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IIM-A's Ahmedabad slum study tells US policy makes: Slum networking failed, no need to offer support

Counterview Desk
A top Indian Institute of Management-Ahmedabad (IIM-A) study by three experts -- Sharon Barnhardt, Erica Field and Rohini Pande with the IIM-A, Duke University, and Harvard University, respectively – has said that a slum networking project to relocate slum dwellers, begun in 1987 and implemented six years later in Ahmedabad, was a total flop. The study, based on spot surveys, particularly notices “lack of socioeconomic improvement among” among those who agreed to be relocated. Even after the relocation, it adds, the relocated persons experienced a “high exit rate”. It concludes, “The long-run economic value of this fairly expensive public programme was close to zero.”
What makes the study significant is that it was funded and sponsored by institutes associated with the US Department of Labor, the Harvard University and the Exxon Mobil Foundation. The relocation began following a housing lottery floated among Ahmedabad’s slum-dwellers, 76 per cent of whom lived in the “relatively dense East and Central administrative zones” of the city, and the rest in the middle of the city. In all, 110 out of 497 participants had the opportunity to move out of their slum area and into “improved” housing on the city's periphery, about 7.5 miles away.
The study regrets that even in terms of home-ownership, none of the relocated managed, even at the end of the lease period (2013), to purchase their home, hence “the programme failed to increase rates of home ownership”. It tells American policy makers: “The main policy lesson is that it is very hard to make public housing relocation programmes sufficiently attractive for the poor in developing countries to take them up”, even as identifying “destruction of social capital that comes from reshuffling slum communities” as the main welfare loss, which “cannot be so easily rebuilt.”
“Fourteen years after housing assignment, relative to lottery losers, winners report better housing conditions farther from the city center, but no change in family income or human capital”, the study says, adding, “Winners also state increased isolation from family and caste networks and lower access to informal insurance. In particular, they are significantly less likely to know someone they can rely on for borrowing needs and report fewer informal transfers in the event of shocks.”
The study, which is titled "Moving to Opportunity or Isolation? Network E ects of a Slum
Relocation Program in India", underlines, “Our results suggest that the benefits of improved suburban housing were offset by its drawbacks in the form of destruction of social capital, pointing to the importance of considering social networks when designing housing programs for the poor.”
Calling it a “unique experimental opportunity” supported, notably, by one of the most reputed NGOs calling itself trade union, Self-Employed Women's Association (SEWA), in partnership with the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation, all those who were surveyed worked as piece-rate bidi making workers, hence belonged to the informal sector. However, the study is quick to add, though it was a non-government programme, its nature was similar to “housing projects for low-income urban populations organized by state and federal housing authorities of India.”
“Fourteen years after housing allocation, slum-dwellers who won the opportunity to relocate to objectively higher-quality housing in a safer and cleaner location were no better off on a variety of socio-economic measures than those who were not given the same opportunity to leave the slums. In particular, the economic well-being of lottery winners and losers was similar in terms of current income, labour force participation, household health, and child outcomes”, the study says.
The data collected by the experts suggest that only 46 per cent of those who were relocated continued living in the unit they won in the lottery just two-and-a-half years they decided to move. Even 14 years after the programme was implemented, the study says, the average respondent at the relocated site lived “2.3 miles from the city centre, measured as a straight line, and a 17-minute walk to the nearest school.” It adds, “A detailed family health index suggests similar health outcomes across the two groups. We also observe comparable levels of educational attainment for children completing 7.5 years of schooling on average.”

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