The unprecedented rush for flats constructed by the Maharashtra Housing and Area Development Authority (MHADA) has proved that even in times of recession there is a huge demand for affordable housing in Mumbai.
Mhada’s affordable housing scheme for the economically weaker, lower, middle and higher sections of society has seen upto 1.89 lakh application forms picked up till Tuesday evening. All this for only 3,863 flats.
The surge from potential home buyers for Mhada flats comes at a time when private developers are struggling to sell their apartments, mainly high-end ones that are out of the reach of the average Mumbaikar. Despite the stagnant property market, most developers are resisting lowering their rates, although some have reduced them marginally by 10% to 15%.
“Builders should realize that their days of profiteering are over,” said former bureaucrat and real estate consultant Zafar Iqbal. Reacting to the phenomenal demand for Mhada flats over the past two days, Iqbal said that the housing recession is only for the “crazy fellow” willing to shell out over a crore of rupees for a flat. “I have always maintained that there is a huge demand for housing in the range of Rs 20 lakh to Rs 30 lakh,” he added.
Iqbal, who was in charge of land acquisition under the now abolished Urban Land Ceiling (Regulation) Act more than two decades ago, said private developers are not catering to home buyers in this category. “They are running their businesses like a glamour show, catering only to big names,” he said. According to him, the city will soon implode because of lack of public housing. “People will begin to move out of the city,” he predicted.
Builder Niranjan Hiranandani said the response to the Mhada housing scheme “vindicated” his claim that there will always be a huge demand for homes. Asked whether private developers should reduce their prices, Hiranandani said this has got nothing to do with property rates. “If there is adequate land with permissions and if banks and financial institutions start lending money to home buyers and builders the way they should, the market will revive,” he said.
Jaidev Mody, chairman of Delta Corp Ltd, a real estate, hotels and gaming company, said the segment of home buyers who rushed for low-cost Mhada flats was never affected by the recession. “I am not surprised. Builders should now focus on low-income housing because there is a shortage of such units,” he observed.
Former Mhada president and housing activist Chandrashekhar Prabhu said the middle class in Mumbai finds itself marginalized today. “On the one hand, it cannot afford flats put up by private developers and, on the other hand, they are not law breakers who will squat on public land,” he said.
Architect and housing activist P K Das said builders have never built houses for the poor. “There is a clear disconnect between the hype that there are no sales of flats and the pent-up demand for Mhada’s housing projects. I have always argued that it is the government’s responsibility to provide mass housing. It cannot be left to the developers alone,” he said.
In Mumbai, 60% of the population lives in slums, 5% live on pavements, 15% are tenants living in old cessed buildings and about 5% live in rental housing. “Barely, 15% of Mumbaikars live in private houses,” Das pointed out.
Prabhu, however, blamed Mhada for abdicating its role in setting up mass housing. “Under pressure from politicians, the housing authority, over the years has transferred land to private developers,” he alleged. According to government sources, many politicians have huge stakes in slum redevelopment on Mhada land. “A politician lets his cronies encroach on a Mhada plot by setting up shanties. Soon, a frontman of the elected representative approaches Mhada officers for permission to redevelop the slum,” explained a source.
For over a decade, hundreds of plots in the city have been arbitrarily allotted to societies or trusts, many of which are reportedly controlled by politicians or their kin.