How People House themselves Today

1. Background

Previously people either squatted or lived in informal settlements. The government regularised these settlements, evicted them and/or relocated them. Today most NGO and CBO work is around preventing evictions, making relocations more humane and upgrading. However, an important question is how the large number of poor coming into the cities acquire shelter today. This is an important question since

  • Squatting is becoming increasingly difficult, and in some cases impossible, since land within the city and its immediate periphery is required for middle income housing and corporate sector related infrastructure.
  • Cost of land is no longer affordable for the poor and the lower middle income groups. In Karachi for instance, in 1992 the cost of one square metre of land in an informal settlement was 1.7 times the daily wage for unskilled labour. Today, it is 10 times the daily wage for unskilled labour.1
  • In most countries social housing, including sites and services for the poor and large scale upgrading programmes have been suspended.2

Evidence from Karachi, Istanbul, Cairo, Bangkok and Dhaka suggest that there is very little research on recent developments on how people acquire housing today in a very different socio-political and economic environment.3 Anecdotal evidence also suggests that housing is acquired through:

  • Densification of existing settlements creating unacceptable social conditions.4
  • Development of rentals in existing settlements/new rental informal arrangements with little or no security of tenure.5
  • Real estate developer produced housing which seems to be increasing. Housing unit varies between 15 – 25 square metres. This is small for a family and poses many social problems. This space is provided both as ownership and as rental. Down payments for this space are the problem and not the instalments and/or rents. This unaffordability leads to sharing and congestion.

There is also evidence to suggest that there is a major difference between the new and old settlements. The old settlements when they were new were settlements of hope with community organisations being supported by NGOs in building and accessing infrastructure and security of tenure. The new ones are desperately poor in an age of inflation and food insecurity. NGOs are providing charity instead of development to them.6

Many governments are trying through land-use and financial sector related reforms to facilitate the poor in accessing the real estate market.7

2. Proposal

It is proposed that the above anecdotal evidence listed in the background be tested for authenticity. This can be done through an exploration into the issue of how people acquire housing today. The exploration should consist of

  • Identifying through census or other available documentation the housing requirements of the city and its poorer populations.
  • A listing and analysis8 of land and finance related reforms enacted by government and/or private sector initiatives, to support the poor in acquiring a home, land and/or funds for purchase and/or construction. A small case study of a scheme where they have been used (interviews, questionnaire 50-100 respondents) with plans of the housing units.
  • A description and analysis of developer provided housing for sale, its scale, cost and procedures. A small case study of such a scheme (interviews, questionnaire 50-100 respondents) with plans of the housing units.
  • A description and analysis of rentals in the city; their scale, costs, procedures and their relation to rent laws (formal and informal). A small case study of a scheme (interviews, questionnaire 50-100 respondents) with plans of the housing units.
  • A description and analysis of new informal or squatting settlements on the city fringes; their scale, procedures of development, cost of land and construction, rentals, security and a comparison with older inner city settlements. A small case study of a scheme (interviews, questionnaire 50-100 respondents) with plans of the housing units.
  • Conclusions from the above.

3. Time Frame

Three months after an initial meeting. In the initial meeting (which will be held in Bangkok) the researchers will bring the results of an initial exploration with them so as to refine the terms of reference for the study.

4. Costs:

to be determined

5.Possible Cities:

Seoul, Phnom Penh, Bangkok, Karachi, Bombay, Kathmandu.

  1. Arif Hasan; Housing Security and Related Issues; October 2008
  2. Kirtee Shah; Promoting Pro-poor Urban Infrastructure Investments in Asia – A Road Map for Capacity Development; November 2010
  3. For Bangkok, see attachment to this proposal
  4. See
  5. For Bangkok, see attachment to this proposal
  6. Observations on settlements in Karachi and Hyderabad, Pakistan
  7. Examples of this are the low interest housing loans offered by banks in Thailand and the marked based urban housing strategies for the poor in India.
  8. Analysis means identifying how these reforms and initiatives support the poor in acquiring housing and also the problems that they pose as a result of their procedures and in being implemented.

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