Thursday, September 18, 2014

Affordable Housing, Some Ground Realities! CIDCO Engineers Association Lecture!

Affordability is a state of mind which is directly related to a man’s state of wallet… Mark Twain.

Affordable housing; challenges & facts!
When my college friend Suresh Thakur who is now with Cidco, called me & asked about can I deliver a lecture come presentation about Affordable Housing at Cidco on Engineer’s Day, in one moment I said yes I will. But later when I started thinking about it as I do get tense always before any lecture but got real tense this time by thinking have I made a mistake by saying yes to Thakrya i.e. his nickname from college day like mine was Pandya! As Cidco, for those who may not know full form is City & Industrial Development Corporation, an organization of State undertaking, which has been established in 80’s for infrastructure development at New Mumbai. Now with spread over hundreds of square kilometer area & technical staff over 400 professionals & mega projects like Metro to Airport under its belt, what I am going to talk, in front of all these people? As the lecture was supposed to be for Cidco Engineer’s Association, so the crowd was going to be all the  engineers with years of experiences under their belt & Cidco themselves has completed thousands of houses, buildings on their own, so my job seemed more & more difficult. Yet again next when Thakrya called to give me guide lines about the topic, we discussed about the outline of the subject & he told me to keep it on lighter tone instead going for some serious technology & figures. There I find the first clue as how I will be presenting the topic & next four days only thing on my mind was presentation. With my team & available images of the subject I worked out a theme & with butterflies in stomach I went for the lecture on 15th Sept to Cidco Bhavan at New Mumbai.

I rarely write before I speak so here is the outcome…

Dear Engineer Friends at Cidco, 

I am really thankful to you all as well Mr. Thakur who is my friend & my engg mate also, & it’s a real honor for a boy who nearly 25 years back was visiting projects being built by this great organization as part of his 2nd & 3rd year engineering & today the same boy is standing in front of you as a technical speaker! What better honor of my engineering education could have been done by you all! Well let me share at first that I was real tense for being here & was trying to think of reasons to say no to this invite even after accepting as was not having enough guts to stand & tell something about construction industry to you guys, but then gathered all my courage & thought of calling this as sharing & not lecture or presentation. We all out there in the field have seen enough concrete, so it may be nothing new I am going to speak about affordable housing which is a need of the country & not just you all at Cidco; yet it’s the topic from my own exposure with 24 years in housing industry now. Roti, kapda aur makan, are three basic essentials of our society & on first two fronts we have done a lot but till today we have neglected the last front i.e. Makan i.e. Housing! Today is Sir Vishvesarrayya's Birth day which we celebrate as Engineer’s Day & one of his famous quotes I will share it here “An Engineer is not the one who solves the problem but an Engineer is the one who see the problem in advance & avoids it”! Well, we haven’t seen the problem of affordable housing is a fact & now we are in state of solving it, though better late than never. For that we have to understand what actually affordable housing is & then why we have failed to make it? As once we accept the facts then we will be in better position to solve the problem is what I always feel. 

Here I will like to share two stories which I thought can be best correlated with today’s topic…. 

We all mostly have heard the name of Mulla Nasiruddin from Egypt, a witty & wise character from folk stories. One day mulla decided to sale of his old donkey & with his young son along started towards village bazaar with the donkey. On road they met one villager who after “salam aalecum”, asked about where they are going & after knowing the purpose suggested them why mulla isn’t riding the donkey instead walking? Mulla seeing point in suggestion ridded the donkey & the set of. After some distance they came across another villager who after knowing purpose of journey, scowled at mulla & said your young son is walking & you are riding the donkey? Mulla accepted his fault & got down from the donkey & made his son ride. Again after some distance another villager they met & who said is mulla a fool? As anyway they are going to sale the donkey so why not both father & son ride to bazaar? So mulla & son both ridded the donkey & marched on. After some distance one more villager they met who after the village formalities scowled them about their cruel behavior & said the donkey has served them till his old age & now they are treating his like inhumanly! Rather they should carry the donkey on their shoulder to the bazaar! Agreeing to this mulla & his son tried to lift the donkey on their shoulder but in the mean time they have reached on a bridge & in the entire effort of lifting the donkey, it got frightened & started to run & in that mess fall down in river & gone! With due respect to all here the donkey in our story is Affordable Housing, Mull is our rulers whom we only have elected & the boy is common man. The villagers are builders, NGO’S  & Consultants. As that’s what has happened with the affordable housing!

Another one is about bind men & elephant! Here elephant is affordable housing & blind men are all of us, some thinks increasing fsi  of affordable housing, some says high rise building is affordable housing & list goes on but we have never tried to see it in holistic way is a fact & that’s why we have yet understood the concept itself!

