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Book: Chasing the Affordable Dream

The book Chasing The Affordable Dream, by authors PK Das, Gurbir Singh, Ritu Dewan and Kabir Agarwal, addresses the widespread issue of housing in the metropolitan city of Mumbai. The architect PK Das and journalist Gurbir Singh are among the founding members of Nivara Hakk, an NGO that stands for the people’s right to housing, and for more than three decades have fought for affordable housing and planned redevelopment in the city. Dewan brings forth her humanistic research in labour economics to the work. And Agarwal, a correspondent for The Wire, focuses on the intersection between economics and politics.

Today, the shortfall in affordable housing in Mumbai is over a million units. This impacts not just the poor and the working class, but also the middle class. Nearly 75% of the city’s 20-million-strong population has been excluded from realising their housing dream.

What compounds and reflects this inequality and injustice is the high number of vacant houses in the city, estimated at nearly half a million units. This reflects a deep-rooted indifference and inefficiency not only in planning, but also in the skewed way the market works and allocates resources, reinforcing disparity and exclusion.

Living conditions in most slums are deplorable. Low-grade and insufficient services and amenities have led to unhygienic living conditions, adversely affecting the health and labouring capacity of slum-dwellers. Repairing and retro-fitting the various ad-hoc civic services and collapsing infrastructure will not work.

The authors contend that planned redevelopment is the need of the hour. However, this redevelopment has to be through participatory planning and reconstruction. It has to keep out developer lobbies, whose sole interest is to grab the best portions of slum lands for commercial projects. Central to government policy has to be the allocation of adequate land for affordable housing and amenities. The authors also focus on the consequences of living in what they consider planned unplanning.

Nivara Hakk’s contention is that if lands occupied by slums and those controlled by government agencies are reserved for affordable housing and judiciously exploited for enabling construction of 300 sq. ft. to 750 sq. ft. housing units with regulated pricing, then Mumbai can achieve additional stock of over a million units, thereby wiping out the entire deficit in the city.

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Nivara's solution for Slums