Chasing the Affordable Dream


India is grappling with a burgeoning urban crisis. The promised 100 ‘smart’ cities continue on the drawing board and the promise of ‘Housing for All by 2022’ is a distant dream. Demonetization, meanwhile, has frozen the real estate market that heretofore largely catered to the rich.

Suddenly, market forces and the demands of the ‘great unwashed’ have coalesced to make the concept of ‘affordable housing’ a workable reality. And it is Mumbai, a city with the gravest shortage of land and the largest of slum populations, which has now become the laboratory for the experiment.

As different stake holders jostle for land and policy concessions, the authors of the book argue that by reserving and exploiting land held by government agencies and occupied by slums, it is possible not only to house the poor but to create enough housing stock to wipe out Mumbai’s housing shortage.

The authors – PK Das, Gurbir Singh, Ritu Dewan, and Kabir Agarwal – are among the founding members of Nivara Hakk, a Mumbai-based housing rights organisation, and much of their three decades of experience is reflected in the book.

Expected Release: June 30, 2018

Praise for the Book

[The lead author,] Das[,] isn’t an armchair commentator but an activist who has fused his professional acumen as an architect with his passion for improving the lives of the homeless, the majority of Mumbai’s population, perhaps comprising the largest number of slum dwellers in the world. This is an absorbing account of some of these struggles in which the journalist Gurbir Singh also took part, and with the contributions of Ritu Dewan and Kabir Agarwal, is accompanied by perceptive analysis of the problems and possibilities of providing affordable housing in India’s commercial capital.

— Darryl D’Monte, former Resident Editor of the Times of India and Indian Express in Mumbai and author of Ripping the Fabric: The Decline of Mumbai and its Mills (OUP, 2002).

About the Author(s)
Gurbir Singh

Gurbir Singh is a senior journalist whose career in the profession spans over three decades. He began as a journalist in 1980 by writing for various publications including Onlooker, EPW and the Indian Express, Mumbai. His first appointment was on the News Desk of The Economic Times as a Sub-Editor. From September 2017, he is working as ‘Consulting Editor’ of The New Indian Express to revamp and improve various aspects of the daily. He also writes occasionally for the and Business Today.

Kabir Agrawal

Kabir Agarwal is a Correspondent at The Wire where he writes on the intersection of politics and economics. In the past, he has worked with The Times of India, Nivara Hakk Suraksha Samiti, and the Mumbai School of Economics and Public Policy.

P.K. Das

P.K. Das is popularly known as an Architect-Activist. His priority has been to establish a very close relation between architecture and people by involving them in a participatory planning process.

His wide spectrum of work includes organizing slum dwellers for better living and evolving affordable housing models, engaging in policy framework for public housing, reclaiming public spaces including developing the waterfronts, re-envisioning the city of Mumbai, along with an architectural practice involving urban planning, urban design, architecture and interior design assignments across India.

Ritu Dewan

Prof. Ritu Dewan is the Vice President of the Indian Society of Labour Economics, Director, Centre for Development Research and Action, Mumbai, and the President of the Indian Association for Women’s Studies (2014-17). She was, till her retirement, the first-ever woman Director of the Department of Economics, University of Mumbai, and the founder-member of the first Centre for Gender Economics. She has over a hundred publications, including 25 books and monographs, encompassing a wide range of issues.

Book Excerpt

‘Affordability’ in the context of housing is a much-abused term that means different things to different people. It is frequently used in relation to income, the connotation changing as income levels vary. Lack of an ‘affordable’ home to the poor means they are forced to lead a life devoid of the basic human right to a dignified and safe dwelling.

It is in the context of the urban poor that the lack of affordable housing becomes a multi-faceted form of deprivation. Often, the lack of affordability results in the household having to spend a large proportion of its meagre income on housing and thus having a substantially reduced amount to spend on its other needs (Kutty, 2005).

This negatively impacts the ability of the household to spend on non-housing essentials such as food, health care and education. The affordability problem thus contributes to an increase in other forms of deprivation as well.

Finding affordable homes is a serious challenge in a large number of our cities. Not having any other option, households are often resigned to living on hazardous lands such as dumping grounds, along nullahs, and hill-slopes that are vulnerable to landslides and flooding. Health issues that arise due to the lack of sanitation and water facilities only add to the misery of a large proportion of urban dwellers. Additionally, the sizes of units that people are forced to live in and the lack of optimum open spaces cause congestion trauma.


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