Are there any solutions available to improve access to housing in rural areas?
The prime minister’s stated vision includes delivering five million housing units with a focus on the financially underserved and middle-income communities. The Naya Pakistan Housing and Development Authority (NPHDA) talks about two low-cost housing models.
Model 1 will build housing units on government land, 70 percent of it will be low-cost housing. Its financial model consists of 30 percent equity by builders, 10 percent by beneficiaries and 60 percent by banks on subsidised rates.
Model 2 is a pure private sector model with government facilitation provided in exchange for a 40 percent low-cost housing component. There is no clarity on what is low cost. To cite one example, in Rawalpindi, the Punjab Housing and Town Planning Agency is charging Rs 336,000 for a 3-marla plot. Construction, of course, will have an additional cost.
Labour class is a category in the eligibility criteria that does not own a house and has a monthly earning of ten to twenty thousand rupees. Working with organisations like Akhuwat Islamic Microfinance will likely improve the accessibility for this category.
In the estimation of veteran urban planner Arif Hasan, it once took eight times the unskilled wage earnings to build a semi-pucca house in Karachi. It was 60 times in 2008. Now the worker can’t even dream about it.
It is obvious that the rural poor and houseless are not part of the Naya Pakistan Housing scheme. There is a justification for this urban bias. According to Pakistan Living Standard Measurement Survey, households with own dwelling units were 70 percent in urban areas and 89 percent in rural areas in 2019-20.
In the earlier Survey of 2014-15, the respective percentages were 74 and 90, indicating a slight decline in rural areas and a sharper one in urban areas. True, the need is greater in urban areas than in rural areas. But not owning one’s dwelling is the source of the same level of human insecurity in rural areas as in the urban areas.
As the percentages of households with one room, T-R/GAR roofs, mud bricks/mud walls are much higher in rural areas, the resulting physical insecurity diminishes the human security of owning a dwelling.
Are there any solutions available to improve access to housing in rural areas, which present additional issues of reaching out to the most deserving? Last month, this writer had the chance to visit a village in Khairpur district in Sindh and found that low-cost rural housing is, after all, not an unrealisable dream.
The Sindh government’s Peoples Poverty Reduction Programme (PPRP) has as one of its components a low-cost housing scheme. The main objective of this component is to provide a reliable minimum living solution to the beneficiaries with dignity and pride of self-ownership. Its defining feature is the participation of women as representing the household and the collectivity of the community. Women form community organisations that initiate the housing proposals.
The Naya Pakistan housing programme will remain incomplete without including rural housing. The cost effective Sindh model, with communities organised by the SRSO, can be replicated easily in other provinces.
The beneficiary households include those whose house has been destroyed, damaged or is unfit for living, besides those living under open sky. A poverty scorecard of 0-23, valid CNIC, ownership of a plot and/ or a government plot are required. Construction has to follow the prototype design and specification.
Once the community has identified schemes, these are surveyed in collaboration and consultation with the individual community organisations (COs) and village organisations (VOs). Next comes the approval of the scheme, followed by the signing of the terms of partnership in CO/VO meeting, where responsibilities of CO/VO/beneficiary and Sindh Rural Support Organisation (SRSO) are spelled out.
The beneficiary implements the scheme within the time specified in the terms of partnership. Technical guidance is provided by the SRSO, whose engineer and community monitor the scheme together. In construction, the design and structure of the low-cost houses, cottages (churas) and additional facilities have to follow the prototypes cleared by Arif Hasan.
The total cost of the house is Rs 165, 000, including allied facilities of up to Rs 10,000, with three options: drinking water hand pump, latrines or a solar system. The disbursement involves four instalments: the first is an advance of Rs 50,000, the second of the same amount at the plinth level with cement and sand and the third instalment of Rs 50,000 comes at the roof level.
The fourth instalment of Rs 15,000 comes at the finishing stage. Then onwards, the beneficiary must complete plastering – the inner side and outer side of rooms, installation of doors and windows. Finally, she has to provide a completion certificate.
These two-room low-cost houses now have a visible presence across villages. In Khairpur, the district this writer visited, the target is to build 2,310 houses. Out of these, 1,503 units have been initiated and 568 completed. All this with a disbursement of just Rs 122.33 million.
In the remote, less developed district of Umerkot, 95 percent of the units have been initiated and as many as 73 percent completed. The overall target of PPRP is 9,623 units, 74.4 percent of which has been initiated and 41.1 percent completed. Allied facilities number 2,684. A total of Rs 641.44 million had been disbursed by July this year. The happy faces one witnessed reflected a much greater outcome, though.
But these happy faces are confined to only six districts. In addition to Khairpur and Umerkot, the programme covers Mirpurkhas, Thatta, Badin and Sanghar. Recently, Sukkur and Ghotki have been added, with a target of 10,000 houses at a cost of Rs 1.25 billion.
Still, there are 21 more districts. A provincial government cannot do it all by itself. Naya Pakistan housing programme will remain incomplete without including rural housing. The cost effective Sindh model, with communities organised by the SRSO, can be replicated easily in other provinces, as communities organised by the rural support programmes in these provinces are waiting to be partners.
The writer is a senior political economist. He can be reached at email@example.com