– By K P Baney
Lately, houses have become so expensive that even good salaried people are not able to afford the same. They have to compromise in buying smaller area or move to distant places, or they postpone to buy the house altogether. Thus they are pushed towards chawls, or even slums, thus denying them of clean and Hygienic abode. With recession prices have come down by about 20% to 30%, but still, for many, the prices are unaffordable, and out of reach.
In fact, houses were never affordable for masses. Why otherwise people went and stayed in slums, in the first place? Number of People staying in slums has alarmingly been increasing every year. Today about 50% of population, in urban areas, stays in slums. Mumbai is severely worse. Problem has really grown big, that Govt. has to come out with special programmes for slum clearance schemes. Slum clearance programmes will only be successful if no fresh slums are being formed. Otherwise it will be just rotating in unending game. Relocate the existing slums, while new slums get formed.
Slums become unhygienic and ultimately eye-sore. Boot legging, prostitution, gambling, stealing, rioting, murder are part of slums. Even though they prove to be effective vote banks for Politicians, or means to get Oscar on their plight, People staying in slums do get exploited by unsocial elements. Slums dwellers do not get feeling of belonging. Until they are given house of their own, or a feeling of belonging, slum dwellers will not become responsible and law-abiding citizens.

Our first effort should therefore be to see that new slums are not formed; and simultaneously move to eradicate or improve the existing ones.

Affordable housing should not be mixed with EWS and Slum clearance schemes, which get lots of subsidy from the Govt. Affordable house (for LIG and lower middle class), including rental housing, has basically to be at comparatively cheaper cost, but still with reasonably good amenities; the house has to be easy on Maintenance, where the outgoings, including taxes, are reasonable and do not over-burden the owner. If we want to stay in clean, peaceful and comfortable environment, we must make houses affordable for masses. Need is there to increase housing stock in this segment.

For making housing affordable, we must take positive steps, at all levels. The Developers, Central Govt., State Govt. and Local authorities will have to jointly and effectively contribute. Main ingredients going in cost of house are: Land, Construction cost and Taxes. And therefore, affordable house could become reality in following ways.

Land for these houses, should be available to Developer free of cost, or at cheaper rate.

Alternately, more FSI be allowed to be constructed on these projects, to make land component cheaper. Prof Vikas Mathkari (Pune Municipal Corporation Corporator) recently was seen professing for allowing 2.5 FSI. A very good suggestion indeed! By one single legislation alone, the land price component will reduce to 40% of the real market value.

Higher density of tenements could be allowed on the projects, so that more number of tenements and smaller tenements (say between 300  500 sft carpet) could be constructed.

Construction costs

Construction costs could be controlled by Developers, by providing practical Specifications, doing away with club houses, swimming pools etc., which only add to unnecessary costs. Specifications and Amenities could be basic, and then expandable by the owner at latter stage. Like, One single tap could be provided in Bath initially; Shower could be added by the owner, at his cost, latter

Use of Precast items could be extensively adopted, as these could be produced in bulk, and could be erected fast, thereby reducing its cost. Precast items do not need additional finishing like cement plaster, and painting etc, resulting in further saving. Balcony railings, staircases, lintels, door frames, kitchen platforms (with sink) could all be precast. RCC jallies could replace windows in toilets.

Architects will have to be innovative to produce economical, yet attractive, layouts. Developers and Contractors will have to economise on their construction costs, by controlling wastages, double handling of materials, and may be reasonable on their profits

Housing Societies will have to see that the houses are economically maintained.

Taxes & Concessions:

Banks will have to advance money at concessional rates. State Bank of India has already reduced interest rates on housing loans to 8%. House loans, are likely to go further down. A very welcome step indeed!

Local corporations will have to heavily subsidise or forgo taxes on these houses.

State Govt. will have to allow heavy concessions under VAT, for materials going to these houses.

Govt should charge only nominal fee/ Stamp Duty and registration charges on these houses.

Income Tax laws will need revision to allow higher rate of depreciation, and reintroduce concessions under chapter 80 I(B), for these schemes.

And the last, whatever taxes or concessions are announced, should be on long term basis, say for coming 10 years, so that house could be sustainable.

So, it has to be combined all  round focused effort in making this happen. Central Govt., it seems is genuinely interested to help in. State Govt. and local authorities have now to bring in right policies for this to happen. Any disinterested, name-sake, patchy concession here and there is not going to solve this problem of housing masses. Any half-hearted effort will not give results.

We must, all, put in our might to bring in change, make houses affordable so that every human, rich or poor, lives with dignity, in hygienic dwelling of his own.

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