The price of affordable housing
It should not come at the cost of construction quality reduction
One phrase commonly found across government schemes is ‘affordable housing’. Pull out a serious magazine on human settlements or search on urban development in internet, we are sure to find it more often than once. With such popular thematic discussion, we should be finding innumerable affordable housing projects across India.
On the contrary, we do not find many projects across urban India that can be endorsed as affordable. Even the word ‘affordable’ itself is debatable as to what it means or for whom it applies. In principle, it is public mass housing where this term was applied until now, but now even individual houses being designed for urban middle class families need to consider this term seriously.
Many government social housing schemes are actually subsidised to make them affordable by the economically weaker sections, hence are not realistic and replicable. Good intentions of cost reductions are partly achieved by quality reductions within the mainstream brick and cement approach, as such are far from being eco-friendly. The long-term maintenance tasks and costs add up so much to their life cycle costs, we find frequent cases where owners sell off their units.
The word ‘affordable’ is also debatable, where we can argue that a multi-crore apartment is affordable for a millionaire. Financially, the cut-off line in terms of income level or spending limits is important if the units were to be allocated to the urban poor, whereas, the minimum built area to be designed becomes another criterion, both for the poor and the rich. After all, it is the built area that largely governs the project cost.
Be it in public or private residences, the spending capacity of the owner should be equated with the total project cost. Such total figure should include civil construction; site development even if it is minimal; interior design or simple storage needs; moveable furniture; electrical and plumbing fixtures; cost of water and power during construction; needs such as compound walls and gates; payments for official and consultancy services; basic gadgets like water heaters or pumps; various deposits and such others. Mostly, we have to pay for land, registration and papers.
In the absence of such comprehensive calculations, potential owners fall for mainly civil cost as the budgetary allocation needed to start the project, finding it difficult halfway through. Even if the project is truly affordable, being designed and built judiciously, it unfortunately gets a bad name for no fault of its own. The danger of falling into such traps is common even while an architect designs for typical urban middle class or rich client.
In principle, a cost-effective building built with local resources should also be a green building, and if all these criteria are met with, it will automatically be an affordable house.