Rental housing is a critical pathway for migrants and the urban poor to access, participate in, and contribute to the urban economy. Much of their work, especially of marginalized groups such as Scheduled Castes (SC), Scheduled Tribes (ST), minorities, and women- and transgender-headed households, remains informal. Thus, their identity and location within the city is often tenuous and housing remains informal and under-serviced. Nonetheless, this housing is affordable and well connected to work opportunities. In light of this, the Government of India announced the Affordable Rental Housing Complex (ARHC) scheme in 2020 to provide formal, affordable, and well-located housing to urban poor and migrant workers’ communities. While the scheme has generated much excitement and is seen as a step in the right direction, discussions have highlighted gaps in understanding about its implementation pathways and raised concerns about who it will serve and how, given the complexity of lived experiences and failure of previous public rental housing efforts.
To fill this gap in understanding, the Working People’s Charter (WPC) undertook a survey with partner organisations across India, covering aspects of ARHC supply streams, communities’ capacities and needs, and the scheme’s governance. The survey focused on Model 1 of the ARHC scheme, which aims to repurpose existing vacant government-funded housing to rental units. To understand the nature of demand, the survey also inquired about the current housing conditions of urban poor and migrant worker communities. Additionally, interviews with civil society and non-governmental organisations were conducted to understand possible governance structures that would make the scheme more sustainable.
While the scheme is new and could take a few months, if not years, to show results, findings from the survey indicate several gaps/issues. Most critically, the scale of the scheme belies its stated intention – both in terms of the quantity of housing it intends to supply as compared to the demand, and the attention given to governance and procedures. Further, the profit-oriented nature of the scheme implies that these rental projects will largely cater to salaried and formal workers, rather than the urban poor and migrant workers in whose name it has been formulated. Concerns have also been raised about the quality of housing under the scheme, as the quality of existing vacant government housing stock was found to be substandard. Additionally, these housing projects are located far from the location of work, making them unviable options for urban poor and migrant workers. The survey finds that the scheme does not address the issue of migration and housing in cities, thus renewing the need to call for better land rights and basic services for urban poor and migrant worker communities, to enable them to build, manage, and leverage their housing according to their needs.