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Govt policies for slum networking not sustainable, says authoritative World Bank paper

"In 1990s NGO-sponsored slum
networking was successful"
By Our Representative
A recent Policy Research Working Paper of the World Bank’s Sustainable Development Network Finance Economics and Urban Department, “Ahmedabad: More but Different Government for ‘Slum Free’ and Livable Cities” by a team of experts led by consultants Patricia Clarke Annez and Alain Bertaud, has reached the drastic conclusion that the flow of new private formal housing of all types is very low in Ahmedabad, probably only about 10 percent of total new production, which is itself only 2.4 percent of the existing stock. Therefore, it insists, “Shifting the share of new private housing into ‘affordable housing’ through reservations or public private partnership schemes such as in-situ slum rehabilitation will have only a very small impact on the large share of the population living in slums.” 
In a clear critique of the Gujarat government which wants public-private partnership (PPP) to take the centre-stage for affordable housing, the paper reveals, “Government produces about 5,000 units per year, showing a recent increase due to central program subsidies. Perhaps another 2,500 units could be provided by reservations for low-income housing — provided these reservations are actually enforced. We estimate that 4,22,000 households live in slums and challis. At a rate of 7,500 government sponsored units per year, it would take over 50 years to address the problem for today’s slum population alone”!
It underlines, “Even this ambitious performance would not provide for the additional households who cannot afford formal homes. Over the last ten years, on average 5,600 new households per annum, or 90 percent of our estimate of government capacity to provide new affordable housing directly, are added to the existing population in slums. These simple calculations – which abstract from many of the difficulties of using public housing as a path to slum free cities – nonetheless illustrate an important point.”
It adds, “The magnitude of the problem is such that public production of housing and reservations will not solve the problem. No matter how important public housing initiatives and affordable housing reservations may be—they cannot alone ensure that all of Ahmedabad’s families can live in a decent dignified home in a foreseeable future.”
In WB consultants’ assessment of changes in land use patterns and the physical patterns of supply of new homes suggest that government practices and policies are making housing more costly and out of reach of a large share of the population. “This is happening quite independently of government programmes to build public housing and enhance reservation policies. Our assessment shows many symptoms of a very tight land market. Development of the city over the last ten years shows developers moving out further into the periphery and economizing on land as they do.”
In fact, the paper says, “Built up densities even in the newly developed suburban areas are very high—higher than densities in the central business district of Ahmedabad (CBD). Formal developments are fragmented on the periphery—suggesting difficulties in obtaining plots for development. Overall density of built- up space in Ahmedabad is rising. Normally, as incomes rise, densities in formally developed areas go down, reflecting a taste for larger homes and more open space as incomes grow. Ahmedabad is going in the opposition direction.”
In aggregate, the paper insists, “households are economizing on land, even more than they did ten years ago when their incomes were lower. Government policies forces households and developers to use more land than needed to provide legal formal and well located housing.” These factors “make land difficult and costly to get. As a result, prices of land rise, and land becomes the most important factor in the cost of a home. Well located land is particularly scarce and particularly costly. This penalizes the lower income groups, who can ill afford either the cost of transport or the time for lengthy commutes.”
The paper castigates the government for further aggravating the problem with the General Development Control Regulations (GDCR). These regulations, it says, run into many pages, fix a number of land use and design parameters that make formal housing voracious consumers of land—the most expensive input to a home. “Setbacks, plot coverage limitations, requirements for parking and elevators impose upper middle class tastes on new formal development. These standards are set throughout the city, allowing no variation by neighborhood. These regulations have made it impossible to continue to build ‘vernacular’ traditional developments that now make up a large share of the housing stock in Ahmedabad. These developments are pleasant, affordable, and use land more effectively than the standard apartment building developments that are the lowest cost formal options in Ahmedabad. “
The paper believes, “Vernacular neighborhoods economize on land and privacy to emphasize more living space, but these options are not legal and could not get formal approval. Regularizing tenure in such developments would also be costly and risky, since an early step in the process is demolition of any substandard buildings.”
The paper also believes that the communal violence in 2002 reduced the momentum of the slum networking programme (SNP), which existed till then. “A more lasting constraint has been the introduction of alternative, highly subsidized housing programs under the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM) established in 2005”, it further argues, adding, “This programme has diverted government attention from the scalable and cost – effective SNP approach.”
The result is there for all to see. “Today, even after Ahmedabad Urban Development Authority has substantially accelerated its building programme to about 5,000 houses per year, only about 11 percent of the housing stock is public. No slum redevelopment schemes have been fully negotiated, much less completed, and the provision of low-cost housing through reservations, to the extent it is monitored and measured, falls short of the stipulated production.”
It adds, “Promises of government provision of formal affordable housing cannot be met for the over four lakh (4,22,000) households in slums and chawls. It is neither feasible nor affordable. Relying on such promises draws government energy and managerial resources from less glamorous but more cost effective slum improvement programs that offer such tangible benefits to their communities and their neighbors — and it creates unrealistic expectations in communities.”
Consultants believe, “Ahmedabad could achieve dignified and decent housing for all if it took strong steps to build a multi-pronged, low-cost housing programme, with its own home grown initiative, the slum networking programme, as the foundation that could provide results at scale—reinvigorated with strong support from government.”
In fact, things began in mid-1990s, but came to a grinding halt after the 2002 riots. “The SNP, started in the mid-1990s, was successful in establishing a model that worked at scale, benefitting over 14,000 households. The model comprised the following features:
* Provision of seven basic services based on consultations with beneficiaries: water (inhouse connection), underground sewerage connection to each house, in house private toilet, roads, solid waste collection, storm water drainage, and street lighting. The total cost of these services in the late 1990s and early 2000s averaged Rs 22,000 per household.
* Beneficiaries contributed roughly 10 percent of costs (the Municipal Corporation lowered the share from the originally proposed 33 percent. Beneficiaries would have contributed more. Indeed many were incredulous that such a package would be provided for such a small contribution. It was not uncommon to pay Rs 5000 just to get an illegal water line.
* The program offered scope for local politicians to assist their constituents. They could pay up to one half of the beneficiary contribution provided they did so for all households in a given community.
* NGOs were mobilized to organize community based organisations (CBOs) in each slum. These were responsible for collection of contributions, work out a revised site plan acceptable to the community to accommodate infrastructure, and coordinate demolitions by the households themselves (Some households lost part of their housing units. However, negotiations across the NGOs, the community and the corporation resulted in design standards that minimized such demolitions.) A fee per household was paid to the NGO by the Corporation to defray their organization costs The community supervised the quality of the works, and had the final sign off for disbursing their share of costs. Beneficiary contributions were collected in an escrow account that only the CBO had authorization to release once they were satisfied with the completed works.
* Women’s involvement and engagement in making the program work was recognized, with women’s name coming first on title and on utility bills when SEWA Bank financed.
* Households covered by the program received a ten year non-eviction guarantee from the Municipal Corporation, but did not receive clean tenure for their land parcels—a clear impossibility in many cases. 
* Payments to NGOs were often delayed and sometimes not paid at all. This approach, along with the requirement that NGOs finance 30 percent of the community organization costs undermines the scalability of the programme.
* The participation of the NGOs was critical for building the trust of the slum households to contribute to a scheme. Unfortunately, slum dwellers are commonly approached by people promising service connections against payment. But the promises either do not materialize or the services disappoint. The presence of a well-established NGO that potential participants could visit or whom they already knew, made a big difference.

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