Wednesday, December 20, 2006

"Affordable Housing" by TOI

TOI's real estate expert Chetan Narain writes a weekly column on saturdays. This time he discusses affordable housing in Mumbai where 70% of the city lives in slums. Ofcourse his idea of affordable housing is 7k/sq ft.

We have often heard these words "affordable housing" and it is a necessity in a city like Mumbai. But more often than not, people in power use this as a "tool" to win hearts (read: Votes). There is a clear mismatch between expectation (planned development) and what has happened or is happening.
Not so long ago, around 1985 Lokhandwala Complex in Andheri west, was developed. During that time this location was an affordable location for folks looking for an option to live in the suburbs and not wanting to go further north of Andheri. It offered a variety of one, two, three and four bedroom type apartments and bungalows too. That way it managed to absorb a huge demand for affordable housing for nearly everyone.
Around 1988, our family decided to move from a two-bedroom apartment to a four-bedroom. One thing we were clear of was we would look at any other location but Lokhandwala. Why, because it was too far deep into Andheri and not a very upmarket address then. We searched all of Juhu and Juhu Scheme for our dream home but to our disappointment found nothing in our "limited budget". Finally we decided to look at other locations and stumbled upon a beautifully planned four-bedroom apartment at half the cost of Juhu, guess where? At Lokhandwala! All of a sudden it made perfect sense and we went ahead and bought the place. The point I am trying to make is, that the location offered "affordable housing" to us with other factors and comforts we were looking for.
Who deserves "affordable housing"? What is "affordable housing"?
You, me everybody deserves "affordable housing" and why not? Don't we work hard and save money to buy ourselves a home? Don't we pay taxes, direct and indirect, through VAT/Duties and other taxes all the time? "Affordable housing" is not for someone who can't afford it at all, it is for someone who can't stretch their budget beyond a certain limit (after borrowing too). They are the ones who deserve such housing and locations designated.
There was a lot of hue and cry lately on Lokhandwala Complex/ Oshiwara being a location reserved for affordable/low income housing only and how developers with vested interests misused it. I think this is where we are forced to believe we are governed by a bunch of goons who play dirty politics. Look at the growth pattern in pricing: From a period of 1985 to 1990 the prices hovered around Rs 1,600 to 2,400 per square foot. After 1991 there was a price rise in property across the city and Lokhandwala was on the rise too. The prices scaled upto Rs 4,000 to 5,500 only go down by 2000 -2001 to Rs 2,500 to 3,500. Today, once again the prices are up and scaled higher than the early 1990's rise to a range of Rs 5,500 to 9,000. Somehow today's pricing may have irked a 'few' to raise issues. But don't the folks who bought their properties way back deserve the appreciation of their property values?
At some point somewhere, the less expensive location does become more affordable to the wallet. Lokhandwala is less expensive than Bandra and Juhu and hence more affordable.
In each location one can earmark a sub location for low-income housing but to zone an entire location would be unfair to others. A classic example of what a mess the government can make when they get involved in housing would be MHADA near Lokhandwala Complex. It was supposed to be World Bank's
pet project for "affordable housing." I am happy for the folks who have secured homes for themselves to live in, but really disappointed with the planning. It bears a look just like Lajpath Nagar in Delhi; they have attached row houses one after the other, which is not the problem. The problem is, something that was built and supposedly planned as recent as 1995-96 missed out on details for walking pavements, parking for guests and visitors, vegetable and fruit markets etc.
Recently, there was a newspaper article on the increase of FSI proposed by a panel with regard to "affordable housing" and future needs of the city. Such a decision to take in a democratic country is not easy for the Government. For example, if the FSI was increased from 1 to 4 it would create disparity with people/groups and in prices within locations. But I strongly feel, we will have to train ourselves to accept that such moves will only benefit the city if planned right. Growing vertically will only create more open spaces and help us have a de-congested look. Others may benefit through FSI increase and you may not, but we will have to learn to live with it. It is just like going into Tax benefit/holiday zones like Daman. Not everyone went there and set up Industry. Whoever went there benefited in tax savings. It does not mean someone sitting in Vikhroli or Thane with a factory can complain or moan. With the right attitude and planning there is room for everyone in this city.

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