The 2011 census figures create a flattering illusion of Chennai and its suburbs as a city with a surplus of more than 1,00,000 housing units. However, as the recent data reveals, affordable housing still eludes the poor as government policies and real estate markets fail to deliver.

The 2011 census figures create a flattering illusion of Chennai and its suburbs as a city with a surplus of more than 1,00,000 housing units. However, as the recent data reveals, affordable housing still eludes the poor as government policies and real estate markets fail to deliver.

Despite poor supply and 95 per cent of the housing deficit pertaining to lower income groups, State government sources say that discussions are on to introduce new incentives to favour middle income housing – houses spanning 600 to 1,200 sq. ft.

There are 1.1 million households in the city and the residential housing stock available is 1.15 million – a surplus of about 50,000 houses. About 43,700 of them are kept vacant possibly waiting for well-paying tenants or for speculative reasons.

In Tiruvallur and Kancheepuram districts, which accommodate the fast-growing suburbs of Chennai, the figures of vacant houses are higher – 56,000 and 71,000 respectively.

On the contrary, in the last five years, efforts to generate affordable houses within city through development regulations have not shown much progress and have yielded only about 2,600 dwelling units (with an area of less than 500 sq. ft.). Incentives such as higher FSI (floor space index ratio that determines buildable area in a given plot) have hardly attracted builders.

Of the existing housing stock in Chennai, about 2,00,000 houses are not in good condition. Either new houses are needed or there should be assistance to rebuild. About 26,000 households live in houses without any room and another 4,27,000 families — with an average size of five members — live in small dwelling units with only one room.

The population is increasing and houses have to be found for the new inhabitants of the city. An earlier estimate showed that there is a need to generate about 4.2 lakh units for low-income groups by 2016.

A few years ago, when the subcommittee on housing for the master plan recommended 10 to 15 per cent reservation of developed land in all large and mid-sized apartment projects in Chennai for affordable housing, the government diluted the recommendation and made it applicable only to projects that are built on plots more than one hectare in size.

This move, as predicted then, has not yielded much.

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