According to the 2017 census, the housing deficit in Pakistan is estimated at 10 million units. The shortage is more pronounced for urban population, which according to one estimate is facing a backlog of 4 million units. This gap is being aggravated by the depleting quality of existing housing stock. The housing shortage is expected to increase further in future with a projected rate of additional 600,000 households per year. Additional housing supply has been estimated at an average of 200,000 units per annum. This implies net incremental annual shortage of roughly 400,000 units per annum. The above statistics do not paint a rosy picture and as such affordable housing for masses have become a nightmare.

It is heartening to note that the present government plans to construct 5,000,000 (5 million) houses in coming 5 years. At the same time it is a very huge and horrendous job. In case adequate funding is available along with robust planning, it may be possible with use of latest technologies and a concerted effort.

Whereas, I would pray and contribute for any positive effort for my country, such as dam construction to housing schemes, I would like to share some lessons that have been learnt during my professional career. As an experienced civil engineer, my concerns over such a huge programme would be that of planning vis-a-vis, identification of need, selection of housing locations, type and size of houses and modes/means of funding.

Planning:

A very well-known principal of any construction programme is planning. They say, time spent on good planning is time well spent; and implementation goes trouble-free. Therefore, whatever the urgency, a reasonable time may be invested on planning. For this, it is proposed that at least two professionals each from the fields of Town Planning, Architecture, Structural Engineering, Construction engineering, Finance and Banking and other such fields may be assembled in a think tank to prepare a well-thought-out, comprehensive plan/policy/guidelines for the programme.

In the process of planning, the following major aspects, among others, may be taken in to consideration.

Need identification:

It is understood that the applications which are being invited will provide a fare idea as to what is the demand at least in the selected areas. But a more comprehensive approach may be to invite survey forms, free of fee, asking the participants questions such are 3 preferences for location (if the proposed location is near a big city, name of that city), size of house (in form of rooms and covered area), expected cost and repayment period in case of loan and any other information deemed necessary. Such survey form may also be designed by the proposed think-tank.

Housing location:

Before dilation about location of housing it needs to be understood that the major chunk of housing demand results from migration of population from rural or less developed area to big cities due to one or more of the following aspects:

·       Employment

·       Business

·       Education

·       Health

·       Overall improved living

The problem is that even if people migrate to a big city, they may not be able to take advantage of most of these facilities. When Allama Muhammad Iqbal met the Italian dictator Mussolini during his Europe studies trip, it is reported that Iqbal narrated the Hadees that when the population of a city exceeds beyond a limit, then a new city should be created. Mussolini struck the table with hand and said that this was the exact solution. This is the best guiding principle for modern-day town planning when managing metropolitan cities has become a challenge itself.

Like some previous (failed!) attempts if the new housing is located at odd places near big cities, it may not be successful because the facilities for which people migrate to big cities are not easily available, they may get hold of the houses but may not live there and may take inferior and insufficient rental accommodation near to their target area.

Therefore, the best way would be to select less beneficial areas, such as barren public or private land, near big cities. Taking example of Lahore, identify such areas between Lahore and Kasur, Sheikhupura, Mureedkay, Changa Manga and the like. The other criteria shall be that the travelling time between the new (satellite) town to Lahore (the big city) shall be around 45 minutes. The proposed town shall be designed as a full-fledged independent modern town having all basic facilities such as good secondary medical care, good colleges and small businesses. The residents would be looking towards the big city only for tertiary medical treatment, university education and limited employment only. Public and private organisations may be asked to establish local offices in the new town. As regards higher education, highly secured public transport system may be established for transport of the students (male/female) between the new city and higher education institutions.

Comprehensive master planning for such new towns shall be completed first and land-use regulated strictly. Initially, a smaller part the new town may be established and later expanded as required strictly in accordance with the master plan. It is understood that solution to majority of civic problems lies in strict land-use regulation.

Cost of land, construction and rental:

The cost of land has been artificially hiked on-purpose mostly by the private land developers and land grabbers. This has made the cost of housing and its rentals prohibitively high. It needs to be understood that if cost of residential plots is restricted not to exceed three times the price of agricultural land (that even linked to the standard of land development/facilities provided), the housing is expected to be more affordable. Cost of construction material also needs to be brought under some control. These measures together will bring down the rental rates and may release pressure on housing demand for some time. It is also thought that due to absence of social security of the family, the heads of families want to provide a good house and big bank account for the family in case of early death of the head of family. Even a well paid public or private sector employee cannot do this before retirement. To do this earlier, maybe people have to adopt unfair means to pool up money: probably a reason of corruption. If rental rates are made affordable, the individual will not think of having his own house at an early age. Again releasing pressure from housing demand.

