Pakistan Quarters

JAMSHED Quarters, Martin East, Martin West, and Jahangir Quarters are all part of Karachi’s Pakistan Quarters that were built on state land for government servants at the time of Partition. They are located on the main corridors of movement, and are easily accessible from the central business district. With the building of the Green Line BRT in the neighbourhood, the value of the land on which they are built has increased substantially.

After the 1960s, the quarters were abandoned by government agencies and left to evolve incrementally on the basis of the needs of residents. The vast majority of the original allottees have passed away, but there are still a few pensioners. The quarters are now occupied by the children, grandchildren — and in some cases, the great grandchildren of the original allottees — and the houses have been subdivided and extended to accommodate the increase in population.

Many households have rented out accommodation as well. The area contains sports clubs, religious societies, community welfare organisations, schools, mosques and imambargahs, and considerable economic activity — everything that creates cohesive communities. These have developed over the last 70 years.

Here’s an opportunity for the PM’s housing programme.

The residents of the quarters are now being asked to vacate, without any compensation or alternative accommodation, the houses that have become home to them and neighbourhoods where the majority of them had been born and grown up. They are being punished for the state’s negligence and corruption, and according to some, for the greed of developers who are eyeing this land. In the process, the existing housing stock in Karachi is being reduced, according to official figures, by about 8,000 units and their residents are being made homeless.

Taken from satellite imagery, the area of the quarters mentioned is 335 acres and the density by observation and satellite images is about 200 persons per acre. This means a population of 90,000 or 13,000 households.

In an ideal world, the residents would have stayed and paid for and managed the incremental upgrading of their settlement. But we live in a market economy where land use is determined by land value and not by environmental and sociological considerations.

However, the situation offers an opportunity for the prime ministers housing programme. The area can be redeveloped as low-rise apartments and/or houses of ground plus two floors to a density of 800 persons per acre. This will give us 40,000 housing units, an addition of 27,000 units to the existing stock. The existing population can be accommodated in low-cost units and the additional 27,000 units can be developed as middle-income housing and commercial facilities.

The residents should be required to pay the actual cost for their new homes in easy instalments over a 15-year period. To discourage speculation, no sale or transfer of the homes should be permitted for 15 years and in addition, to curtail speculation, community ownership of clusters of housing units should also be considered. Renters should be accommodated for they also need to be house owners. There can be many options for them but these can only be determined after proper surveys have been carried out. The entire project can easily be funded by commercial development along the main corridors.

If the design is sensitively done, there is enough space so that development can take place in a manner that no more than five per cent of the population will have to move out while their homes are under construction. The rest will move directly from their present to their new homes. This will overcome one of the major problems that redevelopment projects face and which causes immense hardships while people wait in rented accommodation or in relatives’ homes, sometimes for years, till the construction on their new homes is completed. In the process, most end up heavily in debt.

The best way to manage this redevelopment is to establish a research, design and construction company as a public-private enterprise. Research would be in understanding the community structures and their preferences and the existing social infrastructure so that planning and redevelopment can take place with the community’s involvement in design and supervision of construction.

The company should have a board consisting of a representative from the community, respected civil society citizens and relevant persons from academia. In addition, there should be a paid executive committee consisting of an area representative and independent professionals who see to it that the concerns of the board are addressed by the executive.

This concept may or may not be adopted, but hopefully we will not see violent evictions in the city again for ‘illegal’ settlements that are the result of the state’s failure to provide housing options to low-income groups. And surely, creating homelessness is not a part of the prime minister’s five million housing programme.

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