Integrating Sustainability within
Urban Social Housing

The Housing Problematique: India is a rapidly urbanising country. The share of urban population has grown from 17.3% in 1951 to 31.2% in 2011. Forecasts estimate that by 2041, this share would reach 50%, post that; the urban population would outnumber the rural population. The five large states of Tamil Nadu, Punjab, Maharashtra, Gujarat and Karnataka are expected to become predominantly urban by 2030. Currently, much of this urbanisation is occurring in small cities and towns. The number of towns has increased from 2,774 in 2001 to 7,935 in 2011.

The increasing influx of population in urban areas poses a challenge of creating enough housing stock to meet their needs and demands with adequate supporting infrastructure. The urban housing shortage is pegged at 18.78 million homes as on 2012, with majority of the deficit borne by the poor (96%). With 75% of India’s urban population in low-income groups, the need for low-cost housing is expected to increase to 38 million in 2030. Affordability is a key concern to plug the gap for this section of society. The ‘Task Force’ defines affordable housing in terms of affordability relatively to the occupant’s income, with a cap on the carpet area of the house.

Various Urban Renewal Schemes have been launched by the state and central governments to meet the existing deficit. However, effort made by public authorities has so far been insufficient in significantly reducing the housing shortage.

The Ecological Concern: The sheer scale of construction activities required to bridge the housing gap will place immense pressure on the environment. Current building practices are highly resource and energy intensive. Existing cleaner technologies could substantially reduce the ecological footprint of the housing sector. At the production end, there is a research movement closely supported by the industry in adopting energy efficient processes especially in the coal, steel and cement industries. Alternative building materials, like micro-concrete roofing tiles, stabilised concrete earth blocks are available to replace materials with a higher carbon footprint, which are traditionally used. Yet, the usage of clean technologies has so far remained marginal, due to a series of technical and institutional barriers.

The construction sector contributes to 24% of the total GHG emissions with the majority share coming from the use of materials such as steel, cement, bricks and lime. It also accounts for 30- 40% of global material flows. The Indian brick sector alone, generates 42 million tonnes of CO2 annually, and uses 20-30 tonnes of coal and 350 tonnes of topsoil (UNDP India, 2009). It is estimated that 40%–45% of India’s steel, 85% of paint production, 65%–70% of glass, and significant portions of the output from automotive, mining and excavation equipment industries are used in the construction industry. These numbers will further escalate taking into account construction to meet the housing deficit, incremental housing with increasing socio-economic status, growing families and the damage caused by natural disasters and climate change impacts.

India’s urban infrastructure is still being developed. This offers a tremendous opportunity for intervening at the policy and construction end for large-scale impact, before we lock in our investments.

Current Policy Response: (Affordable) housing is state subject, with the 73rd and 74th Constitutional Amendments having devolved the responsibility for slum improvement and urban poverty alleviation to Urban Local Bodies (ULBs), in an effort to increase efficiency and strengthen local governance. The Government of India is limited to providing broad guidelines for housing policies, creating an enabling financial and policy framework and allocating resources for housing through Centrally Sponsored Schemes (CSS). The 2007 National Urban Housing and Habitat Policy provide the broader framework for the design and implementation of housing in India, with sustainability concerns highlighted.

There are substantial disparities across states when it comes to housing policies. ULBs depending on their size and resources have varying capacities to implement such schemes. The two flagship schemes today are the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM) and the Rajiv Awas Yojana (RAY). The RAY does mention the need for conservation of environment and ecology and hazard resistant planning but this does not often translate into plans submitted. At the level of the ULBs, there is limited technical capacity to integrate sustainability aspects into the projects.

With the growing market for affordable housing and the inability of the state to meet these demands, the private sector has stepped in to create a new stakeholder scenario. There is a steady structural shift from government schemes to market-led mechanisms in the provision of low-income housing in India. Government affordable housing schemes are opening up to partnerships and incentives for the private sector undertaking such projects.

The Sustainability Integration

There is an increasing recognition of the need for inclusion of sustainability concerns in the construction and building sector. A new chapter titled ‘Approach to Sustainability’ is being added to the National Building Code to provide required guidance with respect to all relevant aspects involved during planning, design, construction, operation and maintenance of buildings. The National Mission on Sustainable Habitat under the National Action Plan on Climate Change aims to make cities sustainable through improvements in energy efficiency in buildings, management of solid waste and shift to public transport. Green building rating mechanisms like GRIHA and LEED are being increasingly used.

