A less-talked-about crisis
Factors like lack of employment opportunities, non-provision of basic amenities and precarious living conditions are pushing people from our villages towards cities which are pulling these people with a promise of better living. Hence, this push and pull cycle continues, making us a country with more urban population than the rural one. Every newcomer in a city is trying to get into the embrace of urban living. People are making their abodes wherever they find a place. Due to this reason, an unbridled sprawl of the cities is being witnessed and it is giving rise to multifarious human crises. One of these potential crises is the one that is giving rise to many human tragedies but gets very little attention.
The ever-growing population of cities, besides other basic amenities, requires housing. Inadequate housing and deficient facilities related to it are giving birth to crises in domains of health, education, food, poverty eradication and security. Since a vast majority of those migrating to cities can hardly afford, owing to scant resources at their disposal, to buy expensive pieces of land and build their houses on it; therefore, they find solace in renting in houses. Owing to financial constraints, some have no option but to rent in houses, flats or even rooms that are not fit for human living. There are many people who pay the monthly rents by applying cuts to expenditures that they could have otherwise spent on ensuring their family’s access to health, food, education and recreational opportunities. And indigents make abodes by building huts on sewers, government lands, river banks and uninhabited pieces of land in the city.
At present, more than 36.42 million people in Pakistan – 17.53 percent of the country’s population – are living in rented houses, with an aspiration to have one of their own in future, which are not their private property. If we compare these numbers of people who aspire to have a personal shelter with 24.93 million in 1998, we find that an increase of 46 percent has been recorded over the past two decades. The current ratio of these people living in rented and rent-free residences in Islamabad is 48 percent. It is followed by Sindh with the proportion of such population at 22.5 percent of the provincial population. Punjab, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Balochistan and FATA follow with this ratio at 15.2 percent, 16.5 percent, 13.2 percent and 8.6 percent, respectively. About 59 percent of our compatriots who do not own private homes live in urban areas. On average, every sixth Pakistani does not own any private housing. As much as 76 percent of those living in rented houses are in urban areas where, on average, every ninth person lives in a rented residence. In cities, on average, one in five people lives in a rented house.
As per the Housing and Population Census 2017, 17.86 percent (57 lakh) residential units in Pakistan are rented. Although these are providing shelter to the people, the aspiration they have to own a house remains unfulfilled – this number is 58 percent more than in 1998. The number of rented houses alone has increased by 122 percent in 20 years. Currently, on average, every fourth house in our cities is occupied by a tenant. Half of the houses in the urban area of Islamabad are rented out while 30.68 percent of houses in urban areas of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, 26.39 percent in Sindh, 23.63 percent in FATA, 21.85 percent in Punjab and 18.43 percent in Balochistan’s urban areas are rented. Almost every new home being built in the country offers rented accommodation. In cities, one in five homes is sheltering tenants while every sixth house in the country is not occupied by the owner. Thus, the urban population, which is growing at an annual rate of 3.01 percent, needs more and more houses not only for its natives but also for those who migrate to cities. But the construction of new houses does not complement the ever-growing demand. In this scenario, Pakistan is facing a total shortage of 10 million housing units at present while the annual requirement is around 0.7 million houses, out of which about half are constructed every year.
The other side of the story is related to the living condition. According to the 2017 Census, around 62 percent of the country’s houses have one or two rooms – 31.37 percent are single-room and 30.23 percent are two-room houses. The precariousness of the situation can be gauged from the fact that the average number of people per household in Pakistan is 6.39. How these six people would be living in a one- or two-room house is anyone’s idea. If we consider the average population per household, we find that 60.5 percent of the country’s population is currently living in one- or two-room houses – (30.8 percent of the population lives in one-room houses and 29.7 percent in two-room ones). The situation is worst in Sindh where 53 percent of houses have only one room. Around 28 percent houses in Balochistan, 24 percent in Punjab, 18 percent in KP, 15 percent in FATA and 11 percent in Islamabad consist of only one room. If you look at the situation in cities, around 57 percent of houses have one or two rooms (25.7 percent have one room and 31.02 percent have two rooms). In Sindh, 35 percent of urban houses have one room. In FATA, this ratio is 27 percent while that in Punjab and Balochistan is 21 percent each followed by 15 percent in KP and 12 percent in Islamabad.
If we consider facilities available in the houses, the situation, again, is not so encouraging. Around 26 percent of houses in Pakistan do not even have a kitchen. In 19 percent, the kitchen is inside the room used for living – this proportion in urban areas is 13 percent and 22 percent, respectively. Likewise, 17 percent of households in the country do not have bathrooms and 15 percent do not have toilet facility – in urban areas this proportion is 4 percent and 2 percent, respectively.
The ever-growing urbanization in Pakistan has tremendously raised the demand for housing in cities. Lack of formal arrangements for low-income urban residents and the people migrating from rural to urban areas is resulting in the establishment of informal settlements as they are cheap and easy to build.
Housing is universally recognized as a basic human need but millions of people in Pakistan are still struggling to have a roof over their heads. Owing to meager supply of new housing units, poor people have no option but to rent in a residence. But, exuberant rent charges are thwarting all their efforts to have a proper living place. Unfortunately, the role of the public sector in providing housing facilities to people is very limited. The UK, on the other hand, provides rental housing to a large segment of society.
In order to tackle the challenges of affordable housing in Pakistan, there is a pressing need to promote low-cost construction. Allocating land quotas for low-income families in housing development schemes is not a solution as most of them do not have the means to build houses.
Exuberant land prices, declining household incomes, excessive rents, interest on housing loans and high construction costs, are some of the factors that are responsible for the widening gap between demand and supply of houses.
Therefore, policymakers and relevant departments need to adopt pragmatic policy measures to ensure low-cost housing for the poor. Accommodation is appropriate only if it is affordable, has the supply of drinking water, sanitation facilities, electricity and other basic amenities and is close to schools, health services and workplaces because housing has a deeper relationship with a person’s right to life.
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