In May last year, Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis announced a Housing-for-All initiative aimed at providing 19 lakh affordable homes by 2022 — a large chunk of which will be in Mumbai too. That’s a huge challenge considering that the Mumbai Metropolitan Region or MMR alone has 13 lakh slum-dwellings. How can affordable housing projects work then? Urban planners such as Shirish Patel, who was involved with the planning of Navi Mumbai, developers and other experts have suggested that affordable housing can be effective when it is planned around mass transit but that would mean land costs would be higher. That’s why many developers end up building affordable homes in areas which are far away from city centres or a bit disconnected from major hubs in the city. The result — low occupancy rates. So, if policymakers want to effectively target affordable housing units, key factors would be low travel costs and the time taken, says the paper. That, in turn, would mean the government stepping in and providing services such as water, power and transport connections to the doorstep, to keep affordable home costs low.
That alone won’t do. Here are some of the suggestions of experts outlined in the briefing paper. Timelines for approvals for housing projects should be predictable and shorter, say, three months at the most, a simplified approval process and a differentiated bylaws for affordable housing projects, eliminating Floor Space Index or FSI and prescribing densities. Unlike global cities, especially London where there is a developed market for rentals, Mumbai lacks that because of archaic laws and there have been hardly any reforms to develop a market for rental housing in India’s commercial capital. The paper says that easier eviction rules and changes in taxation laws, which could incentivise investors to rent out properties, could make a difference to the rental market here and release more housing stock.