Demand has for outstripped availability

Aug 31 - Sep 06, 1996

Pakistan has faced formidable housing problems from its very birth in August 1947 as an independent nation in the wake of the mass influx of millions who migrated to the country from India.

The situation has not changed much almost 50 years after independence due to various factors which are discussed in this article, particularly with reference to the biggest metropolis of the country, Karachi.

During the early years, government efforts were primarily directed towards providing shelter for disabled persons through a number of low-cost housing projects. These efforts were brought to an end after a few years though the influx continued at a slower pace.

The difficulties were compounded by a high national population growth rate and sustained migration from rural to urban areas as well as limited availability of suitably developed land.

Karachi which developed into the enonomic, financial, trade, and industrial hub of the country soon after independence was the worst hit due to the very nature of employment opportunities that it offered as the gateway to Pakistan, drawing an incessant flow and an ever growing number of job seekers from all over the country. This resulted in severe housing problems which continue even at present.


The responsibility of preparing the master plan for the physical development of the Karachi was entrusted to the Karachi Development Authority (KDA) under KDA Order 1957.

The housing problems of a sprawling megapolis like Karachi can hardly be remedied through disjointed efforts of public and private sector developmental agencies, the premier one of which is KDA though just a year ago Malir and Lyari Development Authorities, MDA and LDA respectively have also been established by the present government.

With the creation of the two new development authorities, KDA has been reduced to a non-entity playing an insignificant role in the Central, East, and West Districts of Karachi — areas which have precious little scope for development as they are already highly saturated.

While the Taisar Township Scheme adjacent to Surjani Township and the Shah Latif Township Scheme have been transferred to MDA and the Hawkes Bay Scheme has been handed over to the LDA, KDA the main body — which till last year had greater control and influence in the city's development via master planning to undertake land development projects for housing — is left with only a small number of projects such as Lines Area Redevelopment Project.

Thus limited to perform in pockets of already saturated areas like Landhi, Korangi, Shah Faisal Colony, Malir and Malir Extension, the KDA at present has no land either residential, commercial, or industrial in the city. The wings of the premier development agency of the biggest metropolis of the country have thus been clipped, leaving it an invalid.

Taisar Town scheme which has now been transferred to MDA was to be executed by the KDA in collaboration with Saiban, the Khuda Ki Basti project of Hyderabad fame.

The scheme spreading over 60 acres of land adjacent to Surjani Town was to be developed as an alternative of Katchi Abadis to provide 60-sq.-yard plots to low-income households on condition that they would have to reside at the plots. Though the people had to pay a regular price for the plots with no subsidy, they were to pay the price in easy monthly instalments over a number of years.

The Shah Latif Town scheme along National Highway was planned on similar lines for low-income people.

Rural-urban migration

While the housing problems of Karachi basically stem from migration of rural populace in search of jobs and better living conditions which the city offers, it is shocking to note that some 300,000 residential plots of all sizes allotted by KDA years ago in its various schemes, including Gulzar-e-Hijri Scheme No. 33, are lying vacant all over the city.

One of the main reasons for this retarded pace of house building activity is the delay in completion of development work as usually it takes 3-4 years to complete land development work while the allotment of plots is made much before the development is completed.

As the protracted development work often resulted in all kinds of speculations which, in turn advanced the interests of those who wanted to invest for quick turnover, the share of housing sector in overall housing production never exceeded 37-43 percent during the period 1974-85.

On the contrary, the informal katchi abadis sector had a greater share in housing construction as the land grabbers were ever ready to offer affordable land to the lowest income people who were and have always been in immediate need of shelter as the formal sector housing remained unaffordable to those earning below the median income. The trend continues to remain the same even today.

During 1974-85, most of the development took place in the area which was 10-20 km away from the centre of the city. The activity resulted in creating numerous problems such as extended commuting time for workers and increased cost of infrastructure extension, etc.

Though KDA has always put emphasis on providing plots along with related services rather than on built-up houses, it has also kept its mind open for a system which may enable the low and middle income households to own affordable houses which do not affect their basic priorities such as food and clothing. And thus it has also developed low-income housing projects as private sector development activities were confined to cater to the housing needs of upper income groups. Some eight years ago, the KDA in collaboration with the Association of Builders and Developers of Pakistan formulated a programme of 2000 extremely low-cost houses in its Surjani Town housing scheme.

Two basic types of dwellings, one- and two-roomed both with a toilet and a kitchen, were built. The total cost of one- and two-room houses on 66 sq. m were fixed at Rs 2437 and 3074 respectively while those built on 50 sq. m were priced at Rs 2250 and 2632 respectively. The prices included the cost of land, structural loans, and the lease charges.

It was ensured that the cost of services for the plots was kept equal to five average monthly salaries of the low-income households and the cost of land with construction was equal to 35 times their monthly salaries. This cost included a 60-65 per cent loan from the House Building Finance Corporation (HBFC) which was to be recovered in monthly instalments.

While the urban migration to Karachi still goes on, the housing problems that it is creating not only at present but will continue to create in the years to come could not be hard to understand.

The uninterrupted flow of people into Karachi purely for economic reasons demands from the relevant land development authorities to undertake the master planning of the city to cater to the needs of future without which the housing would remain one of the major problems.

Due attention should be paid to such important aspects as housing programme for all segments of the society with emphasis on low-income groups, housing support rather than built-up houses, measures to keep in check the unwanted growth of squatter settlements, encouraging private sector to participate in housing development and promotion of cooperative housing, curbing land speculation, and access to low-income household finance.