T

he Prime Minister’s recent mobilisation of a Naya Pakistan Housing Authority and the promise to deliver 5 million houses for marginalised segments of society is as praiseworthy a step as any on the path to national progress. While ambitious in its scale, the premise of the Prime Ministers affordable housing initiative is rooted deeply in the PTI’s social welfare focus. World over affordable housing provision finds itself at the heart of political discourse and can make or break a political party’s reputation.

This being said, it is important for the Naya Pakistan Housing Authority to study carefully the successes and failures of affordable housing provision seen in Purana Pakistan. During the PMLN government of 2013-2018, multiple reiterations of low-income and/or affordable housing provision were made at the federal level both by the then Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his Minister for Planning and Development Ahsan Iqbal. Committees were formed and financial models were discussed, but schemes did not get off the ground for multiple reasons. While the PTI may, in some cases rightfully, argue that this was due to a lack of political will and misplaced financial priorities of the previous government, it would be incorrect to assume this to be the entire reason for unsuccessful attempts.

Crucially overlapping with low income housing provision is the issue of land acquisition and its subsequent development. The issue of land acquisition and development is beset with challenges that might only be remedied through conscientious and transparent governance reform. Federal level acquisition of land for low income housing will not only require environmental considerations, it will require diligent review of existing power structures and socio-economic data.

Running parallel to the herculean task above is the viable alternative of improving existing low income housing stock and ownership. The Naya Pakistan Housing Authority might find it beneficial to carry out extensive surveys of the existing housing conditions of low-income segments of society. The Authority must know and come to understand where low-income citizens are currently living and why. The authority might find a workable solution in in-situ housing upgrading and provision of land tenure to low income residents. An excellent example can be found in the work of the Thailand based Asian Coalition for Housing Rights and the Community Organisations Development Institute (CODI). In addition, we might also finally learn to value, respect and evaluate the globally recognised merits of the Orangi Pilot Project of Karachi.

By studying carefully examples of low income housing provision across the developing world, by validating the good work done in the past within Pakistan, by reducing wastage of local expert knowledge and by carefully readapting existing physical and social infrastructure the Naya Pakistan Housing Authority can cash in on the golden opportunity it has been given.

Furthermore, for the PTI to be seen as a political party closely aligned with the needs of the poor and destitute Pakistani’s, it must start by understanding, with compassion and intelligence, the socio-economic reasons behind existing patterns of low-income housing and settlement. Instead of moving low income citizens away from their existing housing, it might prove less costly to the state and the environment to, where possible, uplift and upgrade low income areas.

Powerful stakeholders and motives will, as has been done previously, rally together to oust and remove low income groups from certain localities, but if PTI is serious about learning from past mistakes, this must be met with critical resistance. Contractors and private construction firms must not emerge as the real beneficiaries of low-income housing schemes – the eventual residents of the homes must remain front and centre of the Prime Minister’s initiative.

One crucial way to avoid repeating errors of the past is to ensure that individuals and personalities who have benefited from failed projects are not once again put at the helm of affairs! Naya Pakistan must stop rewarding bureaucratic failure with more prestige and titles and instead leverage the immense expertise of its young and budding urban planning and design community. The Authority might also find it intelligent to employ and/or seek advice from graduates from Pakistan’s talented collegiate architecture, urban planning and urban design departments.

As the PTI is fast learning, the system is designed not to let new initiatives succeed, but to ensure time and time again that they stumble and fall. If the Naya Pakistan Housing Authority can remain steadfast, innovative and result-oriented through out its workings, it can deliver what all previous governments have failed to deliver: a dignified and respectable life to a vast number of Pakistani’s.

 

The writer has a background in Urban Design and Community Development. She works with provincial and municipal authorities on urban policy, civic engagement and governance.

 sn.ahmad86@gmail.com