Shelter for the shelterless

The World Bank and Association of Builders and Developers (ABAD) appear to be very concerned about the plight of homeless and those living in shanty towns.

At a meeting of the National Financial Inclusion Strategy on housing finance in Karachi, Loic Chiquier, World Bank’s Global Lead on housing finance, said that Pakistan should introduce soft loans schemes aimed at the less privileged strata of society for providing them affordable housing, and take a requisite action for building a future plan for the low-income segment.

The Chairman ABAD, Hanif Gohar, has stated that his association is working on building low-cost houses for less privileged people to fulfil a society responsibility. However, it is not possible to construct millions of houses single-handedly.

State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) should ask all the commercial banks to release more loans for housing. According to Arif Jeewa of ABAD, no work has been done to provide low-cost houses for the people from the low-income groups on government level although there is a shortage of more than 8.8 million units in Pakistan which in itself is “a great challenge as well as a great opportunity.”

The patron-in-chief ABAD, Mohsin Sheikhani, said that 38 percent of Pakistan’s population is living in slums and bigger cities are growing due to the influx of people from rural areas. Sindh has over 1400 Katchi Abadis while Karachi alone was home to 500 of these slums. Almost 10 million out of 20 million people in Karachi are living in slums which means that they have no permanent address.

ABAD is ready to build “free of cost” apartments on modern lines for slum dwellers and turn these areas into gated communities with hospitals, schools and other civic facilities for the residents. The government was given a formula whereby builders would build houses and other civic facilities on half the slum lands and develop commercial and residential projects on the other half.

IGP Sindh had recently accepted that slums were major source of law and order in Karachi. ABAD would like to have this project as a social responsibility and not for profit only. The meeting was also attended by some other important staff members of the World Bank and it was agreed that committees consisting of various stakeholders would be formed to come up with proposals to avail housing finance at affordable rates for the common man.

We don’t know whether the World Bank or ABAD would really be able to proceed in the desired direction and solve the problem but they have certainly highlighted an important national issue which, if left unresolved, could breed more crimes and ultimately create chaos in society.

It may be recalled that only 17 percent of population lived in cities when Pakistan came into being in 1947. Not only a small minority lived in cities at that time, but land, infrastructure and other routine affairs of the urban centres were managed according to well laid-out systems and by institutions inherited from the British.

Municipal corporations and committees oversaw the routine affairs of urban management and maintained proper records of old and new developments. Urban boundaries were well articulated and all categories of land were well documented. Urbanisation in Pakistan started moving at a swift pace and that too in a rudderless fashion soon after the Partition.

Approach and conduct that characterised land management in cities changed drastically for the worse with so many pressure groups vying for the pie and trying to get it by fair or foul means. Unfortunately, although half of the country’s population is projected to be living in cities by 2030, no progress has been made to ensure that the slum dwellers are able to live in an organised fashion and not in sub-human conditions. Problems in cities are increasing by the day due to continuing influx of people from rural areas to slum areas in the urban centres in search of livelihood.

Strange is the fact that no record of people coming to slum areas is available with local bodies or law enforcement agencies and a lack of record has created a number of problems with law and order and toxic conditions emerging as the major issues. The idea of turning slum areas into organised colonies with reasonable facilities is of course noble and appreciable but the point of critical determination is whether the proposals of the World Bank and ABAD could do the trick and be successful in doing the job.

Most of their proposals are based on adequate provision of bank credit at affordable rates from the financial system of the country. In our view, total dependence on the banking system for the task at hand is hardly feasible.

Banks have a limited ability to extend credit which they have to disburse among various sectors of the economy keeping in view their ability and willingness to repay the loans and the level of profitability to be earned by banks.

The record of repayment of housing loans, including from the HBFC is very poor and slum dwellers have no worthwhile collateral to offer. Also, there is no guarantee that only deserving persons will be able to get the loans and benefit from the proposal.

The Yellow Cab Scheme for the poor was grossly abused and some of the people in slum areas have made it a profession to exploit conditions and incentives offered in the shanty towns. Besides, there is no guarantee that ABAD’s suggestions are motivated solely by humanitarian considerations.

Some of their members have not kept their promises and inflicted sufferings on the buyers of their well-advertised schemes. How could they be trusted with management of land and people’s money for welfare purposes in future is anybody’s guess. A better alternative could be the assignment of this crucial task to an efficient government department or a well-reputed corporate enterprise.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2016