Focus on housing and the poor
The draft Kerala Housing and Habitat Policy 2007 of the State Government indicates a move towards progress in step with modern times. Of significance is that it may encourage private players to take up pro-poor projects, writes SHYAMA R
HOUSING FOR ALL: The Housing Board had been building apartment complexes like these. But a widening inequity in access to housing has marked the construction scene in recent years.
With much happening in construction, the State Government can no longer ignore the infrastructure needs of the sector.
Coming out with a draft Kerala Housing and Habitat Policy 2007, the Government is looking into legal and regulatory issues, pressure on land for housing and generation of employment to streamline development in the sector.
The draft policy indicates a move towards progress in step with modern times, with options for foreign direct investment (FDI) and public-private partnership. It may encourage private players to take up pro-poor projects.
The Government has not yet considered FDI, but events elsewhere in the country cannot be ignored, Lida Jacob, Secretary, Housing, says. The Government will come up with a full-fledged policy on this when required. A Malaysian agency has shown interest in investment in the sector, Ms. Jacob says.
Even when industrial development had taken a back seat, housing continued to be one of the key investment sectors since the mid-1970s. The State’s economy had been growing with a gradual increase of high investment in housing, which is expected to touch Rs. 6,000 crore annually, the draft policy says.
The result, of course, is the large number of employment opportunities it throws up. The Government wants to streamline investments and train personnel in the construction sector into skilled workers. An estimated 10-lakh houses are required in urban and rural areas, calling for an investment of about Rs. 28,000 crore and covering the needs of all groups. An estimated seven-lakh houses are unoccupied. The Government is planning to amend the rent control Act to enable people to rent out these vacant houses without fear, Ms. Jacob says.
The draft policy sees housing affecting the status of people in multiple ways. It says that additional investment in the housing or construction sector can generate jobs numbering eight times the direct employment opportunities. The Government thus sees this sector as a major source of employment.
The draft policy correlates adequate housing as an indicator of the health status of the occupants. “On account of health and income considerations, housing is a very important tool to alleviate poverty and generate employment.”
Housing for the poor is one of the key areas in which the Government has not been able to do much. Mostly, houses of the poor are dilapidated. Further, housing schemes for this section are targeted at those who own two cents of land. This keeps out all the landless peoplet.
Though the State’s social indicators are much better than those in the rest of the country, a sizeable population does not own a piece of land. The Census 2001 figures indicate that 51.8 per cent of the population live in permanent houses and 30 per cent in semi-permanent dwellings in the country.
Correspondingly, the State has 68 per cent of the population in permanent houses and 21.6 per cent in semi-permanent houses. On an average, a house in the State has three rooms against the national figure of two.
Private housing sector has been on the upswing during the last five years, when the State’s economy started opening up a bit, welcoming developmental initiatives in various sectors. But then, housing for the poor went a step back in the last three years or so, as land value appreciated as much as 10 times in many places, especially Kochi and nearby areas.
Government support and initiatives have been there to construct houses for the poor in the last decade through various departments. However, the quality of constructions for the economically weaker sections has been poor, who have not been able to make them durable assets with appreciating values. The draft policy says the Government will initiate steps for sustainable housing among the poor.
The State’s landscape is in for a change, going by the draft policy.
The terrain is now marked with independent houses scattered across an area, though land for building has become scarce.
According to the draft, this pattern has put tremendous pressure on land with the increasing population. Houses leave little space for natural vegetation. The Government will take up schemes to construct three-storey houses under the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission, Ms. Jacob says.
More imaginative use of land can be made with such a system. Most other States have embarked on such projects, she adds.
However, all settlements, whether in the private or the Government sector, need to follow environmental-friendly laws that mandate a part of the house plot to be left free of construction for greening and landscaping.
Besides the lack of purchasing power, the Government’s building regulations are a deterrent to the poor in getting a house for themselves.
Market forces have now undone what land reforms have achieved earlier by equitable distribution of land. Housing inequality has widened in the State, the draft says. Although the gap between supply and demand has come down, more than 8 per cent of the families live in extremely poor quality houses against 5.6 per cent at the national level. Large slums, as in metro cities, are not seen here, but a concentration of sub-standard houses with overcrowding and unsanitary conditions can be seen in rural and urban pockets. According to Government estimates, there was a shortage of 63,000 housing units in 2001, but the number of dilapidated houses was 5.38 lakh.
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