Gentrification causes homelessness? Simplistically linking problems does not translate to good housing policy

by Mukta Naik

Scholars, bloggers and journalists in the Global North, especially in the UK and the US, have drawn clear links between the process of gentrification and the increase in homelessness since the early 2000s. With the problem of homelessness growing steadily—some 60,000 people in New York sleep in shelters each night as per the Coalition for the Homeless, about 6,500 slept on London’s streets in 2013-24, 70% more than the number in 2010 as per local agencies—quite a bit of passionate soul searching has taken place over its causes. It has seemed logical to pin the blame on the gentrification of erstwhile poor, debilitated areas of the city. Global capital and the greed of investors, sometimes from far overseas, and even the idea of the global city have been named the villains. In short, global capital (the rich) has pushed out local capital (the middle class and the poor) and those at the lowest end of the ‘pushed out’ bunch are now on the streets.


This might well be true, but as this blog on Brooklyn’s homeless problem points out, the real failure lies in the inability of the city’s visionaries to understand that there are new and more complex problems at hand. Plugging the demand-supply gap is no magic solution and housing is far more complex than the solutions that emerge from the government’s simplistic slotting of households into broad income slabs.

Poor targeting in government schemes

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio’s affordable housing plan, which does an impressive dissection of incomes and housing rentals in the city is planning to “create and preserve 200,000 units of affordable housing for approximately 500,000 New Yorkers over the next ten years” along with soft support to the homeless in the form of eviction protection services, increased investments in shelters and a program to remove bottlenecks in allocating affordable units to those living in the shelters. What is not explicit in the plan, though, is the recognition that new “affordable housing” units will not be affordable to the majority of the homeless. New York is an example. This sort of poor targeting is a common ailment in policy and in housing policy particularly, where supply side thinking usually dominates.

What then is a possible inclusive housing strategy for this growing group of homeless (or other excluded groups) in the city? What is the role of housing in fostering better incomes and upward mobility among the working homeless? How can government look at housing provision creatively to address different types of poverty, different types of family units, different types of housing problems?

Ostrich syndrome: Won’t see the complexities, will stick to simplistic and seductive solutions

The point about the need to understand the real housing issues within the city, find the inter-connections and then target solutions has been made several times to the government in India as well. In the past five years of working with housing and urban development issues at micro Home Solutions and now at Centre for Policy Research, I have been involved in several consultations and meetings between experts and the government, with Union ministries like HUPA, the Government of Delhi as well as government institutions like DUSIB and DDA (Do read CPR project Cities of Delhi reports on these). At these meetings and workshops, evidence from research projects and pilot interventions have been presented to back demands for a more contextual approach to housing policy. Some of the suggestions have included government investigation into the need for rental housing for the working poor (and middle class), the support of incremental housing rather than its demolition, improved shelters for the homeless, more rational norms for measuring housing affordability and innovative mechanisms for the poor to transition from one type of housing to another, among others. While these suggestions are heard, they are rarely understood. Moreover, they pale in comparison to seductive solutions that propose to remove the jhuggis (slums), clean the city and rehabilitate slumdwellers in flats built in high-rise towers (read Cities of Delhi op-ed on rehabilitation/resettlement of slumdwellers and author’s critique of rehabilitation into high-rises) .

Pune, Slums and the city: A complex reality Photo credit: Mukta Naik
View from a Slum Rehabilitation project in Hadapsar, Pune: A complex reality
Photo credit: Mukta Naik

At these meetings, the link between gentrification and lack of adequate housing is often discussed. Politicians understand about market dynamics, they’ve seen enough of elite capture. Any subsidised housing the government offers, they know, will change hands and be appropriated by investors and middle- and high-income people; while the poor will build back the slum! At the same time, the Delhi government, for instance, is struggling to find solutions to fill thousands of empty affordable units located in inconvenient (read poorly connected) parts of the city.

Once again, the issue of correct targeting comes to the fore. Communities like the homeless or even renters remain excluded from policy conversations about government-provided housing, while those that are targeted by government housing schemes are unable to benefit from them for reasons of insensitive design and poor location/connectivity .

A new imagination for housing policy

In Delhi at least, there is no pretence that a larger supply of affordable homes will help the homeless. However, it is precisely in cities like Delhi, where the diversity in housing supply is considerable (much of it located in incrementally built quasi-legal areas of the city) and where mobility between housing types is commonly seen, that we have a chance to envision housing differently. In a bustling resettlement colony in northwest Delhi, we approach a rickshaw puller outside a community toilet complex to investigate the functionality of public toilet. He screws up his nose at us in disdain. “I don’t use that filthy toilet,” he says. “I live in a rental home and we have private toilet facilities.” He pays Rs 2500 a month to rent a room and live in dignity, he says, even if it means there is less liquidity for household expenditure and no remittances go home to the village.

