How to Shelter Urban Poor

The dimensions of the urban crisis in Pakistan are well known, and as such need no elaboration. The most important aspect of this crisis is related to the provision of land and shelter for lower income groups. Over 40 per cent of the population in our cities lives in squatter colonies. In spite of elaborate studies on this aspect of the problem, by national and international development agencies and experts, and in spite of the evolution and application of new and alternative strategies for development, the problem continues to grow.

The cause for the continued growth of squatter colonies is that government response to the shelter needs of the urban poor is not compatible with their sociology and economic.

This article seeks to identify the failures in the government’s response to this problem and to understand the functioning in Karachi of the informal sector in housing, which is responsible for the creation of katchi abadis.

In Karachi, the state has at different times reacted in a different manner to the problem of providing hand and housing to the lower income groups.

The initial response to the problem was the building of houses for the poor. For this purpose the government undertook the construction of large housing colonies complete with all services on the outskirts of the city and moved inner city squatters to these areas.

To finance these ambitious schemes, the state raised loans from national and international agencies at comparatively low rates of interest. The residents of these houses were to repay these loans over a fifteen to twenty five year period.

Although the government managed to shift a sizeable number of the poor to these colonies, this strategy has now been abandoned as no government in the world possesses such enormous resources that it can provide houses to its poor. Through this strategy one can deal only with a very small part of the problem, and as the problem is not a static one, it will, with the passage of time, require larger investments.

Foreign loans can help one or two or more colonies, but they cannot deal with the problems as a whole. In addition, repayment of the loan by taxing the user has a history of absolute failure in Pakistan.

The Landhi-Korangi housing colonies of the early sixties, in Karachi, are examples of this sort of development and after 25 years 116.5 million out of an investment of 186.2 million, have still not been recovered from the users.

Given the impossibility of constructing houses for the poor, government policies then aimed at providing land with all urban facilities to the lower income groups. This land was developed by official agencies and put up for direct sale. Thus the system of loans was dispensed with so as to overcome the problem of recovery. However, almost all such schemes have failed to serve the target group and become middle income colonies.

The causes for the failure of these schemes are fairly simple. To begin with, the cost of development, complete with all services, is exorbitantly high and cannot be afforded by lower income groups. In addition, there is an affluent middle class in Karachi which can afford to pay higher prices for serviced plots than what the local bodies fix for their schemes.

Where administrative controls make it difficult for this class to move in, the projects lie empty for years until such controls are removed. In this process the government suffers large economic losses and the services are damaged due to non-use.

Again, because of a dearth of regularized plots, with necessary services, these schemes become subject to speculation and as a result, the target group is not served. If these projects were of a much larger size, perhaps with lower standards of infrastructure, to lower costs, there would be greater chances of their success.

The Metroville projects in Karachi, are examples of this type of development. The Orangi Metroville was developed in 1974 as a site and services project for lower income groups. It was almost unoccupied until 1978. It has now become a middle income area and the users have demolished the utility walls put up on the plots by the Karachi Development Authority (KDA) as part of the project, as these walls could not be integrated into the design of middle income housing. The Metroville provided for 4,141 plots. Since its inception, over 60,000 plots have been developed and occupied illegally around it, in what is now known as Orangi Town.

To overcome the financial problems related to the site and services programmes, the state has now turned into a “developer”. This means that projects are announced before they are physically commenced, and the public is asked to apply for a plot with an advance payment. Those who cannot be allotted the plots, have their money refunded. The rest pay for the plots in instalments as the work on roads and services progress.

This form of development, though in many cases ostensibly meant for lower income groups, does not cater to them for a variety of reasons. For one, lower income groups require land for their immediate needs and cannot wait for the development process to be completed, which in some cases may take up to 10 years.

Besides, to get the land, the people must apply for it, fulfil a series of formalities, and deal with state officials. Given the relationship between an individual from the lower income groups and the State in our country, and given the time wasted in bureaucratic red-tapism, even if they can afford it, and are willing to wait for years, the poor do not apply for these plots. Surjani Town and Shah Latif Town are examples of this sort of development in Karachi. Plots in these schemes were allotted between 1979 and 1983, but till 1985 none of them were occupied.

Having realized that they cannot give the poor regularized land with urban services at an affordable price, the state has accepted the squatter colonies as a reality and initiated a process of regularizing and upgrading them. Through this process the squatters are given title to the land that they occupy. The payment for this lease finances the upgrading process.

From details available it seems that the upgrading plan will dislocate 20 to 25 per cent of the population. The state will provide alternative accommodation to the displaced families at the same cost as the regularization action.

The results of this regularization process have so far been discouraging. The squatters feel that once an area has been marked for regularization, they are secure and as such they are no longer in a hurry to get a lease or pay development charges.

Also, these charges are much higher than what people are capable of paying at one go, and recovering money in instalments is a complex and expensive process with a very limited history of success.

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