A house is a building that functions as a home. The idea of a home is a place that makes us feel safe, secure, comfortable and most important gives us a sense of belongingness.
The definition of a slum is an overcrowded informal settlement with substandard housing conditions and sanitary services that lacks basic services like electricity and clean water. Such a place does not create a mental image of security, safety or comfort to say the least.
According to UN Habitat roughly 33 % of the world population in the developing world lives in a slum which is 863 million people of which 64 million are Indians which means that the Indian slums can house the entire population of Italy.
There is numerous debate happening in the country around social and affordable housing especially after the ambitious 2022 Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana program which promise house to every family.
I feel like we are at a good junction in this ambitious program and in terms of time to pause and reflect what are we really intending to do in terms of solution with this housing crisis . It’s essential to find the purpose behind solving the housing problem because purpose leads to setting priorities and priority leads to expectation which dictate the future course of any policy made by a government at a national and international level.
Words matter a lot when we are forming policies or debating an issue at hand. Words create a mental image of what is being discussed and gives a perspective and direction to the issue, debate and also leads to solutions. Whenever the topic of housing comes up in India or a lot of other parts in the world, the world affordable stirs up immediately. The word affordable housing is limiting in more than one ways. But more so I think its usage is redundant.
Every person who lives in a house, is primarily because it’s what they can afford whether it is an informal shanty or a $5 million penthouse. Every house that is bought or rented by is affordable someone. The highlight that the word affordable gets limits the ways we can approach this problem.
Instead of Affordable and cost effective the driving force / purpose should be create houses that are Desirable , Sustainable and eventually lead to the formation of a sustainable community around that place.
Desirability puts the most important person in the centre of the discussion and policy making i.e. is the resident of the house. What I desire in a house can be drastically different from what a women with a family of 6 and whose primary occupation is agriculture in a village desires. If engineers, architects, builders and government starts taking into consideration foremost what the resident desire will naturally have to put themselves in their shoes to understand.
A desirable house relative to who lives there will be functional by default. No one if asked would desire a home that does not fit their needs.
The second word I mentioned is sustainable. Now there is no single definition of the world sustainability. But I feel if we want to achieve sustainability in anything that we are doing. .The purpose should be to consume less of what we have as input and resources and create more so that we leave more behind than using it up.
The importance of a house is not giving us shelter but it’s the basic building block of society. It’s a place where people live and while they do that their outlook, desires and perception of the society and world around them is shaped.
If one lives in a house that is an energy plus or zero energy home , their outlook about Environment and sustainability would not just limit to their house but will be part of who they are, It will be their lifestyle .
A home can play the pivotal role in the society to form outlook and decide what kind of a lifestyle one wants to live.Thus sustainable and environment friendly homes are not just important to lower don energy cost in the long run but to shape mind and souls of people living in it.
Thus the national and international problem of housing crisis for the poor and those who are homeless should not just be about a price tag but much more beyond that.
Now I know it’s not at all as easy as it sounds but one that shouldn’t be an option but the purpose . It needs to be done if we want to live in a society that is stronger, compassionate and empathetic not just to people around it but the resources that it consumes.