Abandoned by her husband 12 years ago, and without a home of her own, Salomi Mathai and her two children had been living at the mercy of their close relatives. Until this month.
On April 7, Mathai, a 43-year-old daily-wage worker in Kerala’s Idukki district, moved to a three-room apartment constructed by the state government for the homeless, free of cost. Mathai was among 217 people who have been allotted flats under Life Mission, an initiative to build houses for landless families.
This is a first-of-its-kind project in Kerala, where an official survey had identified 5.78 lakh homeless families — and the seven-storey 271-unit complex at Adimali is the first off the block. Each 500-sq-ft unit has two bedrooms, two bathrooms, a kitchen, a small work area and a living room, all with tiled floors.
Says panchayat secretary K N Sahajan: “Here, a survey showed that 473 families had no land or house. They were living at rented premises or even government wasteland after erecting huts. We invited applications and allotted flats to those eligible. An occupant has to give only Rs 750 in a month, towards the cost of water and security.’’
From daily wage workers to the homeless, over 170 families have moved in so far, and the rest are expected to follow in the coming weeks. “My husband threw us out and my only option was to stay with relatives. Over the last 12 years, I had been dreaming of a home of my own where my son and daughter could stay at night without fear,” says Mathai.
The Adimali complex has four elevators, an 80kw standby power system, round-the-clock security, waste management disposal — and a health sub-centre and anganwadi within the compound.
Officials of the Local Self Governing Department, which oversees the project, say the Adimali complex cost Rs 26 crore to build, including around Rs 11 lakh for each unit.
Earlier, officials say, an applicant for housing projects for the poor in the state had to own at least three cents of land to be eligible for such assistance. Under the mission, around 50,000 houses have been completed. In the second stage, homeless families who have land will be given financial assistance of up to Rs 4 lakh per house.
Sharavanan, a 45-year-old bamboo worker, says he had been staying at cramped rented homes ever since he was born. “We hail from Tamil Nadu, and after my parents’ death, my wife and I had been shifting from one rented house to another, struggling to make ends meet. This flat is a boon for us.”
Among Sharavanan’s neighbours are K P Santhosh, 42 and his wife Preethi, 31, who had been living in a hut erected on poles with a plastic sheet on top. “We would never have been able to put together money for land or even a small house. But this flat will change our lives. Now, we can send our children to schools in Adimali town, and can look for better job opportunities without bothering about a roof over our heads,” says Santhosh, a daily-wage worker.
Panchayat secretary Sahajan says the complex will also help the local body target its schemes better. “The homeless were earlier scattered across the panchayat and it was difficult for government agencies to track them. This will make our work easy. The panchayat is now planning to start various income-generating schemes for the women in these flats, like helping them set up tailoring units.”
Says Cheriyan Philip, the project’s state co-ordinator: “Within two years, Kerala aims to ensure house for all homeless families. Our surveys have revealed that around 1.5 lakh homeless families in Kerala do not possess land. We are going to launch apartment complexes in all other districts for this segment.’’