Affordable Housing is multidimensional & one single aspect isn’t going to define it. So I have listed down the factors which we can discuss in brief as that will give enough matter to our brains to dig them more. That’s best I can do!

Defining Affordable
Cost of Living i.e. Services
Distribution to End User

So let’s go point wise through these factors, though as I said lot many things we may be knowing but to know something is one part but what we are doing with what we know is what makes us an engineer, let’s not forget this!

Defining Affordable: 
As the great & witty writer has mentioned in his quote it’s pretty difficult what is affordable as its very individual aspect of the society. But if you consider other commodities say a cup of tea, then you can get it in Rs 5 at a street joint to Rs 500 in plush lobby of Taj hotel, it’s up to us what we can afford yet the tea & the feeling it gives is mostly same. Similarly if someone wants to buy a car then he can have Rs 1.50 lacs Tata Nano & then there is BMW of Ra 1.50 crores, yet both serves the purpose & both takes three & half hour for journey of Pune-Mumbai, it’s again our affordability which decides what we can have. But is it the case of homes? If I have Rs 5 crores in my wallet, I can buy home anywhere but what if I have only Rs 5 lacs in my wallet, now what I do? I can’t get a home in Rs 5 lacs is we all know & here is where we need to redefine the age old terms in Cidco or any Govt housing schemes like LIG, MIG or HIG i.e. Low income group or high income group. Now there are only two categories urban poor & urban rich & it’s the urban poor we should keep in mind with their average income. Not to forget all other increased living costs like education, commuting to work place & medical etc. So how much a family can spend for house needs to define for defining affordability. Then make soft loans available to buyer as well developer so it will facilitate both to make affordable housing possible. At the same time to lift the buying capacity of common man is equally important & what are we doing about it the question.

After this we come to most important aspect in housing, the land! Right from learning geography in 10th standard we know that balanced land use is utmost important for a healthy society but what have we done about it is the crux of the problem.  Land is limited & demand is ever increasing so high time to define land use for housing keeping in mind actual need of the population. And for that get out from age old Regional Development plans i.e. RP & Development plans i.e. DP! Why not to have a State Development Plan in place defining use of every inch of land in State & then micro planning it? It’s nearly sixty eight years after independence & why no Govt has done it, rather it’s shocking that many districts don’t have even RP & then how we are going to provide lands for the homes?
Once we designate lands then see that it comes under the use for which it has been designated. In countries like USA & UK, if the land reserved for housing is kept without developing then there are heavy property taxes for the land owner making him put in use it has been reserved for thus shortage of land issue is taken care. Why can’t we follow such practices?

Then the land rate factor comes in picture as just giving more FSI for the available land isn’t the solution as to utilize that FSI we need to go for high rise buildings & then the construction cost & other factors makes the home unaffordable, so put more land under housing & fast is the key! At the same time keep control on land prices as it’s the only commodity which don’t have MRP i.e. maximum retail price. Our  ready reckoner index decides minimum value of land but what’s control on maximum value & just a guy can hold the land being unused he can enjoy price escalation is most ridiculous thing in our country & it has to be stopped. Same norm should be applied to finish product i.e. home. Unless & until we don’t fix land rates, affordable housing will always be a dream! We had Urban Land Ceiling act to govern home prices & blaming ULC itself for the cause of high home prices we abolished it but what effect it has made in actual, have we analyzed it?

There are three types of infrastructures; one is Physical which includes Roads, Public Transport, Water, Drainage, Power, Garbage, Industries and Jobs. And second is Social, which includes Recreation, Art, Health and Education.
This factor is the key in land prices as like the famous question” Pahale anda ki pahale murgi?” i.e. egg came first of chicken, first infrastructure or first homes is the question. As if we built infrastructure first then the land prices goes high & the homes become costly. But if there is no infrastructure the homes are unlivable as well unsalable! A balance has to be carved in this as it’s the infrastructure of a particular locality which decides in which direction the pendulum of the development is going. For e.g. take example of regions like Vidarbha & Marathwada which have no water, no drainage treatment plants, no industries or road networks & no jobs. So the population from this area is continuously migrating to cities like Mumbai, Pune & Nasik, making the infrastructure in these areas overburdened as well prices of land getting on constant rise here. 

So if we plan proper infrastructure for entire State then there will a big relief of some particular area getting over burdened. At the same time lack of proper infrastructure adds on the construction cost for e.g. poor public transport makes people to have private vehicles & that needs parking places adding in construction cost. In Singapore large complexes are also without parking floors & no one needs private vehicles. Same is case with drainage treatment plants for every single building.

