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AffordablehousinginMumbai:100yearsoffailedexperiments|URBZ

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AffordablehousinginMumbai:100yearsoffailedexperiments
PostedonThursday,September5,2013byanne
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ResidentsoftheOmkarmunicipalchawlsinDharavihavebeenfightingfortheirrighttoselfdevelopforyears,
whichthegovernmentisdenyingthem.
Housing in Mumbai is a phenomenally complicated issue, and one of the hardest challenges faced by the
governmental and private developers. Housing provision on the megacity scale of Mumbai, is perhaps an
irremediably speculative exercise: trying to find places to put people, and buildings to fill those places that
residents will actually want to live in. This is something of a superhuman task: successful housing schemes
shouldnotonlypredictthecapricesoftheworldeconomyeverybutterflyflappingitswingsandcollapsingor
inflatingglobalhousingmarketsbuttheyshouldalsopredictfuturefamilystructures,aestheticvalues,social
dynamics,classsystems,andtastes.Allofthisbeingcontingentonthesamechaoticglobaleconomyalong
with complex sociodemographic trends. This complicated balancing act is nothing new. Politicians and
bureaucrats have struggled with it ever since the citys population started increasing at a rapid rate and the
economy industrialized. Then as now, the questions remain: how to provide housing for all classes of people
who need it, taking their varied livelihoods and tastes into account, while balancing their relative abilities to
invest in housing and keep on attracting the capital that propels the citys economyall on a relatively tiny
amountofpeninsularland.
In the early 20th century, concerned letters and memorandums started to go back and forth betweenoddly
enoughtheDepartmentofEducationandthetwoheadedmonsteroftheMunicipalCorporationandtheboard
of the Improvement Trust, concerning the severe housing shortage for poor and workingclass residents. In
1917,theproblemwasfirstraised,thenin1919,itwasbroughtupagain,withanotethatthesituationhadonly
worsened in the face of inaction. Existing plans to erect poorclass housing had stalled out or never gotten
started,andblamewasbeingbouncedaroundvariousgovernmentdepartments.Soanawarenessoftheproblem
ofhousingwasneverreallyaproblemjusthowfarithadbeenapriority,andafinancialpriorityatthat.
Thentherewasthequestionofprovidinghousingthatpeoplewouldactuallymoveinto:evenearlierinthe20th
century, a 1901 letter from the Superintendent of the Government Central Press in Bombay in response to a
questionofprovidinghousingforgovernmentemployeesofferedanillustrativeanecdoteofpreviousproblems.
Duringtheplagueof1896,hesaid,whilefacingamasslabourexodus,governmenthadnegotiatedadealwith
the 800odd workers of the Central Press: they would stay and continue work if housing in a cleaner, safer
suburbwasprovided,alongwithcheaprailcardstosubsidisetheensuingcommute.Thehousingwasprovided
however,ofthe800workersitwasprovidedfor,only62actuallymovedin.Dangerousornot,theydecided,
they would rather remain close to the families and social networks they had built up in the areas where they
lived.Fromthis,thesuperintendentmadeseveralrecommendations:foranyothergovernmenthousingschemes
to be successful, he said, they had to provide three things: low rents (12 rupees per month) short (if any)
commutetimesandspaceforworkersfamiliestojointhem.
Unfortunately for dwellers and municipal development authoritiesits often the failed experiments like this
onethatarethemostinstructive.Obviously,inthecaseofthepressworkers,certainvalueslikefamilysupport
andresponsibilitiesnegatedwhatbenefitscouldbeofferedbygovernmenthousing.Similarly,arecentarticlein
theTimesofIndiaindicatesthatissuesofcompetingvaluesunrecognizedbyauthoritiesmaystillbehampering
governmenteffortsatprovidinghousing:arecentregulationapprovedbytheChiefMinisterwillmeanthat50%
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AffordablehousinginMumbai:100yearsoffailedexperiments|URBZ

