Skip to main content

Hazard of cramped spaces: Covid-19 makes strong case for affordable housing

By Moin Qazi*
Among the many challenges that have gained urgency in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, housing requires a highly creative response. The huge exodus from cities to villages was necessitated on account of lack of proper housing in cities. Expanding access to affordable housing is essential not just for equitable development but also social stability.
When residents don’t have proper places to live, the stress on families and neighbourhoods can create severe social implications. Coronavirus has been referred to as a “housing disease” because of the strong links between overcrowding, poor housing conditions and higher mortality rates. The disease spreads quickly when households live in cramped spaces without access to water and sanitation.
COVID-19 has highlighted the high social and economic costs of this gap in the safety net. People living in poor-quality, overcrowded, or unstable housing cannot follow directives on safe shelters or maintain social distancing. As a result, they are at a far greater risk of contracting the virus, along with other illnesses. There is mounting evidence that Covid-19 could be airborne, and the lack of adequate ventilation increases the risk of transmission. Coronavirus has been referred to as a “housing disease” because of the strong links between overcrowding, poor housing conditions and higher mortality rates.
The central dilemma of poor housing has been wonderfully captured by Jacob Riis in his inimitable style: “The sea of a mighty population, held in galling fetters, heaves uneasily in the tenements… The gap between the classes in which it surges, unseen, unsuspected by the thoughtless, is widening day by day. No tardy enactment of law, no political expedient, can close it. Against all other dangers our system of government may offer defence and shelter; against this not. I know of but one bridge that will carry us over safe, a bridge founded upon justice and built of human hearts.”
While we continue to record improvements in dealing with poverty, homelessness has elicited but an unimaginative response from policy doctors. The apathetic approach of successive governments is symptomatic of the disease that ails India’s housing system. Slums constitute 17% of urban households in India; in Mumbai itself, they make up 42% of the households. They also lack necessary amenities like private toilets and availability of clean water. Dense living and a weak public healthcare system means that populations who are already susceptible to COVID-19 carry further risk of transmission of the virus. Essential precautions like social distancing cannot be practised in such living conditions.
Housing is only part of the equation when it comes to addressing historical inequities and ensuring healthy communities. Human health and well-being depend on a range of interconnected social, economic, and physical factors that impact the environments in which we live. The key to good and healthy housing is to make sure that residents have access to transportation, affordable healthcare, living-wage jobs, small business investment, education and cultural activities, as well as other essential services. A decent habitat and shelter can contribute not just to their well-being but also catalyse overall economic growth. It is thus critical to recognise housing investment as a basic, fundamental building block of economic activity.
There is nothing more critical to a family’s quality of life than a healthy, safe living space. Sustainable and inclusive housing solutions could bolster economic growth quickly and efficiently and hence should be given priority over education and health.
Housing is not a standalone issue: It is closely intertwined with and often the cause of a slew of health and developmental problems. Poor ventilation and inability to maintain basic hygiene are major causes of poor health. Fragile building structures undermine safety and vastly increase vulnerability to disaster. Lack of lighting and space limits the ability of children to study. Inadequate privacy and lack of sanitation contribute to a host of diseases, thereby perpetuating poverty.
For many people in the developing world, the land on which they live is their only asset. If that property is not publicly recognised as belonging to them, they lose out on several social benefits.
Land ownership is often the bedrock of other development interventions. Owning land boosts nutrition, educational outcomes and gender equality. The converse is equally true. Where land security is absent or weak — that is, when men and women do not receive recognised legal rights to their land and can thus be easily displaced without recourse — development efforts flounder, undermining conservation efforts, seeding injustice and conflict and frustrating efforts to escape poverty.
For most of India’s poor and the vulnerable, secure property rights including land tenure, make for a rare accessible luxury. Many who live in slums have little to no control over or ownership of the property they live on. The lack of official land titles is a major impediment to the acquisition of housing finance. People do not have documentary proof of being owners of the piece of land on which they live and are, therefore, legally insecure. Many low-income villagers have owned their land for generations but lack formal ownership documents. Hence they do not have access to formal financial services. Once their inhabited land gets formally titled, they could obtain access to several public benefits including loans.
