Housing Imperatives for Karachi

Housing is without doubt the most important issue facing the vast majority of people living in Karachi. The failure to resolve it is creating stress, uncertainity and homelessness for the poorer and lower middle class sections of society and increasing the rich-poor divide. Since Independence a large housing demand-supply gap has always existed in Karachi. Previously this gap was accommodated in katchi abadis. However, this is becoming difficult as land that could previously be used for katchi abadis is now required for meeting the demands of global capital and the emerging middle class. Due to this, prices of land in katchi abadis have become unaffordable, even to the better-off among the poor. As a result, entire families have now started living on the streets and in public spaces. Surveys suggest that the majority of these are those who have been evicted from their previous homes due to rising rent and landuse changes or due to the breakup of extended families, often because of disputes related to ownership or to a lack of space. Once, Karachi housing related professionals were very proud that unlike other mega-cities of South Asia, people did not sleep in the streets in their city. This is no longer the case.

The demand for strategically located land by commercial interests, often promoted by profit seeking mega projects, is also evicting people from existing katchi abadis. Since 1997, more than 50,000 Karachi households have had their homes bulldozed. More than half these evictions have taken place in the last four years. In addition, since then 1,777 huts have been burnt rendering more than 12,000 people homeless. Nineteen minor children, four young girls and six adults were burnt alive in these incidents. Plazas have been constructed on some of these locations.

About 50 per cent of the evictees have been offered a plot of land in a relocation site. Urban Resource Centre surveys of the relocation sites, which are 20 to 25 kilometres away from the city centre, show that relocation has impoverished the affectees. This is because their travel costs have increased by more than 100 per cent, their women can no longer work, their children’s education has been disrupted, utilities are not available unlike previously, and the long hours of travelling to and from work increase stress and disrupts family and social life.

News items in the press indicate that the state intends to demolish katchi abadis in key locations and build eight storey flats and commercial centres in their place. The affected katchi abadis residents are to be allotted an apartment in these new developments. This proposal is an open invitation to corruption and will not serve the interests of the residents. It has failed in the case of the Lines Area Project in Karachi and has never been successful in other countries except where there are strong governments and the affectees are formally employed persons. Fish vendors, hawkers, motor mechanics and small commercial enterprises cannot operate from high-rise apartments. Therefore, the upgradation of katchi abadis is the only viable solution. However, under the present rules only abadis that were formed before 23 March 1985 are eligible for regularisation. This means that about half of the katchi abadi population is vulnerable to evictions. In the interests of justice, equity and pragmatism, it is necessary to extend this cut-off date to 30 June 2007. The Punjab government has wisely extended it to 31 December 2006.

The major objection of the anti-katchi abadi regularisation lobby is that they are “eye-sores”. However, experience from other Third World countries shows that they can be made extremely attractive with very little investment. The author of this piece has offered to be an honorary advisor for a pilot project of this sort for two katchi abadis.

Surveys for the Karachi Strategic Development Plan 2020, a comparison of the 1981 and 1998 census and other official documents show that housing conditions in Karachi have deteriorated. For example, in 1978 the katchi abadi population was 55 per cent of the total population of Karachi. In 1980 it was 43 per cent. This decline was due to the social housing policies of the Bhutto government in the 70’s. In 1998 it was 50 per cent (700,152 households) and in 2006 it was 61 per cent (1,200,000 households). Asian Development Bank figures indicate that 50.5 per cent Karachiites live below the poverty line. For katchi abadis this figure is 89 per cent of which 54 per cent are chronic poor. This is a major increase from previous surveys. In addition, in 1980 Housing Census houses with separate latrines were 74 per cent, separate kitchens 65 per cent and separate bathrooms 69 per cent. In 1998 Census, these figures have fallen to 47 per cent, 48 per cent and 34 per cent respectively. The Karachi Strategic Development Plan 2020 survey shows that 34.4 per cent of households earn less than Rs 5,000 and 41.4 per cent earn between Rs 5,000 and Rs 10,000 per month. It is estimated that these households spend 75 per cent of their earnings on food items and 18 per cent on utility bills. This means that the current housing market cannot possibly be accessed by over 75 per cent of Karachi households.

Given the above conditions a massive social housing programme for Karachi is required. An essential ingredient of this plan has to be strategically located land on or near the main corridors of movement or near major work centres. Such land is available but hoarded for speculation. To bring it into the land market a heavy non-utilisation fee of at least 10 per cent per year of its value is required. This will also make land prices more realistic.

In addition to the extension of the cut-off date, the imposition of the non-utilisation fee and the adoption of upgrading of katchi abadis rather than redevelopment, a few more ingredients for social housing are required. One, between now and such a time as we can close the demand-supply gap informal settlements will be required. Plans should be developed for providing zones at socially appropriate locations for the creation of settlements on the Khuda Ki Basti model for a five year period. Two, given the changing sociology of Karachi the major demand in the next decade is going to be for low and lower middle income built units rather than plots. These can be provided on the basis of recovery of their costs at Rs 10 to Rs 20,000 down payment and a monthly payment of Rs 1,500 to Rs 3,000 for over a 15 years period. If the price exceeds this it should be subsidised from other sources. However, the major problem for making such housing initiatives successful is related to accurate targeting and making speculation difficult. Models for both of these can be developed with the help of katchi abadi CBOs. Initial research also shows that with changes in byelaws and through innovative layouts, development costs can be halved of what they are today. However, none of this is possible without political will and the creation of effective institutions committed to making this possible.

One Comment

  1. Muhammad Jameel

    I need to meet you for further discussion on Karachi development in future.Jameel Khan 030232723213.

    Posted June 3, 2014 at 10:41 am | PermalinkReply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

site design by iMedia
Mobile Menu
Responsive Menu Image Responsive Menu Clicked Image