A backyard to raise vegetables, space to shelter the cattle, provisions in the design of the house to expand it in the future, and involvement of the beneficiaries in developing the house – these can be elements of a successful social housing project.

Social housing projects are common in several countries and are developed under different models, depending on the local need and life style. Some of the African countries that have World Bank-funded social housing projects and countries such as China where housing is owned by the Government have exemplary projects in this segment. Even in India, Tamil Nadu has had several schemes for affordable and social housing that have been successful.

Coimbatore, in its efforts to become a slum free city, is developing multi-storeyed apartments under the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission to rehabilitate the slum-dwellers. The total project cost for 2,232 houses is over Rs. 51 crore and this will include facilities such as lift, fire fighting equipment and garden. The carpet area of each house is 250 sq.ft. and the construction cost (excluding common amenities) is little over Rs. 750 per sq.ft.

Social housing projects should be developed with a participatory approach to be successful, says Arun Prasad, president of Coimbatore chapter of Indian Institute of Architects. Most of the beneficiaries of these projects are used to living at the ground level. They may take time to adjust to multi-storeyed residential units. Hence, before developing residential projects for them, the living condition and way of life of the beneficiaries of a social housing project should be studied. “Their new dwelling unit should make them feel at home,” he says.

Most of the projects in the country now are subsidised, or have a portion of the house earmarked for self-development by the beneficiaries. The objective is to involve them in the development of their future home. Non-Governmental Organisations, professionals and consultants should be involved to develop such projects.

A leading builder here says the basic construction cost now ranges from Rs. 1,300 to Rs. 1,500 a sq.ft. Selection of site is important to control construction and maintenance costs. For instance, a site with clay soil can increase the cost by nearly Rs. 200 per sq.ft.

Planning, use of pre-cast elements, increase in number of units, standardising the materials to be used and reducing wastage will reduce the costs. Any building needs regular maintenance to increase its life.

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