By Anil Pharande, Chairman – Pharande Spaces
Affordable housing isn’t just about providing homes to those who need the most – it also plays a crucial part in a smoothly-running economy. Sadly, most of the cities across the globe are struggling to offer decent, affordable housing to their citizens. India is not a unique case – the story is the same for both developing and advanced economies. The world is going through an intensive phase of urbanization, but the growth in individual incomes is not keeping pace, and this presents a gloomy picture for the housing situation.
Statistics indicate that over the next decade, the number of people adjusting in substandard housing will rise exponentially. Incidentally, India will be among the most challenged nations, unless the government is able to realistically work on its electoral promise of ‘housing for all’.
The ‘affordability gap’ is defined as the difference between the average rent people pay for their homes without having to spend more than 30% of their family income, and the price of acceptable housing units. In India, population growth has obviously triggered a rise in the affordable housing gap, but it by no means the only country with this problem. In the next 10-12 years, the world in general will have to come up with an additional 106 million low-income housing units.
These statistics illustrate a serious problem – how will this rising gap be bridged? In a country like India, what would be the means that will allow the government to support faster affordable home deliveries? Strategically, there would be three primary approaches to resolve the problem, and all are centered on lowered cost of construction, financing, land, maintenance and operations.
Even if individually implemented, each of the three approaches will significantly cut the affordable housing gap, especially in nations like India. If these approaches could be implemented in a tandem, the cost of affordable housing can be decreased by as much as 35-50%, gradually leading to a manageable situation over the next decade.
Freeing Up Developable Land
Land supply is among the most important element in housing prices. It is also responsible for the largest part of the overall investment in buying a home. If the government decides to open up strategic land around urban locations, it could be a huge solution to the rising prices of homes. At the policy level, making this happen is not too complicated either.
Most Indian cities have land parcels that remain unused or underused. In most cases, this land either belongs to the government or local/private authorities. Bringing forward these land parcels for real estate development will greatly help in launching affordable housing projects.
Bringing Down The Cost Of Construction
Compared to other sectors like manufacturing, the construction sector has been relatively stagnant in the past years. One of the reasons for this is lack of innovation – residential projects still use traditional techniques of construction that were used some 50 years ago. This is not the problem of India alone but many countries across the globe.
By replacing obsolete construction techniques with the latest modern innovative technologies, housing prices can be reduced by almost 30% and completion times by as much as 40%. For instance, using pre-fabricated components of construction that are manufactured off the site are a sterling solution. Processes like this, which are already in use in India but not to the required degree, can improve the efficiency of residential building deployment, and significantly augment budget housing supply.
A communal approach to construction materials purchasing by groups of developers who are committed to the cause of affordable housing would also help bring down housing prices.
Lowering The Cost Of Finance
In a cost-sensitive country like India, banking interest rates play a huge role in housing affordability. At the current interest rates, and even given the current subsidies, it is next to impossible for low income earners to get loans to buy homes. Banks and other financial institutions in the public and private domain should introduce encouraging schemes like contractual savings to assist low income earners to gradually accumulate the corpus needed to make down payments on affordable homes. Of course, lower interest rates would greatly help the situation.
Apart from these, the Indian government must also find means to reduce the cost of financing to developers engaged in affordable housing projects. It is encouraging that the new government is already working on its electoral mandate, but there is still no sign of a unified approach to implementation of its goals. Hopefully, we will see more progress being made on the ‘Housing For All’ promise in the future.
(Anil Pharande is Chairman of Pharande Spaces, a leading construction and development firm that develops township properties in Western Pune.)