A long-standing demand of developers was recognised when the government granted infrastructure status to affordable housing in the Union Budget 2017-18 as a measure to boost its flagship ‘Housing for All by 2022’ project.
The infrastructure status will simplify the approval process for affordable housing projects, create clear guidelines, and increase transparency in the segment. Most importantly, it will ensure easier access to institutional credit and help in reducing developers’ cost of borrowing for affordable projects. While developers are buoyed by the government’s largesse, the government expects that the benefits of the decision will be transferred to home buyers under the scheme.
The key components of a successful affordable housing scheme are; quantity, quality, availability and affordability. While the infrastructure status granted to affordable housing aims at reducing costs (affordability), the positive response of developers may ensure quantity and availability. The important question which remains to be asked in this context is; will the infrastructure status to affordable housing also ensure construction quality?
In this regard, a specific mechanism for maintenance of quality in affordable housing was laid down way back in 2007 by the then UPA government when it envisaged the project under the aegis of the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM).
The guideline states, “Supervision of quality and timeliness of construction would need to be done by quality control mechanisms put in place by States/UTs. A three- tier Quality Management System will be mandatory. The first level will be developing agency, second by the State level quality monitor and third level by a nationally empanelled third party inspection and monitoring (TPIM) agency. Involvement of beneficiaries in the project should be encouraged.”
However, despite such mechanisms, in recent years we have witnessed affordable housing flats being returned by allottees. Out of a total of 25,000 DDA affordable housing flats auctioned, almost 8,500 were reportedly returned in January 2016. The main reasons were said to be the dismally small size of the flats making it unliveable, construction quality and lack of basic amenities such as availability of drinking water, electricity and roads.
While DDA accepted the complaints and gave reassurances with respect to future projects, in December 2017 it was reported that roughly another 3,000 affordable housing flats had been returned within a month of allotment in various parts of Delhi. The reasons cited were the same as before.
It is quite evident from such experiences that the quality of affordable housing has been sub-standard in some places, if not all. Developers obviously seem to be compromising on quality even though the land, a key cost component, is being provided by the government at subsidised rates.
Recently, the Housing Ministry has demanded a three-fold hike in its budget for the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana (PMAY) Urban, to meet the targeted requirement of 1.2 crore affordable houses by 2022. Secondly, the ministry has also proposed an India Housing Construction Technology Challenge on the lines of the Smart City Challenge, wherein global firms will be invited to India to demonstrate construction techniques for housing that are affordable and take minimum time. The technology found to be most effective will be used to further the affordable housing scheme in India. It only remains to be seen how far such measures will help in timely delivery of quality affordable housing.