Repeatedly, we observe housing aspirations that revolve around dignity and decent amenities on one hand, and those that obsess about property values and status on the other. Somewhere between these extremes lies the opportunity of a re-imagined housing strategy. One that can provide a life of dignity and a lever for upward mobility, but also create diverse forms of supply that answer to the peculiar complexities of poverty and housing need in our cities. But to realise this, the government needs to think out of the many straight jackets it has created for itself: the income classifications of EWS, LIG, MIG and HIG, the rigid space allocations for subsidised housing (we are ridiculously stuck at 25 sq.m. per household), of rental versus ownership housing, of public housing and public-private partnerships (PPP, the magical phrase with a touch of dread). Is it possible to imagine housing policy without strait jackets?

The Promise of Regularisation

By Subhadra Banda and Shahana Sheikh

There is little transparency in the regularisation of unauthorised colonies in Delhi.



Earlier this week, acting on behalf of the Delhi government, the Chief Minister wrote a letter to the President asking for a probe against the former Chief Minister, reportedly for “alleged irregularities in the regularisation of unauthorised colonies in Delhi”. This follows the Delhi Lokayukta’s finding in November 2013 that the “issuance of the PRC [provisional regularisation certificates] on the eve of the elections [in 2008] was a populist measure intended to woo voters”. It also found that some unauthorised colonies (UACs) received the PRC despite having submitted incomplete applications.

 UACs, which are estimated to house 30 per cent of Delhi’s population, were promised regularisation in 2008, and again in the manifestos of the Aam Aadmi Party, the Bharatiya Janata Party, and the Congress, prior to the Delhi elections of 2013. In his first address to the newly-elected Delhi Assembly this year, the Lieutenant Governor announced that an “action plan for regularising unauthorised colonies within a year is being drawn up and this plan shall be implemented rigorously in a time-bound manner”. To understand this issue, it is important to understand how this problem arose.


Glaring Loopholes: Delhi Government’s Guidelines for Rehabilitation / Resettlement of Slum-Dwellers

If the Aam Aadmi Party government wants to keep its promise to the slum-dwellers to resettle and rehabilitate them with dignity and humaneness, then it must act quickly to plug in the various loopholes and iron out the ambiguities present in the resettlement guidelines which were issued by the previous Delhi government in 2013.

                While addressing the Delhi legislative assembly on 2 January 2014, preceding the trust vote, Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal put forward a seventeen-point agenda for the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) government. The rehabilitation and resettlement of people living in unauthorised colonies and jhuggis was one of the issues mentioned by him. He said that unless the newly elected assembly finds a solution for them, their jhuggis will not be demolished. Just like the other political parties, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) has promised in-situ resettlement, i.e., residents of jhuggi jhopri clusters (JJCs) will be given plots or flats at the same site where they are currently residing. The residents would be relocated to transitory accommodation, flats would be constructed on the cleared land, and “eligible” residents would then take possession of flats allotted to them. Only if this process was not feasible, would permanent relocation be undertaken.


The Case of Kathputli Colony: Mapping Delhi’s First In-situ Slum Rehabilitation Project

Subhadra Banda, Yashas Vaidya and David Adler

Delhi Master Plan 2021 introduced the “In-situ rehabilitation” approach to slum redevelopment, in which residents of Jhuggi Jhopdi Clusters transition to temporary housing while the Delhi Development Authority (DDA) reconstructs the settlment, and then shifts the slum-dwellers back onto the original plot and into improved housing.  Kathputli Colony, located in West Delhi’s Shadipur region, has been selected by the DDA as the site of Delhi’s first in-situ slum rehabilitation.  This paper lays out the trajectory of the Kathputli project thus far, examining the formal, legalistic framework and its relationship to the actual events documented in our research in the colony.


Book Review: Butter Chicken in Ludhiana

Aditi Gandhi

Butter Chicken in Ludhiana Travels in Small Town India by Pankaj Mishra

Pankaj Misra’s Butter Chicken in Ludhiana (1995) is peppered with diverse stories of people from across the small towns with a single common underlying theme: Aspirations. Each anecdote has a shade of ‘climb up the ladder’ motivation.  
There are the quintessential rich man’s children, the unknowing victims to consumerism: here in this book, a certain Mr Sahrma, resident of Ambala whose daughter uses only the imported Camay soap and watches Bold and the Beautiful, and the sons of businessmen in Shimoga who travel in Maruti and fritter away parents’ money.  