Traditional housing finance has not been able to offer products tailored to low-income people but a range of financial institutions are applying good microfinance practices to housing finance. This is allowing them to successfully deliver much-needed services to economically weaker customers. The increased provision of housing microfinance has resulted in safe and healthy housing conditions for millions, thereby improving families’ social and economic resilience. With its roots in traditional microfinance, the housing microfinance sector provides larger, lower-interest loans that align with low-income households’ incremental building practices.
Successful housing microfinance providers have married the core principles of the micro-credit — peer-based borrower selection and repayment enforcement, close follow-up on repayment and so on — with the technical expertise required to investigate land ownership and other classical housing finance principles. This model has been highly successful wherever governments are offering long-term tenancies and shared-ownership housing. But the sector is still in need of more sustainable business models to get legitimacy in mainstream finance.
Housing micro-finance is broadly defined as small, non-mortgage-backed loans dedicated to housing activities, offered in sequences to support the incremental building practices of low-income populations. It can include a range of financial services that support improving or upgrading housing such as home repair and expansions, additional cooking space, water and sanitation services, energy efficiency upgrades, the purchase of inhabitable land or permanent structures and the construction of new housing.
Housing micro-finance intersects both housing finance and micro-finance. The emerging practice encompasses financial services that allow poor and low-income earning people to finance their habitat needs with methods adapted from the micro-finance experience: 
  • Loans are for relatively small amounts and are based on clients’ capacity to repay;
  • Repayment periods are relatively short (especially in comparison to mortgage lending) and are on par with mid- to high-end micro-finance individual loans;
  • Loan pricing is expected to cover the real, long run costs–operational and financial–of providing the service;
  • Loans are not heavily collateralized, if at all, and collateral substitutes, such as tax receipts or para-legal documents of land lease are often used;
  • Loans tend to finance habitat needs in an incremental manner with short repayment periods and relatively low monthly payments;
  • If the provider is an MFI, credit services for housing can be linked to prior participation in savings or more traditional microenterprise loan services; and
  • A housing loan is combined with a small working capital loan for economic activity. Such combined loans are known as productive housing loans.
The demand for housing microfinance is high. Clients already channelise a good portion of micro-enterprise loans to home improvement. Micro-entrepreneurs also use their homes as productive assets for generating income. A home can be a place to store inventory, produce goods and run a business. A home is also a personal asset that usually appreciates in value over time. Home improvement, thus, not only enhances living conditions but is also an investment.
The Government also needs to use creative approaches in making rental housing a safe option for house owners. Its share in overall housing has been steadily declining. There is clearly need for replacing current rent control laws with a modern tenancy law, which would give full freedom to tenants and owners to negotiate the rent and the length of the lease. Rules with respect to eviction also need to be reformed to restore the balance between the rights of tenants and the owners.
We need a differently structured and more professional market rental sector. A Model Rent Act is needed to promote rental housing. There should be mutual agreement between the landlord and the tenant for a stipulated lease period prior to which the tenant will not be allowed to be evicted and after the expiry of the lease period, the tenant will not be permitted to continue in the housing unit.
Rent control laws give tenants so much security that landlords worry that they may not regain possession of their property at the end of the lease period. People often leave their properties vacant until they get a tenant they are comfortable with.
It is time the Government puts rental housing to use. Its share in overall housing has been steadily declining. There is clearly need for replacing current rent control laws with a modern tenancy law, which would give full freedom to tenants and owners to negotiate the rent and the length of the lease. Rules with respect to eviction also need to be reformed to restore balance between the rights of tenants and the owners.
We need a differently structured and more professional market rental sector A Model Rent Act is needed to promote rental housing. There should be mutual agreement between the landlord and the tenant for a stipulated lease period prior to which the tenant will not be allowed to be evicted and after the expiry of the lease period, the tenant will not be permitted to continue in the housing unit.
Policy-makers, financial institutions and housing experts also need to evaluate their current policies, cultures, and ways of working. With a thoughtful approach, they can be better prepared to tackle this humongous problem. The government will have to change course and shift away from the legacy mindset before the problem gets out of hand.

