Affordable housing: Grappling with the challenge of accessibility
Despite being one of the largest and fastest-growing economies in the world, India is also home to one of the largest homeless populations in the world. According to the 2011 census, 1.77 million people are homeless in the country—of this, 127,809 are in the state of Maharashtra. It is safe to assume these numbers have changed over the past few years. But the fact remains that housing is a basic necessity for survival. And as the second most populous nation in the world, housing for all becomes all the more pertinent in India.
Estimating a shortage of over 18 million homes and to address the need for affordable housing for the economically weaker sections of society, Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana (PMAY) in 2015.
Despite being one of the largest and fastest-growing economies in the world, India is also home to one of the largest homeless populations in the world. According to the 2011 census, 1.77 million people are homeless in the country—of this, 127,809 are in the state of Maharashtra. It is safe to assume these numbers have changed over the past few years. But the fact remains that housing is a basic necessity for survival. And as the second most populous nation in the world, housing for all becomes all the more pertinent in India. Estimating a shortage of over 18 million homes and to address the need for affordable housing for the economically weaker sections of society, Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana (PMAY) in 2015. The government has set upon an ambitious target of developing 22 million affordable houses by 2024. This is one of the most important initiatives for spurring growth in real estate. To ensure the affordable housing scheme does not get derailed, some key aspects need to be examined. Let’s take a closer look. Current situation According to the Economic Survey 2020-21, 109.2 lakh houses have been sanctioned under PMAY (Urban) as on January 18 2021, of which 70.4 lakh houses have been grounded and construction of 41.3 lakh has been undertaken since the inception of the scheme in June 2015. Construction of approximately 1.94 crore rural houses has been completed under the PMAY (Gramin) since 2014-15, of which 1.22 crore houses have been constructed under the revamped scheme of PMAY-G and 0.72 crore under the erstwhile Indira Awaas Yojana scheme. Challenges facing industry Affordable housing is only affordable when it lands at the periphery of the city. According to Gurjot Bhatia, Managing Director, Project Management, CBRE India, Middle East and North Africa, this problem persists in every city as the land prices of certain areas skyrocket owing to various reasons. Affordable housing projects are forced to be on the outskirts of the city either because of unavailability of adequate land for developing a mass housing project or because the price of the land is exorbitant, making the project unviable. According to Arun Nanda, Chairman, Mahindra Lifespace Developers & Mahindra Holidays & Resorts, the definition of affordable housing is when the weakest sections of the society are capable of buying a house. “Normal wisdom is that people can afford to buy a house with four to five years of gross income. People earning Rs 15,000 a month cannot afford to buy a house of more than Rs 8 lakh.” “The biggest challenge this sector is facing is accessibility,” says Bhatia. There is a need to utilise the earning and opportunities from more expensive parts of cities and plough them back into creating opportunities where affordable housing projects become viable and achievable; where people can travel to work every day even while living in the outskirts of the city. Projects at the peripheral locations of the city grapple with connectivity and infrastructure issues. Thus, developing road and social infrastructure in such locations with the help of PPP models could be beneficial in enhancing the marketability of projects. “There is a need for proper connectivity to make these projects viable,” agrees Nanda. “For instance, what worked for Mahindra World City Chennai was that I picked up a site next to the railway station and put a station there. The train started stopping; Infosys, Wipro and other companies were all there, and we were able to create 1 lakh jobs.” In Bhatia’s view, “There is a need to use mass production initiatives and look at affordable housing as more of an industrial initiative and think about making these mass housing projects factory-ready and factory-finished.” This can certainly help control quality of construction and sustainability. There are lower hanging fruits today like NDZ. Nanda believes that if NDZ land is not used for housing. He adds, “But if you say NDZ will be used for less than 300 sq ft and less than Rs 30 lakh, the land cannot be misused and the houses can be auctioned through Maharashtra Housing and Area Development Authority (MHADA).” Technology is the answer Dubai and most of Europe have been built using precast technology. According to Ankur Gupta, President, Katerra, “Moving a major portion of construction activity from site to factory helps produce goods and materials under controlled conditions. Therefore, everything from curing of concrete and cement and quality of construction to specifications comes out under controlled conditions.” Because of the Real Estate Regulatory Authority (RERA), accountability has become the central theme in the real-estate sector. With accountability and emphasis on timely delivery of projects, precast becomes a logical choice. Wider acceptance of modular construction and precast is the way forward. “If the construction process is split into two parts, one onsite and one offsite, buildings will be able to come up twice as fast, better looking with better quality and sustainability,” believes Gupta. A good quality Slum Rehabilitation Authority (SRA) block can be built in much less time than with conventional construction using factory-produced modular construction technology. “We can build complete bathrooms in the factory, where we have a concrete bathroom, the WC and shower installed, plumbing and electrical done,” he shares. “Then, all one has to do is take it out of the factory, put it on a truck, put it on a site and connect it up.” According to Gupta, this replication of structures can help reduce construction time and costs further, leading to large-scale construction resulting in price competitiveness. It would be a win-win situation for the developer and end-users; the developer will be able to get a return in one year instead of two-and-a-half years because of faster completion of projects and end-users will get their apartment delivered on time. “Against the backdrop of a pandemic where we have seen the mass exodus of migrant labour from bigger cities to their hometowns, precast technology can facilitate construction even in the absence of an adequate workforce,” shares Gurjot. Indeed, speed of execution, efficiency and affordability are the need of the hour! - PRAHARSHI SAXENA