THE right to safe and affordable housing and shelter is fundamental to tackling poverty and improving access to other basic rights. Recently, the minister for housing and works informed a Senate standing committee that the country is facing a shortage of 11m houses. Housing was one of the highlights of the PTI government’s election manifesto, setting an ambitious target of constructing up to 5m low-cost homes that would largely cater to the “poor, salaried class and government employees”, in the words of Prime Minister Imran Khan. Financed by the private sector and commercial banks, and built upon state land, the scheme promises to generate new savings for investment and create employment in the country. Previous governments have also attempted pushing for low-income housing schemes, but not on such an ambitious size and scale. So far, the Pakistan Mortgage Refinance Company is said to have received $58m from the World Bank towards this effort, it was reported in January, while the countrywide scheme was launched in Balochistan in April this year. Although critics have raised questions about the feasibility of the project (there is a glaring lack of finances and clarity, they say), it has the potential of becoming a milestone achievement for both the government and the people of this country by the sounds of it — if somehow successfully implemented. There is no doubt that the prime minister is considered a visionary with unique ideas, but whether he keeps an eye on the messy realities on ground is debatable. Earlier this year, he also spoke about how he wanted to encourage high-rises as they are environmentally friendly and affordable for the poorest subsection of society.
However, until speech transforms into action and results, it will be difficult to gauge which direction this country is heading in. Given the backdrop of a burgeoning population, a struggling economy, inflation at its highest in eight years, and reports of the most vulnerable people being evicted from their homes in state-ordered anti-encroachment drives across the country every other day, the urgent need for providing affordable housing and regularising informal settlements cannot be emphasised enough. It is also difficult to not notice the anti-poor bias and blatant hypocrisy on display each time the land and property of the wealthy is regularised when controversy about their status’ arises, but the same lawful ‘flexibility’ is not extended to those born into lesser circumstances.
Published in Dawn, July 20th, 2019