URBANISATION in Pakistan is rising exponentially. Studies by the Planning Commission of Pakistan show that by 2030, about half of the population shall be living in cities and other urban settlements.
Among the fundamental needs that emanate from this demographical change, the need for housing deserves foremost mention. It is obvious that housing options for various cross sections of the urban (and even rural) society are very limited. Creation of slums, squatter settlements, peri-urban hutments and an unending sprawl are some visible indicators that can be commonly observed across the country.
The changing sociological dynamics in the urban areas directly cause an increase in housing needs. The demand for housing, especially apartments, in large cities such as Karachi and single-unit villas in other urban locations, is intensifying. An important contributor to the swelling housing demand is the expanding housing backlog.
According to some studies, a backlog of nine million housing units exists as per current estimates. About 300,000 formally built units are constructed annually with a predominant focus in urban areas. Therefore, the backlog continues to mount. The large urban clusters which are experiencing a population growth due to in-migration and natural factors experience a sharper rise in backlog on an annual basis. Katchi abadis and shanty towns then serve the un-served.
####A backlog of nine million housing units exists in Pakistan.
The housing demand is also affected by migration to cities for better healthcare and educational opportunities, employment and entrepreneurial options and for security reasons. The social dislocations caused due to geopolitical factors, disasters and terrorist and anti-terrorist campaigns in Pakistan during the past three decades also need to be studied in order to evaluate their impact on cities.
Replacement of housing stock is an important demand factor in the context of urban Pakistan. Housing studies based on the 1998 census reveal that a visible demand for housing repairs, replacement and redevelopment remains in urban areas across the country.
In the past, land was considered a social asset. Now it is traded as a saleable commodity. Urban land has become a product attracting investments in exponential proportions. Therefore, its prices rise to such high limits that its availability and access become impossible for housing, especially for low- and middle-income clientele.
The large metropolitan centres face encroachment of public land, which limits chances of its availability for housing. Political interests define and determine land supply and distribution, while social and development-related demands such as housing become a low priority.
The allocations of land to various political favourites at less than the market price in Karachi, large real estate developments in the peri-urban locations, unapproved land subdivisions and development of housing schemes by realtors in Lahore and Islamabad are cases in point.
Housing for the urban poor is the most vital area of intervention for policymakers and planning and development agencies in cities and towns. The Karachi Strategic Development Plan 2020 informs us that urban poor households — whose members mostly reside in informal settlements of various kinds — came to 941,968 in 2010. More than 100,000 new households in this category are added yearly, which require a corresponding number of housing units and allied facilities.
The emergence of katchi abadis in Islamabad also reflects the fact that better controlled and managed cities have not been able to extend affordable options to the urban poor. As per Capital Development Authority records, more than 15 katchi abadis have evolved in different locations in Islamabad comprising a varying number of households and profiles. Once created, katchi abadis pose the tough question of regularisation or eviction for city administrators.
Housing finance is an important sub-sector as it acts as a vital catalyst in the facilitation of a vast clientele. It is affected by various considerations. Studies indicate that at present, not more than two per cent of funds are arranged through formal housing finance institutions. High risks in transactions, poor governance and a breakdown of law and order on a routine basis impacts the scenario.
Many steps need to be taken to enhance the options and choices of housing for ordinary citizens. The provincial governments must consider establishing housing resource centres at the district levels. These institutions may be empowered to gather and package up-to-date information about public and private sector housing options.
Pilot projects may be undertaken for developing housing on a cooperative basis for low-grade employees of government and public organisations and formal private organisations. Also, the House Building Finance Corporation must undertake innovatively designed packages to enhance clientele and expand housing access to needy groups.
The writer is professor and chairman, Department of Architecture and Planning at NED University, Karachi.
Published in Dawn, September 4th, 2014