*Development expert



Although sporting genius, Wasim Akram was mascot of cricket globalisation era

By Harsh Thakor*  Since Independence India and Pakistan produced a galaxy of cricketing stars that permeated cricketing artistry of legendary heights. Amongst this bunch.Wasim Akram manifested pure cricketing genius to the greatest height.I speculate how India’s fortunes would have changed had partition not taken place and Wasim playing for India. Wasim Akram explored realms untranscended in bowling wizardry, like a painter devising new art forms or a scientist experimenting. He simply re-defined the art of reverse swing, reversing the ball in and out. There were bowlers quicker, more accurate and with better records, but none equalled Wasim in an all-round package. He was more lethal with a new and old ball than any fast bowler ever. Wasim could produce balls that were surreal, with his reverse swing, defying laws of bio mechanics He was simply the epitome of versatility, possessing a repertoire of six different deliveries within an over itself, disguising deliveries in the manner of

Zakir Naik tumult, Catholic Church power abuse: will Anwar Ibrahim save Malaysia?

Anwar Ibrahim By Jay Ihsan*  Anwar Ibrahim, a hardcore reformist who took a punch to his eye in 1998 from then inspector-general of police, Rahim Noor, has finally been given the mandate by Malaysians to serve as the nation's 10th prime minister. Anwar knows too well the burden of staying true to both trust and faith the people have in him requires every once of commitment and dedication. The question is will he be apologetic for his transgressions enroute to "rebuilding" Malaysia? In his overzealousness to get the job done, Anwar, 75, needs to safeguard every bit of gumption to address prickling issues plaguing the safety of the nation especially those involving communal sensitivities. For one, dare Anwar get rid of terrorist hate preacher and fugitive Zakir Naik for inciting religious unrest in Malaysia? In November 2016, India’s counter-terrorism agency filed an official complaint against Naik, holding him responsible for promoting religious hatred and unlawful activi

Galileo-Catholic church affair: must history repeat at Malaysia’s St Francis Xavier church?

By Jay Ihsan*  Christianity is the enemy of liberation and civilization -August Bebel Christianity taught men that love is worth more than intelligence -Jacques Maritain Real Christianity can be summed up in two commands: Love God and love people. - Joyce Meyer Pious XI was too neutral to mention the gas chambers; decent people like my own family were turned into devils by crude Christianity - Lionel Blue Religious doctrines cannot escape the liberty of thoughts and expression. To each their own, so it is said. From all things nice to all things that make one cringe - religion is polarised and in this regard, Christianity has over time faced the wrath of bigotry espoused by those "bequeathed" to protect it. Take Pope Francis for example. He had a secret meeting with giant pharma Pfizer chief executive officer Albert Bourla last year while the world struggled to make sense of the word "lockdown" and suffer adverse effects of the Corona virus vaccines produced by Pfiz

Qatar World Cup has a strong Bangladesh connection: stadium construction, t-shirts

By Mashrur Siddique Bhuiyan*  The FIFA World Cup fever has unquestionably cut through the minds of mass people all over the world. Stadiums in Qatar are buzzing with football fans and athletes representing their countries at the “Greatest Show on Earth". The magic of the FIFA World Cup is so enormous that even being unable to participate does not matter much to the fans who support different nations. This is one of the highest viewed events in the world, with the 2018 event viewed by about 3.6 billion people worldwide. But this crowd is not aware of the contribution of migrant workers who helped build the very stadiums where the matches are playing in. Qatar won the bid in 2010 to host the FIFA World Cup 2022, which got the oxymoron of celebration and controversy. This also created the potential for Qatar to Showcase its monumental economic achievements and unique culture on the global stage. The motto for Qatar’s bid team in 2010 was ‘Expect Amazing’ and migrant workers across th

A classic, 'Gandhi' ignores merciless cruelty unleashed on militant freedom fighters

By Harsh Thakor  The movie ‘Gandhi’ produced by Richard Attenborough, which was released 40 years ago on November 30th, 1982, was classic in it's own right. Ironical that it took an Englishman to embark upon the making of a film on this legendary figure. I can't visualize a better pictorial portrayal of Gandhi's life or an actor getting in the skin of the character an exuding the mannerisms as actor Ben Kingsley. Episodes are crafted and grafted surgically, illustrating how Gandhi wove fragmented bits into a cohesive force, to confront he British empire. Most boldly the movie unfolds how British colonialism subjugated the Indian people to barbaric cruelty. With great mastery the cinematography captures the vast Indian landscapes and essence of livelihood of Indians under colonial rule. The movie most illustratively shows the crystallisation of anti-colonial fervour from the embryonic stage and how it fermented into an integrated movement. In a most subtle manner it illustr

