A locked door with a grill gate in front of it. On the grill hangs a board with the words "TO LET" and a phone number.

Informal rental practices in an old sites and services resettlement: The case of Ambedkar Nagar, Chennai


This is a diploma thesis profiling informal rental housing through fieldwork carried out in Ambedkar Nagar, a resettlement colony in Chennai. It looks at the differences between local Tamil residents and migrants from the north-eastern region of India, and analyses how financial means can affect housing pathways and the security of tenure for different income groups.
By  |  November 24, 2019

The rapid pace of urbanisation in Indian cities has led to an ever-growing demand for rental housing, especially in the lower- and middle-income markets. In contemporary India, like in many other countries of the Global South, it is mainly small-scale housing suppliers with different financial resources who provide rental housing on the lower market segments which are characterised by informality.

This work, carried out as part of a diploma thesis, investigates the informal rental housing practices in a mature sites and service resettlement which has been massively transformed through incremental housing processes and provides a wide range of rental spaces in terms of quality and price on the lower segment of the rental market. The area has developed into a socio-economically and ethnically diverse neighbourhood that accommodates both lower- and middle-income groups.

The work is based on a rich mix of qualitative data collection techniques, including; document analysis, semi-structured in-depth interviews, participant observation and photo documentation. The research focuses on the demand side of the market by investigating the tenants’ housing mobility patterns and questions regarding the accessibility of the rental housing arrangements. It also investigates different dimensions of tenure security for tenants, namely the legal, de facto and perceptual security.

The thesis highlights differences between the local Tamil population and internal migrants from North-East India. It reveals that social capital plays a crucial role to access and navigate through the rental market, especially for the local Tamil population. Despite the cultural differences mentioned regularly, many landlords value the tenants’ financial means more than their ethnic or religious backgrounds. The North-East Indian population therefore find themselves in an advantaged position as they live in shared households, work in the formal sector and generate higher household incomes. In addition, the analysis reveals that the water scarcity, which the city of Chennai as a whole has faced regularly in recent years, has substantially triggered moving patterns of tenants. The findings show how financial means can affect housing pathways and the security of tenure for different income groups.

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