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Housing for all: Build it block by block

On World Architecture Day which is today, architect Nisha Soares reflects on the housing scenario in India and finds it sorely lacking

The place I call home

A poor and lonely citizen am I

In search of a better life I move

To cities as big and dense

In search of jobs for a

family to improve

When will it ever come to exist?

A time where in happiness I shall shalom

A time when I will finally find

The place I call home!

The above lines are penned not just in a moment of literary inspiration but mirror the voices and aspirations of millions of people living in our country. When will they be able to live with dignity and security in the place called home? These are questions the urban poor have in their minds every single day of their existence. Today as we celebrate World Architecture Day, a day declared by Union International des Architects (UIA) to remind the world of its collective responsibility for the future of human habitat. As the theme this year is housing for all, let us take time to retrospect on whether we have been able to fulfill this need.

The problem

Famed architect Charles Correa, who was a patron in the field of architecture and urbanism and who was known for his work on low-cost housing and urban planning had said, “People don’t come to cities for housing. They come for a job which is why they are willing to sleep on the roads. But then, they also need water, healthcare eventually education for their children. But we have failed to have provided for any of it.”

The housing problem and challenges faced today is a national problem. It cannot be solved in a piecemeal like manner. It has to be addressed holistically and collectively. While the numbers of second homes and holiday homes are on the rise among the affluent, there are still millions of people who go homeless every single day. What is worrying is the alarming escalation of the non formal housing settlements such as urban shanties, illegal colonies, legally notified slum areas, industrial tenements, etc.

In Goa, the scene is mostly in the form of slums such as industrial tenements housing the labourers who come to work in industrial units across the state in Tuem, Zuarinagar, etc. 

Areas needing attention in housing

Despite the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojna (PMAY) that promises housing for all by 2022 and increased budgetary allocations for the same, we have not been able to achieve the quantum and quality of homes for all.

Some of the areas of housing both in the formal and informal settlements which need attention but haven’t been addressed as yet are: 

Forced evictions both natural and man-made.

The problem of notifying and making informal settlements legal

Need for resilient homes from natural and manmade disasters.

Densities in housing are escalating putting pressure on land, resources and infrastructure.

Thousands of homes are kept unused and locked merely as second homes

Housing needs to be made affordable for lower income groups.

The housing challenge is also an opportunity

Today, the housing challenge can be seen as a great opportunity for architects. To find out how let us first understand the market. One billion or 1/6th of the world’s population lives in slums. By 2030 this number will triple. Affordable housing in India is a 13, 00,000 crore market opportunity. This is a market that architects need to consider. Imagine, if we found a way to close the affordable housing gap by 50 per cent by 2030, how many architects, engineers, carpenters, electricians, brick layers, etc., would be needed?

Some staggering numbers

We need to adopt an integrated approach to sustainable housing at all levels to make it environmentally sound (reduced resource use), economically viable ( both financial and sustenance based) and socially resilient (community building). Adequate housing is the need of the hour for the marginalized sections of the society. Unless concerted efforts are adopted by both the central and state governments to implement and realize their schemes in the right time frame, the targets of ‘housing for all’ will continue to remain mere rhetoric.

The writer is assistant professor in architecture, Goa College of Architecture and executive committee member, Indian Institute of Architects- Goa chapter

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