As the world’s second most populous nation, one of India’s gravest problems remains to be the lack of ‘proper’ housing. According to the 2011 Census, there were 1.77 million homeless people and over 93 million slumdwellers in the country, and the lack of ‘affordable’ housing was the top reason in the line of fire.
If you dig deeper, you will see, that on the one hand a roof evades millions, and on the other, 90 percent of the rented houses in the country are vacant, which equals 24.7 million houses.
Luckily for the country, a public figure who had contributed prodigiously to the film industry wasn’t done being a consequential citizen, just yet. Getting his hands dirty while rebuilding the homes and lives of the 2004 tsunami victims, Vivek Oberoi was convinced that the same effort, when replicated to include Maharashtra’s slumdwellers, will not only change addresses but change lives, as well. Therefore, his ‘Karrm’ is now to satiate the demand by increasing the supply, a few lakh homes at a time, albeit through affordable rates with amenities that are nothing short of plentiful and opulent.
Vivek, as it turns out, has been nursing an entrepreneurial streak since he was a child, when his father would give him perfumes, electronics, and apparel to sell to stores, wholesale markets and even door to door, during his summers. “I earned incentives if I was successful. This exercise laid a very strong foundation of enterprise and a practical understanding of business,” says the actorpreneur.
So the plunge into entrepreneurship was only a natural progression of things. It was catalyzed into an urgent desire when he witnessed the plight of the myriad displaced tsunami victims in 2004. “I entered real estate in 2004 after my work for the relief camps for tsunami victims, when we were tasked with redeveloping the village in order to provide proper sanitation and housing solutions for to all. With Karrm Infrastructure, we are carrying forward the same ideology but at a larger scale, with the aim to develop affordable housing solutions for the underprivileged across India,” says Vivek, Promoter and Partner, Karrm Infrastructure Pvt. Ltd.
When he felt the need to channel his passion and energies into a worthier cause, Karrm Infrastructure Private Limited was instated over 11 years ago, primarily for customer delight, and bottom-of-the-pyramid innovation.
“The bottom of the pyramid was largely ignored even though they were the largest segment of the market. Moreover, home-ownership for them meant a whole lot more than just an asset. It was a way out of the poverty trap, an exit from the insecurity and sub-human conditions of slums and shanties for their families.”
There is a saying that if you can drive on Indian roads, you can drive anywhere in the world. Vivek feels that this holds true for doing business in India as well. “Many industry veterans warned us of disaster swearing that the Non Performing Assets in this segment would kill us, that the buyers in the EWS (economically weaker section) and LIG (Low Income Group) segments didn't understand EMIs or practice saving,” says Vivek. Intuitively, Karrm went ahead by working with their buyers, rather than against them, and achieved massive sales and an NPA of less than two percent.
With approximately three million square feet of completed projects, and 4.5 msf (million square feet) under construction,
Karrm recently announced the launch of a project in Shahapur, Maharashtra, with amenities that are equivalent to those of the most luxurious townships in India.Part of their umbrella programme ‘mission 360,’ this project would provide truly affordable housing to more than 15,000 families at a cost of Rs7,90,000 per unit. And Mission 360 aims to do so for five lakh families, at 360 locations across Maharashtra.
Vivek believes that just because the township will house the underprivileged, doesn’t mean that they should be devoid of quality and good standards of living. He trusts that equality in distribution of resources is imperative for the country to progress as a whole.
Often asked why he builds swimming pools for “this class of people,” Vivek’s counter is, ‘why not?’
“There is zero compromise on quality or amenities. We want owning a Karrm home to be an incredible fulfilling experience that commands respect,” he says.
The aim of Karrm Infrastructure is to create a complete transition of lifestyle change for the underprivileged sections of the society who mostly are not financially inclusive; for example, Sabziwala, domestic helps, mechanic, drivers, etc. Their most successful strategy has been that they ask for no banking documents, no upfront booking amounts, no hefty deposits, etc., when they realised that their clients, mostly from the above professions and disciplines, are actually intimidated by the banking system. Their marketing team teaches the customers how to open and operate bank accounts, make electronic payments, and also helps them get inexpensive loans from banks.
“Financial inclusion of this nature helps our clients get out of the volatile informal money lender system that costs 36 percent per annum or more,” he reveals.
Moreover, they have instated a team of 400 people trained to integrate these people in the economy and help them create a CIBIL score - helping them find jobs, bringing manufacturing units nearby to deploy the labour there, etc. The company is in advance discussion for partnerships with BMR and associates, NCCCL, HDFC, Avendus and National Housing Bank to support the project.
Five thousand families have already moved in, constituting, mainly, migrants from Bhiwandi slums. Another 10,000 families will be moving in during the next 18 months. The company has further announced a rapid expansion to seven more locations over the next quarter, and have already been invited to a few other states to bridge the gap in quality affordable housing.