UN Habitat estimates that 1.6 billion people today live in inadequate shelter around the world, and 1 billion of those live in informal settlements or slums. An additional 100 million people worldwide are homeless. It goes on to state that by 2030, an additional 3 billion people or 40% of the world’s population, will need access to housing. This translates into a demand for 96,150 new affordable units every day and 4,000 every hour. By 2050, 70% of the world’s population is projected to be living in urban areas, causing slums and unplanned settlements to swell. About one in four people on this planet, live in conditions that harm their health, safety, prosperity and opportunities. Estimates of homelessness in the richest country on earth, the United States, vary from 1.6 million to 3 million people. Most studies conclude that about one-third of the homeless are children.
In one of the most popular posts on this blog – Dimensions of Urban Poverty – it was pointed out that urban poverty had many dimensions such as income, education, health, housing and security… and alleviation of urban poverty can only happen if all these dimensions are addressed synchronously. That has not happened. While globalization may have put more money in the pockets of the urban poor (especially in the burgeoning and untaxed informal sector), the access of the urban poor to education and health remains questionable in both developed and developing economies, and of course, housing remains a major problem from Santiago to Shanghai.
It is now acknowledged by all development agencies, that housing poverty (especially in the world’s metros) has little to do with a lack of income, and everything to do with lack of access to land. In former colonies like India, urban land remains inaccessible to the poor for a variety of reasons:
- Retrograde laws and practices inherited from the former colonial rulers
- A preference for low form urbanization (again, an inherited western bourgeois aesthetic)
- Extremely stringent and outdated development control rules which militate against traditional forms of construction
- Absence of a reliable land record system rooted in the local ethos
- An inherent disconnect between western educated urban planners and ground realities
- Failure to reign in the avarice of private developers
- Rampant corruption in the housing sector, from the grant of building permissions, to undervaluation, to issuance of completion certificates, to housing loans and subsidies, to transactions under the table to avoid high registration fees and stamp duty.
And this denial of access to urban land continues to divide Indian cities into the haves and have-nots, even when the differences in income, services and assets between the ‘slum-dweller’ and the average urbanite are dwindling away, as these statistics from Census India 2011 clearly indicate:
Clearly, inadequate housing is the problem. Not inadequate income.
Activists across the world have taken a ‘rights’ approach to housing, but unfortunately, such ‘leftist claptrap’ doesn’t sit well with the Government in Delhi… Perhaps housing in urban areas will get more attention from the present government if its economic benefits are pointed out, as UN-Habitat does:
- Adequate shelter is a critical foundation for breaking the cycle of poverty
- Adequate housing is vitally important to the health of the world’s economies, communities and populations.
- Home ownership is a form of wealth accumulation through equity and forced savings from mortgage repayment.
- Good housing attracts economic investment and development.
Not to mention that in an India increasingly riven by social unrest, insecurity and increasing violence against women, decent shelter makes for safe homes and neighborhoods that help to build social stability and security.