poorly constructed buildings that might become unsafe for its occupants.

Non compliance to regulations

Non compliance to regulations like setback regulations leads to congestion in housing. Stringent measures to ensure development control regulations are adhered will ensure better living conditions for the occupants and its neighbors.

Default by developers

Insurance policies to protect home owners in case of default by developers, more stringent screening process for large scale developments and protection for home owners against default builders are some aspects to consider to promote confidence amongst home buyers and to protect the interest of the investors and home buyers.

Delays in planning permits

Delays in planning permits, lack of transparency in obtaining the planning permits, complicated and exhausting approval process, malpractices, corruption, and lack of sensitivity by the approval authorities during approval process are some causes that escalate housing cost. A policy intervention that tracks the time taken for a plan to be approved must be brought into place with a shorter turnaround time that will encourage more honest professionals to embrace development projects. The present planning permit process does not allow for any honesty or sense of sanity to prevail during the process thereby making it tougher for genuine players to enter the market or to sustain and thrive in the market.

A country for housing for all becomes a reality will be a country that is safe, secure and fair to all its citizens. Housing for everyone is not a distant dream but an immediate need and everyone’s right. A thoughtful approach to housing projects planning and implementations, policy interventions and specific focus on the goal can make this dream a reality for all citizens of this beautiful nation.