Film on evidence of viability of in situ communitarian urban water management

By Rahul Banerjee  Over the past few years it has become increasingly clear that centralised urban water management in India is in deep crisis. Water supply is both inadequate and extremely costly, water harvesting and recharging and used water treatment and reuse are mostly absent and storm water management is a disaster. Under the circumstances, the only viable solution is communitarian in situ water management and this is what has been proposed in the latest guidelines of both the Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation and the Swacch Bharat Mission. Our NGO, Mahila Jagat Lihaaz Samiti , has not only implemented communitarian in situ water management but has also carried out research to provide evidence of the unviability of centralised water management and the suitability of the former. Here is a film based on a detailed research that I did on urban water management in Chhattisgarh for the National Institute of Urban Affairs, New Delhi, that succinctly critiques cen

Implementing misleading govt order to pollute Hyderabad's 100 year old reservoirs

Senior activists* represent to the Telangana Governor on GO Ms 69 dated 12.4.2022 issued by the Municipal Administration and Urban Development (MA&UD), Government of Telangana: ‘...restrictions imposed under para 3 of said GO Ms 111 dated 8.3.1996 are removed...’: *** Ref: GO Ms 111 dated 8.3.1996: ‘To prohibit polluting industries, major hotels, residential colonies or other establishments that generate pollution in the catchment of the lakes upto 10kms from full tank level as per list in Annexure-I...’ We come to your office with grievance that GO Ms 69 dated 12.4.2022 issued by Government of Telangana not only contains false information issued ‘By Order and in the name of the Governor of Telangana’ , without any scientific or expert reports, but also that implementation of the said GO is detrimental and can be catastrophic to the Hyderabad city as two 100 year old reservoirs Osman Sagar and Himayath Sagar were constructed as dams on river Moosa and river Esa, with the first and

Terrorism and right-wing politics in Bangladesh: Exploring the nexus

By Shafiqul Elahi*  Although terrorism as broadly understood as violent extremism or militancy has long historical roots, in Bangladesh, it surfaced in the 1970s through leftist militants. Later, it shifted to Islamist extremism in the 1980s and flourished throughout the 1990s, and reached its peak in the early 2000s. The menace of terrorism particularly in the form of Islamic militancy has widely been felt in Bangladesh's society and polity since 1999. Since then, several militant groups have gained ground and started to challenge the government over the issues of the political process and social systems in the country. The central goal of the operations of the militant groups is to establish an Islamic regime in the country. The Fifth Amendment of the Bangladesh Constitution under the Zia regime in the late 1970s and the eighth amendments of the Constitution under the Ershad regime in the early 1980s have placed Islam at the state level to recognize its importance in the country

Chemical project promoters of Tamil Nadu have a lot to learn from Gujarat

By NS Venkataraman*  When good investment opportunities in chemical industry exist which are known in a region and which are yet to be exploited, it can be said that the chemical industry in the region is at the cross roads. However, when there are good investment opportunities in chemical industry but which are ignored and focus shifted to some other sector, it can be said that the scenario amount to poor strategy. Tamil Nadu government has now fixed a target for achieving one trillion dollar economy in the state by 2030. This is a bold and forward looking initiative and certainly this target is achievable, even though the year 2030 is only seven years away. With the target of achieving one trillion dollar size economy, it is necessary to give due role and importance for the growth of the chemical industry, since several chemical products are feed inputs for several other industrial sector such as automobile, electronics, textile and so on. Growth of such chemical in

Floods: As ax falls on most vulnerable, Pak seeks debt cancellation, climate justice

By Tanupriya Singh  Even as the floodwaters have receded, the people of Pakistan are still trying to grapple with the death and devastation the floods have left in their wake. The floods that swept across the country between June and September have killed more than 1,700 people, injured more than 12,800, and displaced millions as of November 18. The scale of the destruction in Pakistan was still making itself apparent as the world headed to the United Nations climate conference COP27 in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, in November.  Pakistan was one of two countries invited to co-chair the summit. It also served as chair of the Group of 77 (G77) and China for 2022, playing a critical role in ensuring that the establishment of a loss and damage fund was finally on the summit’s agenda, after decades of resistance by the Global North. “The dystopia has already come to our doorstep,” Pakistan’s Minister for Climate Change Sherry Rehman told Reuters. By the first week of September, pleas for h