Access To Shelter

1. Shelter Related Definitions

What Is Shelter?

Shelter is not just a roof over one’s head. It has to be seen as part of a larger physical and social environment which is referred to by planners as housing which means access to land, physical infrastructure, nearness to places of work or access to comfortable transportation, and social infrastructure. Physical infrastructure includes water and sanitation, the absence of which results in poor health conditions and intolerable physical degradation of the environment. Physical infrastructure also includes electricity without which people are marginalized; gas for fuel in the absence of which people are forced to use expensive kerosene or health damaging timber as fuel.

Social infrastructure means neighbourhood primary schools and health centres and access to institutions of higher education and more sophisticated health facilities. It also means access to facilities for recreational, entertainment and community activities. The location of housing is important. If it is far away from places of work then people have to commute to work and this costs money and time. If transportation is bad it also means physical discomfort and mental stress.

How Is Housing Delivered?

The process of producing housing involves a large number of actors. Government through its various institutions coordinates the functioning of these actors by supporting or regulating their activities. These actors include land owners (the government is one of them) on whose properties housing is built; manufacturers and suppliers of building materials; developers who develop and sell property; contractors who build housing for individuals, government and communities; and banks and financial institutions, both formal and informal, who fund individuals, government organisations, developers and contractors in the housing process. It also includes architects, engineers and skilled and unskilled labour. For coordinating and regulating all these actors the government usually frames a number of rules and regulations and provides a number of initiatives that are contained in its five year development plans and national housing policies.

How Is A Housing Situation Judged?

The state of housing in a country or city is judged by various indicators. The most important indicator is the demand-supply gap. Demand is the number of housing units required as a result of an increase in population. This increase can be due to natural growth as well as migration. Supply is the number of housing units that are provided through state approved processes. The demand-supply gap is the difference between the two. If the gap is large housing conditions are bound to be poor. Backlog is another indicator and means the number of housing units that are required but have not been built. Other indicators are rooms per house (the less the number of rooms the worse housing conditions are considered) and the number of persons per room (the larger the number the poorer the housing conditions). Other indicators include the availability of water, sanitation, electricity and the quality of construction, especially roofs.

2. Government Policies Since Independence

The Welfare State Model

The crisis of shelter began in Pakistan immediately after independence. Due to the partition of India 6.8 million people migrated to Pakistan and most of them settled in the urban areas of Sindh and Punjab. According to the 1951 Census, over 45 per cent of the urban population of Pakistan consisted of refugees from India. Migrants squatted on government land within the cities. Alternatively, agricultural land near the cities and urban properties belonging to the fleeing Hindus and Sikhs were subdivided and occupied. Many of these refugee colonies were regularised by the state and they expanded as a result of rural-urban migration. They laid the basis on which future katchi abadis were built and sustained.

At Independence the government of Pakistan adopted the welfare state model for its development policies. According to this model the state undertook to provide housing to its people. Projects were launched in many cities of the country to provide core housing (one or two rooms, toilet, kitchen) for low income groups and for government employees. The largest housing initiatives were in Karachi where through the Greater Karachi Resettlement Plan of 1958, the government aimed at providing 500,000 housing units in 15 to 20 years, the majority of them for low income groups. However, the state by 1964 could only build only 10,000 of these units in Karachi due to a lack of funds and management expertise1. Also the beneficiaries of these schemes had to pay for the houses and infrastructure in small instalments over different periods of time for different schemes. Payments were erratic and very often simply did not materialise. The housing schemes in other cities faced a similar fate and were discontinued.

After Independence the government also supported the process of creating housing cooperative societies by providing state land at well below market prices to the societies. Many of these societies were of government employees and of officers of the armed forces. Others were of a clan and/or ethnic nature. However, the members of these societies invariably belonged to the higher and middle income groups and as such these initiatives have failed to provide housing to the working classes or to the rural poor. With the passage of time these housing societies have changed their membership rules and made it possible for their members to sell their properties in the open market and become rich on state provided land subsidies. In many urban areas the infrastructure of these societies is now managed and maintained by local government and not by themselves. Thus, strictly speaking, they can no longer be considered as cooperatives.

In the fifties, the government also established the House Building Finance Corporation (HBFC). The HBFC gave mortgage finance for house building against collateral. This meant that if you owned a plot of land and have built your house up till the plinth level, you were entitled to a loan for completing the house. The loan had an interest rate attached to it. The HBFC did not, and still does not, offer any loans for the purchase of land and as such it is of no use to the vast majority of landless people in both the rural and urban areas. The HBFC since its inception has also offered loans for the improvement and additions to individual houses. This has also not benefited poor families since most of them do not legally own the houses they live in and as such they cannot use them as collateral. Also, the poor are not considered loan-worthy and have difficulty in fulfilling the complex documentation requirements of the HBFC.

The Urban Population Explosion And Its Repercussions

In the late fifties and the decade of the sixties, Pakistan adopted the green revolution technologies in the agriculture sector and also opted for large scale industrialisation. As a result of these two factors, there was massive rural-urban migration. Urban growth rate increased to 4.84 per cent and 4.76 percent between 1951-61 and 1961-71 respectively. As a result, 10.575 million people were added to the urban areas of Pakistan in a period of 20 years2. The vast majority of these belonged to the lower income group. The scale of the problem was far too large for the state to manage through the social welfare state concept and so, instead of building houses, the state decided to adopt the site and services concept. This concept was also promoted by UN advisors to the government of Pakistan.

  1. Hasan, A: Housing for the Poor: City Press, Karachi, 2000
  2. Population Census Reports: Government of Pakistan

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