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Thursday, August 18, 2022

For every affordable home built,a hundred aspirants in the queue

For 25 years now,Vivek Vanjare’s father,an office assistant in a private Mumbai firm,doggedly tried his luck each time the Maharashtra Housing and Area Development Authority came out with a housing scheme in the financial capital.

Lakhs of Mumbai residents are once again aspiring to own a house they can afford and are pinning their hopes on the few thousand on offer in the latest MHADA lottery scheme. But behind the scramble is a story of failure by successive governments to help create affordable housing and regulate the sector as well. A Newsline series goes beyond the long lines of people to examine the roots of the crisis and the way forward

For 25 years now,Vivek Vanjare’s father,an office assistant in a private Mumbai firm,doggedly tried his luck each time the Maharashtra Housing and Area Development Authority (MHADA) came out with a housing scheme in the financial capital. With his father due to retire soon and unlikely to get a home loan,the onus of finding that elusive affordable house has shifted to Vivek. And the latest MHADA application by the unemployed 21-year-old is his second,all in an attempt by the family of six to get out of their 140-sq ft,one-room chawl in suburban Kandivli.

Vivek is among the 8 lakh hopefuls who have collected forms since last month for the 3000-odd MHADA flats that are being made available apparently as a pre-election bounty. While the odds of luck favouring them are incredibly high as borne out by the numbers,another set of numbers lay bare the spectacular failure of government agencies in helping create affordable housing in one of the world’s most expensive and congested cities. According to data compiled by the MHADA,in the last three decades since its inception,its Mumbai board has contributed only 1 lakh flats and plots to the housing stock in a city that is home to over 1.3 crore people.

Making the withdrawal of the state from the housing sector even more glaring is the fact that in the three decades preceding the formation of the Mumbai board,the then Maharashtra Housing Board had also created a housing stock of only 1 lakh in the city. The population then was less than half of what it is today. With public housing being woefully inadequate and private property priced out of reach for most,a home in the proverbial city of dreams has remained just that — a distant dream.

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“The latest Economic Survey Report of Maharashtra shows that in 2006-07,in the whole of Maharashtra,MHADA constructed only 90 houses for the Economically Weaker Sections (EWS) while it constructed 1,113 flats for those in the Higher Income Group. While housing may be an issue across income categories,the poor show in the EWS category reflects badly in a country where 99% of the 25 million housing shortfall is in this section,” said Simpreet Singh of the Ghar Banao Ghar Bachao Andolan. In fact,statistics show that between 1995 and 1999,the authority did not build a single house in this category anywhere in the state.

Neera Adarkar,an architect who has authored a book on Mumbai’s mill lands,points out that the very fact that the middle and lower middle classes have been able to afford MHADA flats shows that the authority has done a commendable job. “But in the 1970s there was a policy shift which increased the dependence on the private sector to provide affordable housing. However,policies like the Urban Land Ceiling Act,which were introduced to achieve this goal,have been totally subverted in their implementation,” she said.

Adarkar adds that another blow to the creation of affordable housing stock came when the city lost out the chance to use mill lands for public housing. Under the original proposal,MHADA was to get nearly 200 acres of mill land for public housing but ended up getting a mere 28 acres following a change in government policy. Moreover,these plots were just big enough for houses for mill workers and for building transit accommodation for those living in dilapidated houses in the island city,leaving no vacant land for creating new public housing stock.

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“Even most of the bits and pieces that have been surrendered to MHADA are narrow stretches that are unusable for the developers,” said Adakar,who believes that the government has to intervene in a major way to increase public housing stock and force private developers to build genuinely affordable houses. “Merely increasing the Floor Space Index instead of increasing public land holdings will only result in high density and poor quality of life,” she added.

(Tomorrow: The state government’s FSI largesse in an election year)

First published on: 06-02-2009 at 12:37:08 am
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