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Unaffordable urban rentals leading to jhuggi jhopris, congestion, 'informal' housing

By Our Representative

A senior Housing and Urban Development Corporation (HUDCO) official has estimated that nearly 70% of the real estate workers have been affected following crisis that has struck the construction industries as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
Speaking at a webinar organized by the Impact and Policy Research Institute (IMPRI), New Delhi, Dr Akshay K Sen said, the worst hit are the migrant labourers who lived in rented accommodation because of lack of any economic activity. They had no income to pay for food and rent, which led to vast reverse migration.
Dr. Arjun Kumar, director, IMPRI, told the webinar, whose theme centred round rented housing in the glocalised real estate market, pandemic has brought into focus issues related with rental housing, non-ownership housing, housing continuum, housing deprivation and affordability in the context of housing rights.
While the focus for new housing should be on human health, social distancing and sanitization, he said, it is important to learn from international examples where rental housing is being subsidized through viability gap fund and subsidy vouchers. Rental housing needs to be made affordable, and for an institutionalize approach is required.
Piyush Tiwari, professor of property, Melbourne School of Design, University of Melbourne, Australia, said, the issue should be understood against the backdrop of the fact that India was experiencing reluctant urbanization. The country has about 30% of the population living in urban areas, which is low as compared to the other developed countries.
Prof Tiwari said, while deteriorating agriculture has led to migration to urban areas, inefficient land market has resulted in high land prices, which translate into increased housing prices. This has led to unaffordable houses, leading to congestion and informal housing.
Prof Tiwari said, quoting a study by Knight Frank in 10 major cities of India, more than 5 million houses are lying vacant because they are unaffordable to a large chunk of the population. Calculations show, below poverty line (BPL) households, on an average, would need to shell out 174% of their income if they were to rent these houses, while economically weaker sections would need to shell out 93% of their income.
A bigger challenge in India with regard to rental housing market, he said, was that most of the rental housing is being provided by individual landlords, which is a very informal market. Of these, registered rental agreements are very few. Mumbai has just about 200,000 registered agreements in a city of about 30 million houses. 
Sameer Unhale, urban practitioner, Maharashtra, pointing towards the dilemma with regard to jhuggi jhopdis as illegal housing, said that most it is on government land. Claiming that 90% of this housing was illegal, he said, leniency towards accessing government land and issues of ownership, if resolved, alone could implement housing policies.
Others who participated in the webinar included Dr Soumyadip Chattopadhyay, associate professor, Visva Bharati University; Darshini Mahadevia, professor Ahmedabad University, Ahmedabad; Mukta Naik, Fellow, Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi; Dhaval Monani, CEO, First Home Realty Solutions, Rajkot; and Pavan Dixit, Co-founder, Property360degree, Bengaluru.

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