This paper examines how existing processes linked to the political economy of land and housing development shape or, in other words, are determinants of rental housing for the urban poor in the city of Guwahati in Assam. The paper identifies three broad processes of land and housing development that shape housing settlements in Guwahati: (i) housing through the informal occupation of public and private lands, (ii) housing through alienation of land, and (iii) public-sector housing. Within each of these three processes, the paper identifies a number of different housing submarkets. Building upon this framework, the paper analyzes the submarket-specific, settlement-specific and owner- specific processes and characteristics relating to land and housing development that shape rental housing with regards to its extent, quality, level of basic services provision, rents and tenure security for the urban poor and low-income groups. The paper concludes with a discussion about the policy implications of these determinants of rental housing.
Rental housing constitutes a significant proportion of housing in many cities. At the national level, 38 per cent of urban households lived in rented premises in 2008-091 (NSSO 2010: H-v), which is an increase from 34 per cent in 2002 (NSSO 2004: A-173). It is particularly crucial in fulfilling the shelter needs of the urban poor for whom there
are limited shelter options in the city. It is often the preferred choice of shelter for new migrants from poor and low-income as well as high-income backgrounds as they are often undecided about their long-term plans in the city. Rental housing also remains important for many older urban poor and low-income residents who are unable to make
the shift to home ownership. As land prices increase, which drives the urban realty rates up, more and more households opt for rental housing. Inspite of this lived reality, rental housing has not been given adequate policy attention. Many scholars and policymakers have repeatedly emphasized that ignoring rental housing in policy does not make it disappear, and that instead this simply deepens the inadequate quality of housing and basic services for, and thereby vulnerability of, urban poor tenants (Kumar 2001; UNCHS 2003). It is therefore promising that Rajiv Awaas Yojana (RAY), the Central Government’s latest housing policy for the urban poor, has recognized the importance of rental housing in Indian cities. However, there is little clarity on how RAY can address rental housing and there is no discussion on the challenges, conflicts and exclusions that are likely to emerge in the process of formalizing / redeveloping informal settlements, which provide a substantial proportion of the existing rental housing in our cities. There is an urgent need to understand how existing processes, particularly those linked to the
political economy of land and housing development, shape rental housing for the urban poor and low-income groups in Indian cities. This paper examines these processes in the city of Guwahati in the north-east state of Assam, with the intention of identifying implications for policy.
Guwahati has a high level of rental housing, with 46 percent of all dwelling units in the city being of rental tenure (GMC 2006). Although existing data does not reveal what proportion of this is inhabited by urban poor and low-income groups, our extensive field visits in the city indicate that it is quite high. This rental housing has developed in a diversity of housing submarkets. A submarket is one where there are certain common characteristics with regards to components of housing. Housing submarkets can be categorized in various ways. In this paper, we propose a categorisation that allows us to systematically explore how processes of land and housing development in the city are
determinants of rental housing. We thus begin by identifying three broad processes of land and housing development that shape housing settlements in Guwahati: (i) housing through the informal occupation of public and private lands, (ii) housing through alienation of land, and (iii) public-sector housing. These processes are shaped by local political economies, including the urban policy paradigm. Within each of these three processes, we identify a number of different submarkets through our research. The paper then analyzes the submarket-specific, settlement-specific and owner-specific processes and characteristics relating to land and housing development that shape rental housing with regards to its extent, quality in terms of housing and level of basic services provision, rents and tenure security for the urban poor and low-income groups.
The paper begins with a discussion of informality and rental housing, and lays out our framework for interrogating rental housing for the urban poor in Guwahati. The next section briefly discusses the research context. The section following this analyzes the housing submarkets and using case-studies it discusses the implications that submarket- specific, settlement-specific and owner-specific processes and characteristics have for rental housing. The section after this broadly outlines the nature of rental housing in Guwahati that emerges from this research study. In the conclusion, we discuss the research study’s implications for policy.