There has been an integration of sustainability into affordable housing in Kerala through the route of cost efficiency in material use. Resource efficiency technologies that reduce total material use and encourage waste material use are preferred by regulatory and implementation agencies resulting in direct cost savings. Not only are these houses eco-friendly but also meet the aspirational demands of users in terms of aesthetic appearance of the houses.

- From an Assessment Study conducted by Development Alternatives supported by UNEP

However, integration at the affordable housing end is still low. The current policy framework addresses affordable housing and green building as two separate issues. While the prominent (affordable) housing policies and schemes refer to the need for exploring aspects of sustainability and innovation, these are not mandatory requirements.

While there is policy intent and recommendations at the Central level, the trickle down to the ULB level leaves a lot to be desired. Architects and engineers in the public and private sectors are not aware of alternate construction technologies. They are sceptical of new materials and technologies being introduced. Alternate materials and technologies do not find mention in the Schedule of Rates, which dictate the material use. Thus even when there is intent, they are met with bureaucratic barriers.

Furthermore, green and sustainability aspects are often associated with higher initial costs that developers do not want to bear as the eventual benefits that pass on to clients are not quantified and appreciated enough to justify the investment. Many stakeholders in both government and market believe it is a concept better suited to commercial buildings and luxury high-end housing. There is also a lack of acceptance of alternate resource efficient materials and technologies from the user end. The beneficiaries often come from the construction sector, and have a high level of awareness on business as usual practices.

Conclusion and Recommendations

Integration of sustainability aspects in affordable housing can no longer be neglected. With growing demand for housing, and the increasing pressure the sector exerts on the resource base it is imperative to take immediate action. Continuing on a business as usual path is no longer an option and there is a need for transformative change to be brought about. The levers that can crank up the engine for change are as follows:

Favourable policy regime: The lack of integration of environmental sustainability in building bylaws poses a barrier at the implementation level. Inclusion of alternate resource efficient technologies in the Schedule of Rates, incorporating passive design features in local byelaws and mandatory compliance with them will go a long way in the mainstreaming.

Supply chain management: To ensure that sustainable urban housing is being delivered; the supply chain of materials and services is crucial. Financial incentives at producer end will encourage local enterprises that offer these products and services to come up.

Capacity Building: Capacities form one of the single largest barriers in this integration. There is an urgent requirement to look into aspects of technical integration and relevant capacity building at the local level to meet the policy intents of sustainable urban affordable housing. This needs to be undertaken at the ULB level and the implementation level for architects, engineers and masons.

In order to meet the dual challenge of meeting the housing demand of millions while mitigating environmental damage there is a need to take up this holistic multi-stakeholder approach that upholds principles of innovation and equity. q

Kriti Nagrath

1 Census of India, 2001

2 McKinsey Global Institute (2010), India’s Urban Awakening : Building Inclusive Cities, Sustaining Economic Growth

3 Census of India, 2011

4 GoI, Ministry of Housing and Urban Poverty Alleviation, JNNURM Directorate (2011) India’s Urban Demographic transition. P.11

5 Ministry of Housing and Urban Poverty Alleviation (2012), Report of the Technical Group on Urban Housing Shortage (TG 12), Government of India, New Delhi; Lower Income groups (LIG) and Economically Weaker sections (EWS) respectively accounting for 40% and 56% of the deficit

6 McKinsey Global Institute (2010), India’s Urban Awakening : Building Inclusive Cities, Sustaining Economic Growth

7 Task force on Promoting Affordable Housing (2012) Task force Report, Ministry of Housing and Urban Poverty Alleviation, Government of India, New Delhi

8 Measures such as the complete opening of the real estate sector to Foreign Direct Investment (FDI), substantial incentives given out to attract private participation under the Affordable Housing in Partnership Scheme, enhanced loan limits under the Rajiv Rinn Yojana Scheme (RIY) for the EWS and LIG, the establishment of a Credit Risk Guarantee Scheme to facilitate credit to affordable housing through banks, and others have nurtured and encouraged the emergence of the private sector as a crucial stakeholder.

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