Business Today

Affordable Housing Woes

Mumbai's development plan may be a good start, but in the present form, it is skewed on several fronts.
By Gurbir Singh   Delhi     Print Edition: November 6, 2016
Affordable Housing Woes
The Spread: The Mumbai skyline needs a makeover to accommodate the city's poor (Photo: Vivan Mehra)

Mumbai's Development Plan (DP) 2034 has had a tumultuous history over the past 18 months, dividing urban planners, realtors and citizens' groups sharply over its goals and perspectives. The previous 20-year plan for the world's sixth-largest city with an estimated population of 21 million ended in 2014, and the new DP for the city for 2014-2034 was presented by the then Municipal Commissioner Sitaram Kunte in mid-February of 2015.

It was a non-starter from the word go. Conservationists found two-thirds of the 1,400 declared heritage structures missing from the new plan, including the iconic Town Hall and Marine Drive's interesting Art Deco buildings. A planner found that an excavation site in the business district of Bandra-Kurla Complex (BKC), which had filled up with monsoon rains, was identified as an existing 'water body'. More serious was the change that green no-development zones (NDZs) like the 2,000-acre Aarey Milk Colony being 'deserved' and slated to become a 'growth area', while the floor space index (FSI) that regulates density, currently at 1.33, was jacked up to 8.0 in the most dense traffic hubs like railway stations!

In a media exchange in April last year, Municipal Commissioner Kunte and planning advisor to the municipal corporation, V.K. Phatak, shocked reporters and participants by declaring that the city's plan could not give specific room or reservations to 'affordable housing', and the housing formats for Mumbai in years to come would be determined "by market forces". These statements, and the growing crescendo of opposition to a badly researched and defective Mumbai Plan, forced Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis to suspend DP-2034 on April 22 last year, and send it back to the drawing board.

After three extensions, the new draft city plan was unveiled on May 27 this year. It expectedly triggered a rash of debates as planners and citizen groups rushed to meet the deadline of July 31 for filing 'objections and suggestions'.

Perhaps reacting to the criticism that the government was not doing enough through the planning process for providing affordable housing, the new draft introduced the reservation of 'affordable housing' or 'AH'. Targeting to construct one million affordable homes of 300, 450 and 600 sq. ft each, the plan, as a first baby step, has reserved small plots scattered over various wards that can accommodate around 25,000 units for the poor. But unfortunately, focused planning for affordable homes ends with this.

The rest of it is so much fluff. DP-2034, looking at the horizon, suggests an additional 3,330 hectares of land be reserved for affordable housing - 2,100 hectares of NDZ land, 1,100 hectares of tourism development zone (TDZ) land and 130 hectares of coastal land currently used as saltpans. However, the plan stops short of 'reserving' and identifying these lands for affordable housing. There is no demarcation of 'AH' on existing maps of the city. Instead, it offers additional development rights (up from 0.20 FSI to 3.0 for NDZ land) in the hope that the lure of the market will get landowners to opt for affordable housing schemes. Scratch the surface and it may be so much chimera as much of these lands in the draft plan may not exist.

Sample this: of nearly 5,400 acres of existing salt pan land, around 2,177 is said to be disputed and a tug of war between the Centre and the state government for control is yet to be sorted out. Similarly, the exact area under encroachment and how much falls under the coastal regulation zone (CRZ)-I is all grey area. The draft plan almost works backwards to 'create' 300,000 units through wishful thinking - heads like cooperative housing societies (75,000 units), redevelopment of old, cessed buildings or rented tenements from the British era (50,000) units, development and redevelopment of the state government's Maharashtra Housing and Area Development Authority (MHADA) tenements (1,50,000 units) and open market development (25,000 units) conjures up 300,000 units from segments of Mumbai's urban market over which the government has neither control nor scientific information for making these projections.

Mumbai's shortage of housing has to be seen in the unique context of an island city stricken by shortage of land and, therefore, land becoming an unusually high input cost. The central Rajiv Gandhi Awas Yojna, for instance, has a sanction for constructing 250,000 units for Mumbai, but the scheme has been a non-starter for lack of land with clear government title. With 20 million people cramming a narrow strip of coast covering just 462 sq. km, land constitutes as much as 60-70 per cent of the cost of a homebuyer. The state government acknowledges an immediate shortage of 890,000 dwelling units in Mumbai or 5 per cent of the national shortfall of 18 million units.

It is in this context that existing slums have to be seen as both the source of land for affordable housing as well as pockets of the urban spread most needing transformation. Mumbai's slums are very dense; they occupy just 8 per cent of the city's land mass, but house 48 per cent of Mumbai in nightmarish civic conditions. However, the municipal government's DP-2034 sees these pockets contributing just 100,000 affordable homes. The 'Mumbai Abhiyan', an umbrella group of citizens and housing rights organisations, has said the government has grossly underestimated the potential of slum lands to serve as a source of affordable housing. In a petition seeking modification of the draft DP plan, the Abhiyan calls for 'reserving' the approximately 39 sq. km of urban land occupied by slums for affordable housing. According to the math presented by the Abhiyan, this would yield 900,000 units to rehabilitate existing slum dwellers, besides freeing up land for developing an additional 400,000 'affordable' units for other working and middle classes.

The draft plan for Mumbai speaks of making available a land mass of 3,330 hectares or around 8,229 acres for affordable housing. However, till this land is actually identified and demarcated; and then 'reserved' on the city's planning maps for specifically defined 'affordable housing', general platitudes promising 10 million homes by 2034 will remain as so much paper.

What is commendable, though, is that 'affordable housing' as a nomenclature of planning has been accepted for the first time in Mumbai. It is now open for the 'Aam Admi' and his supporters to build on it.

The writer is a Mumbai-based freelance journalist

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