Proprietorship is the unemployed youth’s answer to the problem of lack of jobs (if you can’t pay your way into civil services that is). Mishra talks in particular of how shoddy fast food joints have opened in the small, until-now-pristine towns. Mishra reminisces of the time when the town landscapes were clean and seems almost apologetic about the change. Well, the change may be ugly but it affords a livelihood for some one. The joints wouldn’t be open and running if it weren’t economically rational for someone to be running them.
In the struggle for livelihood many other recurring themes are encountered. Havelli owners who have thrown open the palace doors to tourists or have converted old palaces to hotels. And of course the inevitable – UP migrant. The author talks to Munna Yadav in Udaipur, originally from East UP. Munna dropped out of the school in class five because he did not like studying and because the teacher beat him. He had travelled to Jalandhar and Delhi and was now on his way to Ahmedabad. The importance of social capital in finding a job in each of these places is highlighted.    
Even back in 1995 when the book was written, Mishra notices the willingness of parents to send kids to school. There is the story of his senior at Allahbad University who was the first one in his family of farmers to be sent to college for higher education. There is also the story of a south Indian businessman who knows from experiences of his brother that not being educated is a handicap to doing business.
The societal impact of television seems to be varied across the cities in India. The direct economic impact is of course jobs creation. In the book, Mrs Shukla, an army man’s wife escorts her daughter to Mumbai for the latter to try a career in modelling. However, satellite TV seems to have completely ruined the culture capital of the country – Benaras, which has become an unsafe city for women. The author contends, through observation and interviews (with victims not perpetrators), that this is due to negative impact of television on the unemployed youth. However I do not understand why the impact of TV is different in Benaras as compared with impact in other urban centres. Are the sensibilities different in these cities? Or maybe the urban culture is not so alien to what is shown on TV. It does seem though that Benaras is beyond repair now.
The book is not without its share of sob stories. One narrative is of a caretaker in Murshidabad who supported a family of 5 sons and 3 daughters on a salary of Rs 50 per month. The salary had been the same for last fifty years! The son was now a caretaker at a palace. How evident, the vicious cycle of poverty. 
The rich and the poor of the small towns emulate the trends of the cities. And of course where else do we see this better than in the weddings? Or in the lone rich man’s house that boasts of all ostentatious artefacts albeit surrounded by crumbling small-town infrastructure including the kaccha road leading up to the house? A father in a small town wants to wed his daughter to a city boy. Is that too bad now? Well, Mishra didn’t appreciate it much, maybe because he was city boy in this case. Of course aspirations are not unique to small towns. In the short plane journey from Nagpur to Hyderabad the author gets a taste of how the rich want to get richer! The small town is a mere shadow of the large city.  
A measure of the Aspirational Class in India, NCAER
PS1: Author’s travels: Himachal Pradesh (Shimla, Mandi), Punjab (Ambala), Rajasthan (Jaipur, Pushkar, Ajmer, Ghaneroa, Ranakpur, Udaipur, Bundi), UP (Hapur), Karnataka (Bangalore), Tamil Nadu (Tiruppur, Trichur, Kottayam, Kanyakumari), Karnataka (Shimoga), UP (Benaras), West Bengal (Murshidabad, Malda), Bihar (Gaya)
PS2: Author never travels to Ludhiana. The book is so named after a conversation he overheard. 

