A roof for every Indian — that’s not asking for much in a country, which is seeking to become a global economic power, boasts of technological prowess as the world’s outsourcing hub and has a vast pool of scientific talent.
Yet, housing for all has remained an elusive goal. The current economic crisis offers another opportunity to take that dream closer to reality.
The slump in realty, precipitated by the global economic meltdown, has already driven many developers to increasingly look to build houses that middle-class families can afford.
Several leading real estate companies have rolled out plans to build what they call no-frills houses, which could cost Rs 15-30 lakh for a two-bedroom accommodation in cities like Delhi and Mumbai. Many more developers will follow their lead through 2009.
Omaxe plans to build 6,000 to 8,000 “affordable” flats — costing between Rs 12 lakh and 25 lakh — across 10 cities, including Delhi, said chairman and managing director Rohtas Goel. If it succeeds, the company would scale it up 10 times in the following years. Mumbai-based Acme Group will be coming up with houses in the range of Rs 2,500 to Rs 4,000 per sq ft in Thane and Goregaon next year. In Bangalore, Sobha Builders is “looking at providing Rs 30-lakh houses,” said JC Sharma, managing director of the company.
Government-run agencies like the National Building Construction Corporation and Delhi Development Authority also have similar projects in the works.
But these will address the needs of a minuscule share of some 25 million people living in cities and towns without a house of their own.
The bigger challenge before the government as well as developers is: how to break out of conventional construction practices and build houses that cost less not because they are smaller in size but because they are designed to cost less.
From using fly ash-based bricks to bamboo, architects and community groups have come up with many successful models. What is needed is large-scale commercialisation of these innovations.
Builders could take a cue from what Mahatma Gandhi once said to Laurie Baker, a pioneer in low-cost housing — “The ideal house in the ideal village will be built with materials all found within a five-mile radius of the house.”
Builders will do well to follow that advice, which is still relevant in modern-day India.
One reason why realty companies shy away from building low-cost houses is because they offer very low margins. But in times like these, it makes sense to forego margins and go for volume by building and offering houses that are affordable.
The government could give them a helping hand by cutting down on stamp duties, subsidising sale of land and easing rules that push up transaction cost for such housing projects.