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The pandemic has exposed the bare living conditions of India's urban poor, bringing back low-income housing on the policy agenda. But a study of low-income housing in Ahmedabad and Chennai finds that such low-income housing projects are often situated on the periphery of urban areas, creating alienation rather than a sense of belonging among the poor.

The study by Karen Coelho of the Madras Institute of Development Studies and others is based on a 2018 survey of 200 households across four settlements: SKV Nagar and Umang Lambha in Ahmedabad, and Gudapakkam and Perumbakkam in Chennai. The last two decades in these cities have seen many slums cleared for projects like flyover construction and road widening. This increased the need for low-income housing to resettle displaced people, which ended up getting built on the outskirts, where land is typically cheaper. In Ahmedabad, 70% of all public housing since 2010 has been built on the city’s periphery.

Far from the city centre, and with poor connectivity, affordable housing projects end up making residents feel separated from the city. Moreover, because of safety issues and limited scope for leisure activities and recreation in these settlements, residents don’t get to engage with each other to create a sense of community and belonging. There are few parks or theatres in such areas.

Poor connectivity leads to a longer and tougher commute to the city. People have to make multiple connections and use multiple modes of transport to get to work. The difficulties of commuting limit economic opportunities. In Ahmedabad’s settlements for instance, many women switched to home-based work such as tailoring after resettlement. Women also expressed fears about moving around on their own. Families gradually limit their movement outside, hesitate to develop ties with others, and end up withdrawing from the life of the settlement.

The authors fear these resettlements will repeat the failures of housing projects in the West and create ghettos on the edges of our cities. To prevent such ghettoes, the focus of urban policies should not just be on creating new housing but new ‘neighbourhoods’ that are integrated with the rest of the city.

Also read: “Outsiders in the periphery: studies of the peripheralisation of low income housing in Ahmedabad and Chennai, India"

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