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The Missing Typology

A couple of years back when the real estate market had just started feeling the pinch of overstocking of luxury housing, the real estate prices were beginning to ‘straightline’, and yet the citywide right for housing was a distant dream, we entered into a small debate about what it would mean to provide affordable housing.

The phrase in two years has seen numerous syntactical mutations, from becoming raison d’être of various public and political organisations to being christened noblesse obliges of private developers and corporates.

A plethora of planning literature has outlined the state of housing in the city with very convincing statistical figures and the fact remains that affordability of housing is not only the problem of urban poor but haunts an entire economic cross section of the city. What does Affordable Housing really mean? An internationally acceptable definition translates to roughly 4 to 5 years of annual household income.1 There is no threshold of minimum housing size in the definition. However, in Mumbai the popular notion of affordable housing, albeit propagated by various policies, define the affordable house at the minimum to be 269 sft of carpet area (25 sq. mt.) 2 In Greater Mumbai the lowest possible price for this unit is at Rs. 14 Lakhs which is way beyond affordability limit of even the median household whose income is pegged at Rs. 20,000 per month.3

The existing national and state mechanisms of housing production and policy target EWS and LIG households. The central schemes limit themselves to financial subsidies like RAY/PMAY, ISHUP and other HUDCO schemes given to the State government. While in turn the State government and its agencies limit themselves at policy level, leaving the actual production of housing mainly with the private sector.4 In addition, the state policy of providing free housing to slum dwellers has generated a domino effect whose repercussions are seen in real estate pricing, quality of housing and future demands by other sectors for similar concessions.

The resultant skyline of Mumbai is a product of these myopic cross subsidisation policies where a private developer is incentivised by added FSI for providing free or subsidised housing. In turn the developer has mastered a formula where it can get away with providing 25 sq mt units in a military barrack formation stacked up as high as 70mt tall without much consideration for the basic necessities of light, ventilation, sanitation or needs of the end user, open interactive spaces and the resultant social fabric, thus completely dehumanising urban living. The informal sector on the other hand had provided an indigenous opportunity of multifunctional, flexible, low rise high density typology where the community was grounded, literally, in a porous environment of live, work and play. The drastic difference in the conversion from slums into free or subsidised housing is the complete loss of social amenities, thus creating polarised environs of vertical ghettos on one hand and gentrification on the other. Except for certain infrastructural shortcomings (which haven’t improved in the redeveloped environment either) the life led in slums was much more humane. The debate on appropriation between increased densities and related social and physical infrastructure is yet to initiate. And hence the city has not seen any drastic change in its slum population.

1 Guidelines for Affordable Housing in Partnership (Amended), Ministry of Housing & Urban Poverty Alleviation (MHUPA), 2011. Here MHUPA defines affordability as 30 to 40% of monthly income. If this is spent in Equated Monthly Installments (EMI), 30% of monthly income at 2016’s interest rate roughly translates to 4 years of income, and 40% translates to 5+ years of income. 2 As per SRA and MHADA guidelines 3 Housing, FSI, Crowding and Densities, Handbook Vol. I Edited by Shirish B. Patel for Praja 4 Public housing by MHADA and MMRDA is limited to 5-7% of overall housing stock as per Policy Research Working Paper5475, November 2010, The World Bank.

The story isn’t much different for the rest of the market rate housing provided by various private and public agencies. The Development Control Regulations dictate the unit design on a micro level with its norms of area included under FSI. Over the years, developers have found a comfort zone in the easily monetized ‘BHK’ model. Essentially the residential unit is divided into Living/Dining, Kitchen and multiple numbers of Bedrooms which increase with increase in the price of the unit and define the economic status of the project. So 4 and 5 BHK residences indicate a HIG neighbourhood while 1 and 2 BHK would indicate a LIG/MIG community. Just like the work profile based on income has seen a paradigm shift, housing product has not evolved to accept a typological shift.

Today the income profile includes young professionals coming from various parts of the country, college freshers, educated aspirational youth who do not fit the conventional categories of EWS, LIG, MIG, HIG. This notion of rejection is not related to their income bracket but to the quality and typology of housing offered as a product. The private sector is yet to awaken themselves to include this populace into its sale component.

The need of the hour hence is not really to discuss how to reduce informal housing but to redefine formal housing completely. What are the fundamental flaws that gnaw at the roots of this mechanism of housing production? What is the appropriate model of housing that is affordable, humane and aspirational? What would the ‘Missing Typology’ of liveable affordable housing for all economic brackets look like?


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