As market slows in Mumbai, greed scores over creed | mumbai | Hindustan Times
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As market slows in Mumbai, greed scores over creed

Information technology engineer Haneef Khan’s search for a 2-BHK flat in central Mumbai earlier this year brought him to the gates of a huge development project by one of India’s major realty companies at Byculla. However, at their sales office, Khan was politely told the project didn’t cater to Muslims. Two months later, to Khan’s surprise, a sales executive from the company called him back and invited him to choose an apartment.

mumbai Updated: Jun 04, 2015 00:41 IST
Naresh Kamath
Naresh Kamath
Hindustan Times

Information technology engineer Haneef Khan’s search for a 2-BHK flat in central Mumbai earlier this year brought him to the gates of a huge development project by one of India’s major realty companies at Byculla.
However, at their sales office, Khan was politely told the project didn’t cater to Muslims. Two months later, to Khan’s surprise, a sales executive from the company called him back and invited him to choose an apartment.

“I think the bias against Muslims is decreasing a little. I was told they were opening up flats, but only to well-educated Muslims,” said Khan, who now owns a flat there. A few months later, the developer stopped screening all prospective buyers, focussing instead on selling the remaining flats.

Like the Byculla project, at least three others in central Mumbai have dropped conditions for buyers, indicating that exclusive housing is gradually becoming less commercially viable.

The city’s most recent real-estate boom kicked off when old mill lands in central Mumbai were opened up. This, combined with the redevelopment of old buildings in the island city and the transformation of defunct company plots in the suburbs into gated residential complexes, has become a powerful weapon in the battle for inclusive housing.

For the first time in years, supply is keeping up with demand and, in many cases, outstripping it. Dreading the prospect of unsold flats, many builders are dropping archaic biases in favour of cold, hard cash.

While many major developers are known not to discriminate, some community-specific enclaves have started to follow suit. A few Saraswat Brahmin housing enclaves, for instance, have opened their doors to ‘outsiders’ as they don’t have enough buyers from the community.

Sunil Mantri, managing director of Sunil Mantri Realty Ltd., said the reason why biases are disappearing is that the profile of home buyers has changed over the years. “We are seeing more young buyers, who are more open-minded and less clannish. They are more worried about the amenities we offer than the religion or caste of their neighbours,” he said.

However, Amin Patel, a Congress legislator and developer, says this could be a phase rather than an irreversible trend, and that widespread discrimination could return once the market picks up. “Builders are now forced to accommodate Muslims as they need money - that’s all,” he said.

Patel’s scepticism is not unfounded. During boom periods over the past two decades, real-estate dynamics have been palpably different from what they are today. In a seller’s market, builders could refuse flats to prospective buyers without financial repercussions. In times like these, several communities demanded exclusive housing, and most builders were happy to comply, as they could charge a premium for keeping their buildings free of ‘outsiders’.

For instance, in 2002, when Shiv Sena corporator Parag Chavan was denied a flat in Shatrunjay Towers, located on a road named after his slain father, Vithal Chavan, Sena’s top brass backed off after a perfunctory protest.

But while real estate experts agree that community-specific housing is disappearing from large projects,
discrimination remains the norm in smaller projects and redeveloped standalone buildings, and has a distinct geographical element to it.

“You will hardly find any projects accommodating Muslims in areas such as Ghatkopar, Malabar Hill or Vile Parle,” said Pankaj Kapoor, CEO of Liases Foras, a real estate research firm. “Builders do not discriminate, but are forced to by demographics and the demands of their target consumers,” said Kapoor.

Patel said that legal protection is necessary to weed out discrimination and Mumbaiites can’t rely on changing market dynamics to solve the issue.