500,000 housing units are required per annum for next 20 years


By Syed M. Aslam
Dec 28 - Jan 05, 2003

For millions of Pakistanis owning a place of their own- be it a house or a flat- still remains a dream. Over the years the gap between demand and supply of housing units has widened drastically due to primarily sharp increase in prices of housing units, rising cost of living and declining saving power. The short supply, in itself, has further worsened an already bad situation as it has pushed up the prices even further due to greater demand.

According to the Population and Housing Census of Pakistan 1998 there were around 19.3 million housing units of all types and sizes in the country of which about 68 per cent or 13 million were in the rural areas and the remaining in the urban areas. Over the years, and amidst high population growth, the widening gap between demand and supply has resulted in a backlog which can only be eradicated if at least 500,000 housing units are built per annum for the next 20 years. This indeed is no easy task as according to estimates the supply of housing units currently falls off by around 200,000 units per annum against the demand at present. The gap between supply and demand, thus, is widening with the each passing year to further worsen an already bad situation.

The rising inflationary trends, the inequitable distribution of income and levy of taxes and drastic increase in the cost of construction have taken the worst toll on the middle class which did manage to save enough to buy a housing unit as late as late eighties. Today buying a house, or even a flat, has become an almost impossible fete for the middle income segment of the society, not to mention the low-income group. The emergence of the concrete jungles of multi-storey buildings housing apartments across all urban centres of the country is enough to prove this point. Housing has become the top problem of the contemporary Pakistan today.

Over the years, the House Building Finance Corporation (HBFC) played a vital role to help people help construct or buy a housing unit or repair or reconstruct an existing one. Since its inception in November 1952 the HBFC has provided over Rs 29 billion of financing for the purchase or construction of 400,000 housing units. In addition, it has provided bulk loan/investment of around Rs 1.8 billion to 28 development authorities as well as public and private sector organizations for the development of sites and construction of houses.

However, the growing population and the resultant increase in the demand for housing units in the country can hardly be met by HBFC alone, which introduced a new investment scheme called "Ghar Assan" based on 'Diminsihing Musharakah" in March this year. For many, the new scheme has been much more cumbersome than the previous one. That highlights the need for the participation of the private financial institutions in the house financing.

While many banks, particularly foreign, have been engaged in house financing schemes for last many years, they primarily target the affluent section of the society. These schemes, thus, remained outside the reach of the middle and salaried classes who need housing loans much more acutely. These schemes, thus, were directed to those who could manage without them and any case collectively made up a very small market away from the mainstream.

The huge backlog of housing units in the country has resulted in pushing the total demand for house financing to a mammoth Rs 68 billion compared to a much smaller supply of Rs 3-4 billion. Bad? No, actually much worse as clearing the backlog by developing 500,000 housing units for next twenty years means at least Rs 125 billion of financing and that too if it is based on an extremely conservative per unit cost of Rs 500,000 including 50 per cent self financing.

Despite these harsh realities a silver lining has recently appeared in the sky. The fact that the Governor of the State Bank of Pakistan, the central bank, has allowed the leasing companies to finance housing. He also asked the leasing companies to introduce new products to finance housing alongwith consumer financing which they were allowed just a few months earlier.

Shelter the worldover is recognized as one of the basic human rights today. However, without easy access to house financing the vast majority of people would not be able to own a housing unit here in Pakistan particularly amidst the widening gulf between the have and have-nots, income disparity, inequitable taxes, declining standard of living and shrinking saving power.

Despite the immense challenges posed by the financial aspect of the housing backlog a beginning should be made and the initiative this time around should come from the financial institutions of which the leasing companies are an important part. Though the house financing needs are immense, the leasing companies can, and should, play an important part to help lessen the impact of a human problem of grave consequences that the epidemic of housing poses. Certainly, the leasing companies can play a pivotal role.