Development of medium sized towns:

In case good education and health facilities are available at all tehsil headquarter towns, it is considered that most of the people migrating to big towns for the purpose of better education and health facilities would not take this option. Another approach maybe, to provide good quality education and health facilities at geographically central locations. For example, a good college and hospital established at village Motra may cater for Pasrur, Chawinda, Motra and Daska and adjoining areas.

Katchi abaadis:

Illegal housing areas/katchi abadis/slums are normally regularised on political basis. This apparently might solve the problem for the people settled there. But for the city managers, the problem is multiplied. After reularising such settlements, it becomes necessary for the municipality to provide all civic amenities. Doing this puts pressure on the existing facilities such as drainage, sewage, water supply, roads, public transport, electricity, etc.

This is a complex issue that needs a comprehensive and smart solution. First of all, a token fine should be imposed on the people who have built houses at such a place. Then a heavy fine should be imposed on those who sold this land for an illegal land-use. Such fines may become a deterrence for such ventures in future. Then about 50% cost of a new house may be charged in easy installments from the allotees. After all this the area should be progressively cleared in parts and G+2 storeyed pre-cast/pre-manufactured flats shall be erected and allottees accommodated there. This will make possible cleaner environment with proper planning, streets, parks, etc. Alternately, such settlements should be removed to city outskirts and vacated areas used for high value activities after razing the settlements.

House improvement loans:

There are so many people who migrate for want of living space in their existing houses. In such cases a careful house improvement loan policy may relieve pressure of new housing for families splitting only due to such reasons.

Community living:

For low income groups, the idea of community living may be brought in. For this, about ten small houses may be constructed with a common courtyard in the centre and a common entrance gate. Each unit may have two good sized bed rooms, one living area with small kitchnette and one rest area having separate toilet, bath and washbasin, and one reasonable verandah. This experiment may be conducted on pilot basis and implemented if successful; chances of its success are quite high.

New adaptable technologies:

Component-based, pre-cast/pre-manufactured housing components may be used to reduce the construction time. In case, a component is damaged, it can be changed easily. Quality of construction is expected to be much high with such techniques.

Funding:

The funding has to be highly affordable. Interest-free (soft) loans with meager service charges and longer grace periods may be obtained from international funding agencies and strictly used for the intended purpose. Commercial banks should be used only to act as processing/disbursing agencies at a nominal fee. The payback period shall be around 20 years. Alternately, this money may be used as a revolving fund and utilised by a government agency for house construction and their delivery. It may be borne in mind that public sector housing for low income groups can never succeed on commercial loans or commercial basis.

Type and size of houses:

It has been observed that when we talk of low-cost housing; we are confronted by the very high cost of both land and construction. External factors compel us to think of no-cost housing; which is not possible.

Also, it needs to be understood that a low income family also doesn't feel comfortable in a 10'x10' room. They shall not have the feeling of a jail cell. we are trying to provide them place to live, not a train compartment. Therefore, low cast housing must have good room sizes. Number of rooms may be limited. Don't provide separate drawing/dining and living lounge. Instead, provide a reasonable sized living lounge. Instead of providing attached bathrooms, provide a rest area with separate wash basin, toilet and shower in order to provide three functions at a time. A small house may be constructed with a single storey with a provision and fixed plan for vertical extension.

Miscellaneous:

There is a great fear among project managers of investigation agencies such as Provincial Anti corruption, FIA or NAB. All such projects need decision making; which at its simplest means selecting one out of more than one choices. Any decision taken with whatever high level of honesty may prove to be incorrect or imperfect at the hindsight. Therefore, most of the decision makers may not tend to make difficult or bold decisions; without which a project may not be successfully implemented. This calls for some protection for the concerned officers. As a measure, audit paras shall not be picked by anti-corruption/FIA or NAB for inquiry unless these are not settled by the highest audit forum such as respective Public Accounts Committee (PAC).

Note: Two choices regarding size/detail of this write up were available to the author: short or comprehensive. Since a comprehensive treatise on the subject would take much more time and delay its compilation, the author has restricted this write up to this short form, i.e. just raising the idea.