Housing for Urban Migrants – Social and political challenges in implementing housing for the Urban Poor

Unelectrified underserved settlements across urban and peri-urban areas have little or no access to basic services that can improve living standards, productivity, and income generation. Urban Community Lab explores the role of energy access, water access and built environment in order to create sustainable communities by understanding and catalyzing community requirements through an interdisciplinary approach.

Wound up in a web of political and institutional complexities, slum rehabilitation as a topic is well discussed in academia as well as practice. While looking for a permanent solution, government driven rehabilitation projects look at longer timelines- predominantly driven by political and economic motives rather than welfare and equity. Thus, in a city like Bangalore, with a weak civil society, the communities continue to live under horrible conditions for long periods of time. The immediate needs of this bottom segment of the income group, which lie outside the market forces, is ignored. Design considerations, mainly – flexibility, incremental nature, mobility, community spaces and sanitation are dealt with in a very haphazard manner- mostly due to the land tenure insecurity and short term thinking. The H.U.M (Housing for Urban Migration) Project, under the built environment vertical in Urban Community Lab, aims to fill this gap and deals with immediate relief in these temporary slums.

Over the past three years, Urban Community Labs has been looking at providing cleaner energy solutions through off-grid RE technologies. But while the shift from kerosene to solar for lighting has been easier to facilitate, the households continue to use unsustainable and harmful fuel for cooking- exposing them to CO, CO2 and poisonous particulate matter- resulting in long term health issues. On further analysis, we realised that this exposure to poisonous gases is exaggerated due to the way the housing structures were designed itself. With no facilitation for natural light and ventilation, the structure ensures that the smoke does not escape. In addition, these dark cave like structures, ideally need a lighting intervention for day time as well.

By following a human centric design approach, user and designer expertise is combined to create a housing typology that can address the critical needs of the communities- ample lighting, ventilation to facilitate smoke extraction, safety from rodents, security at night and sufficient storage. Leveraging on the local know-how, accessibility to materials, the H.U.M project looks at creating a “Do It Yourself” housing solution for both existing and new households. Looking at it as a modular solution, simple material and technological innovations are incorporated into the existing typology to create a better temporary living space.

In the past 18 months, we have made six housing interventions in two communities in Bangalore, and the learnings have been tremendous, some of which have been discussed below:

New materials and technologies can be introduced but accessibility needs to be kept in mind. If the supply chain does not exist, it will not be taken up by the community.
Investment in physical infrastructure might be interpreted by the landlord (in case of private land ownership) in two ways:

Household’s increased capacity to pay, resulting in an increase in the rental amount
Communities getting comfortable and ‘settling down’, leading to eviction threats

Entry of an external organization, who might have more political bargaining power or might be facilitating the building up of social and physical capital in the community, often sends a warning signal to the landlord. Thus, resulting in him/her threatening for eviction.

Today blue tent homes have become a part and parcel of the city landscape. Their existence seems to have become a socially acceptable occurrence, one that we are unconsciously festering and pushing towards permanence. Their living conditions coupled with lack of opportunity has also lead to a cycle of poverty, giving rise to frustration and crime. The H.U.M project aims to provide these communities with immediate access to dignified living conditions.

Currently the built environment team is continuing to follow a modular approach, developing interventions that can be added to a structure in an incremental manner. Special focus is being paid to the ‘skin’ of the structure itself- looking at ways in which natural light, ventilation, weather proofing and thermal comfort can be combined together. Please contact rojan@selcofoundation.org  if you have any suggestions, or just want to contribute to our brain storming sessions.

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