Given Mumbai’s population density, going vertical is the mantra these days as developers argue that high rises are the sole answer to the island city’s housing problem.
Old, dilapidated structures are being pulled down to make way for skyscrapers, mall and glossy office buildings as high rises are seen as the answer to the unplanned, low-rise, hyper dense slum settlements which house at least 60 percent of the city’s residents.Unfortunately the high rise has not solved the issue of housing the poor and in return has resulted in a surplus of empty flats along with a multitude of de-housed people.
Their problem was further exasperated by the state’s redevelopment model. Private builders make poor quality houses for the poor through incentives from the government. In turn, slum developers more often than not sell these flats because they are in need for liquidity and can’t continue their livelihoods in these building.
In an article titled, ‘Life between Buildings: The use and abuse of FSI’ in the Economic and Political Weekly, Shirish B Patel explores four alternative policy changes to address Mumbai’s housing needs.
According to Patel, the main culprit for proliferation of slums is the Rent Control Act in Mumbai which allows nearly two million people to stay in homes almost free of rent. They pay monthly rents as low as Rs 100-500, while the market rates are 1000 times higher.
The Act not only had a negative effect on investment in housing for rental purpose but also withdrew existing housing stock from the rental market.
The Rent Control Act completely protected the already housed people in Mumbai and also denied access to rental housing to the migrants. What migrants paid to get a room in slums was many times greater than the old rental house in chawls and even greater than houses in many middle and upper class localities.
Patel proposes doing away with the Rent Act completely if any formal investment in middle-or low-income housing for rental has to be made.
The second change that Mumbai needs is inclusionary housing for those who earn below the median income. Patel cites the example of developed countries like England, France, Spain and Canada where any construction for commercial or residential purpose requires developers to set aside a portion of the total built space for inclusionary housing. Such a scheme can only work of state agencies and developers act together under a PPP model. The developer constructs the housing. A separate agency collects rent and manages the property, (usually an NGO) and the government provides subsidy on a family-by-family basis. “The family may get a subsidy. But they pay rent or buy outright a flat from the housing agency administering the project. That agency is very carefully and strongly regulated by the government in regard to the rates it can charge,” says Patel.
Third, Patel believes in discarding the Floor Space Index as the fountain head of all good things for Mumbai. He instead proposes a new metric called crowding, defined as the number of persons per hectare for a particular urban use, be it amenities, open space crowding, street crowding etc. “Pressing for a major upward improvement in infrastructure, particularly transport facilities to deal with street crowding, is logically indefensible,” he says.
And the last is the efficient use of land. Mumbai requires its Trans-Harbour link urgently which will open vast tracts of land on the mainland and make affordability a reality. Rather than investing in fancy infrastructure like the Bandra-Worli Sealink, which provide the city with no new land, the future of Mumbai rests on this link, and the government should do its very best to expedite the process.
The problem, however, is that Mumba’s skyline is full of spectral constructions waiting to be inhabited by an elusive Indian middle class. Unfortunately, speculative planning has resulted in sharply divided cityscape where overcrowded tenements along with locked-up homes are an every day sight.