ofmunicipalrentalhousingbuiltbytheMumbaiMetropolitanRegionDevelopmentAuthority(MMRDA)will
be used as transitory housing for people whose current dwellings are slated for redevelopment or demolition
(mostly slum residents). The need for affordable rental housing is evident in just how much housing prices
have skyrocketed in the past several years, making affordable housing blocks a rarity in Mumbai. However,
people as yet are wary of actually moving into transitory housing for fear of losing permanent housing in
buildings to be redevelopedmeaning that the scheme will be difficult, if not impossible, to implement on a
largescale.
Anissuerelatedtolosingpermanenthousinghasalsobeenamunicipalheadachethroughoutthe20thcentury:
thequestionofwhoandbywhoImeanwhichclassesofpeopleistoactuallyliveingovernmentprovided
housing.AstheChairmanoftheImprovementTrustBoardwrotein1920,experienceshowsthatinthepastthe
personsdisplacedhavenotcomeinanygreatproportionintothechawlserectedforthem,butthatnevertheless
the chawls are very popular and seldom have vacancies and adding that at the present time semipermanent
shedsforthosewhoaredisplacedareerectedonlandsituatedclosetothehousesdemolishedandarereadily
takenupbytheevictedtenantsSopeopleweremovingintogovernmentprovidedhousing,butthesewere
moreoftenresidentsofotherareasthantheonessupposedtoberehoused,seekingaffordablehousing.
A strikingly similar phenomenon poses issues for slum rehabilitation projects today: a common scheme to
incentivize developers to tackle otherwise nonlucrative slum redevelopment projects is to pass the land
redeveloped into the hands of the developers after the completion of the project on the condition that they
providehousingtoatleastaportionofthedisplacedresidents.However,developershavetendedtoprovidethis
housinginhighriseapartments,inparttoleaveasmuchofthelandfreeaspossibleformorelucrativeprojects.
These apartments, however, often come with higher rents than slum accommodation, and rapidly rising
maintenance costs. These increasing housing prices soon make these unsustainable for the poor residents
relocated to them, forcing them to sell to other speculators or middleclass buyers, and then move to another
slumareanotyetrehabilitatedthusperpetuatingthecycleofslumformation.
Perhapspartofthepublicpolicythatdrivesthecontinuanceofthiscycleisahopestillpinnedonatheoryfirst
appliedtohousinginBombayin1920:whentheMunicipalCorporationraisedconcernsthattheImprovement
Trusthadnotbeendoingenoughtoaddressthehousingshortageamongtheurbanpoor,theTrustrepliedthatit
wasapplyingatrickledowntheoryofhousing.Byfocusingonprovidingattractivehousingtothemiddleand
upper classes, who could better afford to pay enough to keep the Trust afloat financially, the Trust was
encouraging them to move out of the more congested areas of central Bombay and therefore open up their
formerhousingtolowerclassresidents.Thiswasalsosupposedtoworkintermsofprovidingmoreattractive,
clean,beautifulspacestoencouragetheinvestmentofforeigncapital,whichwouldinturnboosttheeconomy
and also trickle down on to the poor. Essentially, keeping the rich happier was supposed to transitively also
improvelifeforeveryoneelse.
For all that this is could have been written as a piece of policy by any number of neoliberal economists, it
continues to sound like something of a copout, relying on the unbelievable ability of the urban poor to pull
survival out of thin air until thingsmaybeone day get better. However, as is evident from the cycle of
middleclass poaching of housing meant for poor residents, this trickledown theory only works if things
continue to get better, if middle class people can afford the new constructions for their benefit and arent
strugglingtofindaffordablehousinginthemidstofaneconomicdownturnliketherestofthesocioeconomic
spectrum. Until that is a guarantee, relying on trickledown theory to provide for the urban poor through
incentivizing private action is rather a shirking of municipal responsibility to the people supposed to benefit
mostfromamunicipality,thepeoplewhopayintothepublicspheretoreceiveservicesthattheycannotafford
privately.Historically,relyingonprivatedeveloperstopickuptheslackseemsalsounadvisable:asthatsame
EducationMunicipalityexchangementioned,Itmayberemarkedthattheexperienceofhousingdifficultiesin
this country indicates that private enterprise in itself cannot be relied on to provide the adequate remedy.
Perhaps the adequate remedy is in a redirection of government responsibility, and a more nuanced view to
meetingtheneedsoftheurbanpoorandthewelfareofBombayasawhole.
Anne Meeker is a undergrad student in anthropology at Oxford University. She is currently volunteering with
URBZ,researchingthehistoryofMumbaisurbanvillagesandhousingpolicy.

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ThisentrywaspostedonThursday,September5th,2013at11:56amYoucanleavearesponse,ortrackbackfromyourownsite.

2ResponsestoAffordablehousinginMumbai:100yearsoffailedexperiments
1.mhndrgv2013Says:
November3rd,2013at5:07am

Excellentanalysisandinsightsofthecomplexissuesaffectingtheprovisionof(orlackthereof)affordable
housinginMumbai.
IwouldbeinterestedingettingacopyofthecompletedresearchbyMs.MeekeronMumbaisurban
villagesandhousingpolicy,ifpossi.Thankyou.
2.HormuzDadabhoySays:
March9th,2016at4:40pm

HiAnne,
ImHormuz,aMastersstudentatOxfordUniversityintheDepartmentofSocialPolicyandIamahuge
fanoftheworkUrbzdoes.Thisarticleissuperinterestingandidlovetochatmoreaboutit.
IamcurrentlyintheprocessoftryingtocomparepolicyapproachestoslumsinMumbaiandRio.Rio
underwentmoreslumupgradingthoughFavelaBairroandMumbaimoreredevelopmentthroughthe
SlumRedevelopmentScheme.Essentially,Iwanttolookatwhyeachcitychosetheirrespectivepolicy
pathshowmuchofanevidencebasewasthereforeachapproach.
IdlovetochatwithyouaboutMumbaiinthisregard.SpecificallyIwanttolearnabouttheunderlying
motivationsandfactorsatplayintheimplementingandcontinuingwithSRSinMumbaiandFBinRio.
Idliketochatsomemoreaboutitaswellaswouldliketobepointedinthedirectionofsourcesthatmight
shedsomelightonmyquestionwhatwasthemotivationbehindtheimplementationofSRS(howmuch
ofanevidencebasewasthereforit).
Couldyousendmeanemailandwecouldstartacorrespondence?
Thankyou.Ilookforwardtohearingfromyou.
Best,
Hormuz

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