An institution set up to address housing needs, it is functioning like a private realty firm

The Tamil Nadu Housing Board (TNHB) has now become irrelevant, as it has increasingly veered away from its founding objectives.

An institution set up five decades ago to address housing needs — particularly those of the lower and middle income groups — it is increasingly functioning like a private realty firm.

No longer is it charged with the social purpose that should be its defining characteristic.

Sample this: in a recently-launched housing project in Indira Nagar, the TNHB has priced its 650 sq. ft., lower income group (LIG) apartments at Rs. 48 lakh. By no stretch of the imagination can this be within the reach of LIG – those who earn between Rs. 12,000 and 18,000 per month. However, the TNHB does not seem to worry about this obnoxious pricing. It has gone ahead and proposed 56 such high-priced units at the same site.

Last year alone, the TNHB had sanctioned the construction of 12 higher income group (HIG) apartments in Nandanam at a cost of Rs. 5.7 crore, 48 HIG blocks in Kizhkattalai at a cost of Rs. 11.5 crores and 20 more in Mogappair at a cost of Rs. 8.2 crore. In addition, it has proposed 56 HIG apartments in Mahakavi Barathi Nagar. This obsession reached new levels when it decided to convert the site reserved for a bus stand in Villivakkam to 50 HIG apartment blocks.

In a bizarre move last year, the housing board decided to introduce a new income category — the super high income group who earn more than Rs. 62,000 per month — and build houses for them. It is even planning to develop private properties through joint ventures.

This was not the intention behind setting up TNHB.

During the third five-year plan period, the government of India was pushing States to set up housing boards to facilitate ‘construction of houses for people with limited means.’

In response, the Madras Government revamped the Madras Housing Board formed in 1958 and created a new statutory body in 1961 to address the housing needs of the State. When this move was debated in the assembly, members made it clear that the board must focus on lower income groups.

The situation has dramatically changed since the 1960s. Then, the housing board was the only major provider and it built large colonies such as Anna Nagar and Besant Nagar. After the real estate market picked up from the late 1980s and started to cater to the middle and high income groups, the role of the housing board was limited. The TNHB was expected to focus on lower income groups, but this did not happen.

The TNHB, in defence, can claim that by building HIG apartments they are able to cross subsidise lower income houses. But there is no convincing evidence to establish this. They have hardly allocated space for LIG housing in the projects mentioned above. In a few exceptional cases, the numbers are disproportionately low and the prices steep.

The housing board is vested with powers to acquire land in the hope that it will commit them to affordable housing. The powers are not for the board to use the acquired land as it wishes. The core problem in providing housing for the poor is the non-availability of land. The TNHB therefore, cannot dedicate what little land there is to HIG housing.

It is time to dissolve the housing board and integrate it with the slum board. We do not need an institution to cater to groups that are provided for by the market. Nor do we need the government to function as a real estate developer.

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