Agile housing policy | Big Bold Cities

Agile housing policy

Involving residents in slum redevelopment

three colored squaresAgile housing policy


The Pune Municipal Corporation pivoted away from slum removal toward the participatory redevelopment of existing homes, after consulting with the non-profit Maharashtra Social Housing and Action League (MASHAL). National matching funds were available to cover the bulk of the upgrades, and beneficiary households contributed a significant (and larger than anticipated) portion. Residents were involved in project planning and implementation.

Democratic Challenge  

Informal settlements have long been viewed as a blight by urban governments, and a typical ‘solution’ was (and is) to destroy them. But with an estimated 1 billion people worldwide living in such communities, including more than 40 percent of Mumbai’s residents, there is an increasing recognition that informal settlements are the city, and representation must adapt accordingly.

How’d They Do It?   

The Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM) offered select Indian cities generous national funding to spur policy reform and infrastructure development. In Pune, for example, the national government offered to contribute 50 percent of the cost of housing development, with the remainder split 30/10/10 between the state government, municipal corporation and beneficiary, respectively. 

The Pune Municipal Corporation proposed building large, modern apartment buildings on city-owned land, and it engaged the Maharashtra Social Housing and Action League (MASHAL) to encourage slum dwellers to relocate to the new developments. But MASHAL pushed back, noting that residents expected to redevelop their existing properties and were ready to contribute funding and participate in construction. MASHAL and the city prepared a new proposal to convert 4,000 makeshift kutcha houses into permanent pucca houses, which was approved. MASHAL then became one of four organizations contracted to build the houses in partnership with residents. Architects designed homes with residents, using the existing property footprint, in order to achieve minimum standards: at least 270 square feet of living space, a toilet and reinforced concrete. Contractors and construction workers were hired locally whenever possible, and disputes between parties were mediated by the municipal councilor.

The top-down nature of this project contrasts with the bottom-up design of the Urbz and SPARC projects in Mumbai, but all of the initiatives work with marginalized communities to achieve the same goals: recognizing the assets that residents already hold, both individually and collectively, and building on those assets to improve living conditions.

How Is It Going?   

Residents wanted to customize their homes so the average beneficiary ended up contributing a higher percentage of the cost—about 30 percent rather than 10 percent. 

The complexity of land-rights issues slowed down the redevelopment process, and many residents waited 1-2 years between the demolition of their existing home and construction of a new one. This was much longer than expected; Habitat for Humanity provided bridge financing for the project, but there were no resources for interim housing for residents. Although the project did not grant land-tenure rights to residents, securing property titles has remained a priority for local councilors and the national scheme.

The funding structure necessarily excluded the poorest residents, who could not afford a 10 percent contribution despite installment plans. (Households were also not eligible if they occupied less than 100 square feet of land.) Some households also had to drop out midway because of financial hardship from school fees, medical costs, etc.

Innovation Point of Contact

Sharad Mahajan

Who Else Is Trying This

São Paulo, Brazil

Brazilian cities have been searching for approaches to improving informal neighborhoods for decades. In 2001, a federally-enacted “City Statute” law allowed the City of São Paulo to create “zones of special interest” in order to recognize slums and provide social services to populations that had previously been ignored. The law also enabled the creation of management councils that are accountable to residents. Though issues such as crime, land titling, and lack of credit history still pose problems, the changes have allowed the government to more easily track settlements and given residents a venue to voice their vision for their community. Read more