Third type of infrastructure which we rarely notice is Govt infrastructure i.e. a system which controls development regarding housing. We have currently, MHADA, CIDCO, Urban Development, Town Planning along with Municipal Corporation, Municipalities & Collector & Housing Ministry; all these are supposed to work on housing policies as well making homes available to common man & what is result? All we see around is delays & conflicts & confusion, in making policies regarding housing. There has to be one single body or authority regarding anything with housing & make a district level cadre of the same like revenue system. This will ensure fast & simple project approval system  as presently it’s the time in obtaining various NOC’s & making way through the maze of the bylaws which is killing the affordability index of homes.

Size /Planning of Units:
A standard concept is make small homes to make them affordable, like Slum redevelopment units or Economically weaker housing, the units are supposed to be of some 300 odd sq ft, believe me it’s a joke! First it’s very much costly on account of construction cost to make small units for providing them various services & second is you can expect family of four to five people in that small space. So small isn’t affordable, accept it! Let’s give enough room to the people to live & for that work out various model plans which will blend living as well costing. Just giving four or five times FSI & going high rise isn’t solution. As the services cost increases in doing so is a fact. Let’s spread horizontally too, keep lots of common areas to people for socializing & then work out the costing. For this we will have to give reduction in premiums for common passages & such areas so planners will provide more such areas. Have a plan with use of ample natural light & ventilation thus curtailing use of artificial power.

Construction, Alternate Materials & Practices, R & D:
We need to find a answer to age old concrete technology as all its ingredients are from natural resources i.e. sand, metal, clay & someday it’s going to get finished, what we are going to do that day? Similarly we need new Construction practices to reduce cost of construction. It’s unfortunate as there is not a single R & D center dedicated to affordable housing which will collect all the information about alternate materials or construction practices & gather data regarding everything needed about housing. Remember information is the key to every problem & right now what we lack is exact information. Here Cidco in coordination with CREDAI, which is association of developers, can take lead & create a research facility dedicated to affordable housing.

Cost of Living/ Services:
An affordable home is not the one which is low at initial cost but it should be low on daily outgoings also! Here lot of Innovative fusion is required between need & maintenance costing as well construction cost, for e.g., Supply of Solar hot water at one common point on each floor. This will reduce the wastage of cold water from all down takes which is in initial stage when we start solar hot water taps as well laying costs will be minimized. On the same line think of common washing machines per floor. Many such things can be worked out to reduce the daily maintenance costs of the services a housing complex is utilizing. Let’s plan to balance between wastage & need. Think of using rain water by collecting it centrally, open -spaces can be used as rain water lakes reducing water demand.
There has to be separate professional agency for maintaining the services & also a payment system assuring each user pays for these services. We can think of job generating amongst the residents only for maintaining these services.

Distribution to End User:
Lastly there has to be a system to ensure that the real needy are getting the affordable homes & a periodic checking or noc for the same is a must to ensure that these homes are being used for the cause they have been built for!  Many things can be considered while distributing these homes to make them more affordable for e.g. people from same industry living along will make designing of public transport for them a lot easy saving on use of their personal vehicle use! Make all the information about such homes available on web site & update it regularly with information of how to apply for them & allotment process, so every real needy common person will have access to that information. As there only lies the true success of affordable housing!

This is the biggest threat to affordable housing as land is area is fix & our population ever increasing! With the rate of our population increase we will never be able to give home for all, so this aspect may on face will look having no connection with affordable housing but is directly related in actual! There has to have a root level campaign for population control with a target to see that it’s in control. As slums are byproducts of us failing in judging the population & being incapable of giving affordable homes to that population!

Environment & Biodiversity Conservation:
While designing affordable homes let’s not forget that we are not alone on this planet. There are thousands of other species, right from sparrow to tiger & they too need a home & there is no CIDCO to arrange for any infrastructure or affordable housing for them! So when we design our homes it’s our responsibility to see that there is a space for all such species & a balance in biodiversity is maintained as then only we can call it home or else we will end up in concrete jungle without any life in it!

Finally the developers also should not forget that affordable housing is need of time & somewhere how much profit we will be making from any project that has to be decided by us only! As this is not just Govt’s responsibility but each of us also. Let’s remember ultimately it’s our finished products selling price with which land prices are related! 

To conclude, I will share a quote from my favorite movie Spider Man, “With great powers comes along great responsibilities”. And if being engineer is a power we have of knowledge then to use that power to make affordable homes so no family of this country should be required to worry for their own home, is the responsibility which has come along with that power! So let’s unite & do our best is my wish as that will be true tribute to Sir Vishvesarayya! Thanks once again for giving me this honor as these moment I will be cherish forever.

Jay Maharashtra, Jay Hind!

Sanjay Deshpande

Sanjeevani Dev.

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