Welfare states have an obligation to ensure that their citizens have access to the basic amenities. Housing undoubtedly qualifies as one of them.
There are discrepancies in the need, availability and affordability of the houses due to commoditization of the housing sector, which results in the formation of unorganized and unhygienic living spaces. Economic viability is among the main determinant factors while considering a solution to address housing needs of the urban poor.
Rural - urban migration, fueled by urbanization and globalization, accompanied by lack of affordable housing, lays the foundation for informal settlements. Some frequently adopted techniques to deal with the urban poor and their informal settlements are along the lines of demolishing the settlements, resettling the inhabitants, land titling, reconstructing the houses, and upgrading and legalizing the settlements.
While most countries have abandoned the notion of demolishing informal settlements, the Indian administration, bolstered by judicial decisions is still in the transition state where demolition of urban informal settlements without any obligation for providing resettlement, is considered an option for deterring the spread of informal settlements.
States play the all important role in resolving housing crises. Different states have adopted different procedures to deal with the prevalent housing scarcity. There is a stark difference between the states of the global north and the global south in the manner in which these procedures are devised.
Mumbai in India followed an intricate process while upgrading its slums. Considering the enormity of the slum area, it is divided into smaller divisions which form cooperatives and play a vital role in the reconstruction process. Government, private individuals, developers, banks and NGO’s worked collectively to implement reconstruction projects devised by the central and the state governments. It was further facilitated by the higher land price on which these informal settlements were located, the slum rehabilitation scheme which incentivized the private developers by removing the 25% cap on profits and introducing transfer of development rights (TDR) through which the developers could partially transfer their development rights to other parts of the city. The reconstruction process is still on after 30 years.
Sri Lanka is far ahead of its peers in its housing policies. The government plays many roles by acting as the policy maker, regulating authority, housing developer, financial agency, landlord and operations manager. The government launched The Million Houses programme which was later upgraded to 1.5 million houses programme and has been implemented, with its main theme being ‘People participation in the Housing and Community development programme in Slums and Shanties.’ Colombo’s involvement was in the form of providing small housing loans as incentives in addition to the security of tenureship of lands to encourage personal investments. The Sri Lankan government has reformed its policies by targeting and emphasizing people’s participation. It revived age-old low cost housing methods, rehabilitation of crafts, training of masons and carpenters and the Gramodaya Mandala Fund.
However, the Colombo Urban Regeneration Project, whose objective is to improve the housing conditions of low-income communities, is marred with numerous issues. These issues range from the fallacious assumption that all the targeted communities are illegal dwellers without any rights over the land where they are residing, to the implementation level, including forced signatures for transfer of land to the developers, inordinate delays in cash compensation and lack of accountability and transparency.
Consider the development process of favelas in Brazil, which seems to be the most efficient and appropriate manner to carry out reconstruction, upgradation and legalization of informal settlements. Even though the procedure is similar to that of Dharavi reconstruction, it is more inclusive and encourages community participation from the very beginning to the completion of the development process.
A major hindrance while reconstructing Dharavi is attributable to the lack of coordination, cooperation and understanding among the multiple entities involved in the process. To avoid such a situation, the state devised a permanent inter-sectoral committee – ‘the social macro-function,’ to enhance coordination among various institutions and beneficiaries involved in the process. Change in the administration did not lead to any complexities as each subsequent administration continued the development process as it was originally devised. The state adopted well-prepared mechanisms to deal with every possible barrier to carrying out the laid plan.
The one major critique of this project was the non-granting of formal property rights, even though it featured in the original design. This resulted in minimal improvements in availability and accessibility of public services and goods. It also hindered the improvement in property value, which could have been achieved by granting formal property rights.
In contrast, it is the emphasis laid on implementation mechanisms which makes the Favela development project- Favela-Bairro, a model worth emulating by the global south. If such an implementation mechanism is coupled with granting of formal property rights to beneficiaries, it could become a major step towards addressing the problems revolving around housing in the South Asian countries.
(The authors are law students at National Academy of Legal Studies And Research, Hyderabad. They can be contacted at email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org)