The progress in providing housing for the poor, as revealed by data recently released by the Ministry of Housing and Urban Poverty Alleviation, is way off target. This calls for a serious questioning of the approach and capabilities of government institutions to deliver badly needed social housing. The Interest Subsidy Scheme for Housing the Urban Poor (ISHUP), launched in 2008 to provide an interest subsidy of five per cent on a loan amount of Rs.100,000 to the economically weaker section and lower income group, has so far benefited only 7,805 people as against the 2012 target of 310,000. Although a sum of Rs.1,378 crore was allotted, merely about Rs.6.5 crore has so far been utilised. Progress on the flagship project, the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission, which has a provision of Rs.50,000 crore for the period 2005-2012, is no better. Only about 30 per cent of houses sanctioned for the poor under this scheme have been built. The lack of funds is often projected as the main reason for the dismal situation of social housing. It is now evident that, more than funds, poor conceptualisation of policies, procedural inefficiency, and ineffective construction practices are the major impediments.

ISHUP has failed to deliver because it is conceptually flawed. Policymakers assumed that the poor had access to land and needed only financial support to build their houses. As a result, the focus was on making credit easily available. However, the reality is that neither cheap land nor affordable houses are in good supply. If the demand for social housing is to be met, in addition to rectifying policies, construction practices and performance regimes need to be greatly improved. In particular, State-level housing boards must improve their capacity in order to fully utilise the available funds and deliver more houses. The experience of the United Kingdom offers valuable lessons in this area. Since 1998, after the Construction Task Force set up by the U.K. government published its seminal report ‘Rethinking Construction', local authorities earnestly adopted best building practices. They formed productive alliances with the construction industry and adopted modern methods that increased the production of homes four-fold. Specific annual benchmarks, such as a 10 per cent reduction in cost and construction time, were set and procurement processes were streamlined. The financial gains from these improvements were invested in the housing projects. It is only by adopting such innovative practices and radically changing the approach to the provision of social housing can the vision of making cities slum-free be realised.

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