Reading beyond the lines

Cross posted from The Indian Express
The Op-Ed Page (March 28, 2012)
Reading beyond the lines
Consumption-based measures don’t accurately estimate poverty
Since the publication of poverty estimates purportedly based on the Tendulkar methodology and the 2009-10 consumption survey of the National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO), many in Parliament and outside, from different political parties, have questioned its conclusions. Concomitantly, media reactions have speculated on poverty’s relationship with fertility, growth, specific schemes, et al. But, India’s poverty, like itself, refuses to classify itself in simple boxes.
Beyond the happenstance of poverty decline in an odd state being less than another, there is no strong and obvious relationship to growth in incomes, whether agricultural or non-agricultural; population, urban or rural, or to the performance of schemes like NREGS. Might it be found in district-level relationships to economic and demographic structure?
It might, but there are good reasons why it might not. The headcount ratio, that is, the share of people below a certain level of consumption, called the poverty line, is a blunt measure. States with a high proportion near the poverty line will show a large fall in headcount ratio for relatively small increases in overall consumption, while states with a large proportion well below the poverty line will show smaller reductions, even if they have higher increases in consumption. This indifference to inequality below the poverty line weakens the relationship between growth and the headcount ratio and is the essence of Amartya Sen’s critique of the measure.
Besides, using a consumption measure introduces oddities. Between two households with the same income, use of a private school may classify one above the poverty line while the one using a government school may stay below, since the higher expenditure on education would be included while calculating expenditure, but the possibly higher saving of the second household ignored.
The Planning Commission mentions that the “rate of [poverty] reduction was much lower than the average in Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Chhattisgarh”. These three states are dissimilar. The population share of the bottom decile (lowest 10 per cent) of national consumption in UP is similar to its population share, but in Bihar (as in Jharkhand, Orissa and Madhya Pradesh), this share is more than twice (thrice in Chhattisgarh) their share of population. Poverty runs deeper in Bihar and Chhattisgarh, and thus equivalent income growth may lead to less poverty reduction than in UP. Besides, people in deep poverty are unlikely to possess the requisite characteristics to participate effectively in the “modern” economy and may need a very different approach.
More broadly, the distribution of consumption differs across states. The inter-decile interval, that is, the difference between one group of 10 per cent of households and the next, is much less in Bihar, that is, they are more tightly bunched, than Maharashtra. Many states have large proportions (around a fifth of the official poor) within a 50-rupee band above and below their specific poverty lines. This can be seen as fragile poverty reduction, where small changes add a fifth more to poverty, or as a large poverty reduction that will happen presently. Because of this sensitivity to small changes in the poverty line, similar households will be treated very differently, if such headcount cut-offs are used to allocate benefits.
Such pitfalls of targeting are one reason why the UID is not a silver bullet. It is a tool for traceability, that is, it can track where money goes, but it cannot ensure that it goes to deserving persons — indeed there may be no clear “deserving person”. In cash transfer schemes elsewhere, beneficiary selection is quasi-universal within geographies and often the prerogative of the local government. Votaries of cash transfers from an omniscient Delhi cannot digest that.
Nor do they accept that these poverty estimates cannot be a report card on pro-poor schemes, without much more work. Is the “higher than average” performance of Maharashtra because its NREGS is targeted at the bottom of the distribution (which it is), or because it is more urbanised? Is better BPL targeting the reason in Orissa and MP (we can’t say, since the BPL question was removed from the 2009-10 survey!)?
Notwithstanding protestations, there is little evidence of manipulated changes in the poverty lines, though the apparently non-comparable inclusion of mid-day meals in calculating household consumption (Mint, March 26) will raise suspicions. Increases in the poverty line in all states (an average of 8.5 per cent per year) have been more than state-specific inflation rates. Yet, government offers little justification; instead, it concedes and establishes a technical group to “revisit the methodology for estimating poverty in a manner which is consistent with the current realities”. Have “current realities” really changed that much since the Tendulkar Committee? Is household consumption of Rs 5,200 a month in Delhi that indefensible as a poverty line?
The writer is senior fellow at the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi

Brief: A Temporal Comparison of Well-Being in Slums and Non-Slums in India

S. Chandrasekhar & Abhiroop Mukhopadhyay

 Urban poverty, as measured by the head count ratio has declined in India. While we find that the individuals in non slum urban areas are doing better in 2002 than in 1993, individuals in slum areas are no better off in terms of per capita consumption.


Public Goods and Private Consumption: A Comparison of Well-Being and Non-Slum Urban Areas of India

S. Chandrasekhar & Abhiroop Mukhopadhyay

In line with conventional wisdom, we find that the incidence of poverty is higher in slums than in non-slum urban areas. However, the correlation between access to public goods like water and sanitation and poverty breaks down in the notified and non-notified slums. We also do not find systematic differences between households residing in notified slums and non-slum urban areas at the bottom end. 


Slums to cities: street art’s Pied Piper

SOURCE: Natalie Robehmed for CNN [July 31, 2011]
Hong Kong (CNN) — Another humid summer night in Hong Kong and another fly-poster is discretely pasting what looks like a photograph of an emaciated girl onto a wall on a busy side street.
But this is no ordinary fly-poster.
He is unassuming Canadian street artist Kaid Ashton, and the subject in the print is a young girl he recently photographed in the Filipino capital, Manila.
For the past seven years he’s been traveling to some of the world’s most dangerous slums documenting the people he meets with his camera. He then posts his work on walls around the cities he visits.
Now he’s in Hong Kong, bringing his images of slum life to the busy streets of one of Asia’s financial hubs. One of the world’s wealthiest cities may seem an incongruous setting for Ashton’s work — but that’s what he wants.
His current project, “People in Poverty,” consists of 30 intimate portraits snapped during Ashton’s travels to some of Asia’s poorest places — including the Tondo district and Maharlika settlement of Manila, Philippines. Ashton prints the photographs on wallpaper-like material before sticking them outdoors using a technique known as “wheatpasting.”
Ashton aims to make people reconsider their surroundings by placing his photographs in unexpected locations, be it the wall of a housing estate or the pillar of an underpass.
He is always on the lookout for a potential spot, and spends his days scouring the city to find the perfect place.