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Prefabricated Dream Homes

How do you provide housing for an onslaught of urban refugees? According to figures cited by a recent article in The Economist, India’s cities require 25 million homes to accommodate massive growth. A number of firms have begun to construct massive low-cost townships in the suburbs to replace the slums of cinematic infamy.

Real estate savings aside prices are kept stable by cheap construction. Bricks have given way to concrete blocks manufactured from recycled waste material. The structures are restricted to a couple of stories to prevent the need for massive projects or elevators. Lodgings are small, some designed as single rooms with a sink and toilet. Plans for these low-income planned communities offer an assortment of designs to appeal both to individuals and families.

The great white flight of suburban migration which drained America’s cities in the 70’s and 80’s seems to have contracted. Looking at San Francisco and New York you can see long-term residents priced out by a monied invasion reversing the trend of inner-city decay and expelling lower income citizens to cheaper places outside the metropolises. I’ve been waiting and watching for a Parisian effect, wealth surrounded by run-down banlieues.

The thought of constructing high density communities of lower income residents causes pause. Have council estates in the UK really proven to be a good solution for affordable housing? Have the American projects provided people with the opportunity to join the fabled middle class? I’ve never been to England and I haven’t spent much time in projects but by all appearances concentrating poverty into spaces away from the jobs, amenities and opportunities promised by civic centers sounds like a disaster in the making.

A theory of ghettoes is that ownership inspires a pride and stewardship that prevents decay and crime from erupting. Public housing is a cesspool because no one owns their home and there’s no incentive for them to care for anything. While I’ve known many renters of many backgrounds who don’t mind a mess, but I’ve never met anyone who revels in crumbling walls, turf wars, broken elevators and no heat.

According to the Economist these recent building projects are the result of two nationalized banks funding finance companies to administer mortgages. Hordes of people can soon descend on their prefabricated dream homes only a short car-ride, moderate transit trip or impossibly distant bike ride from their jobs, the city shops and everything urbanites can expect simply by walking out their front doors. And if the economy has another reality adjustment and people begin to lose work, default on loans, have to make decisions between feeding the baby and repairing the cheap concrete wall behind the sink, well then what? Fenced off townships surrounding Mumbai? A slightly nicer slum pushed a little further outside the city?

Top image courtesy of Tata Housing and is from their Shubh Griha project. Bottom image is by Flickr user AK Foto who will probably get pissed about my not asking first. Defeating Global Poverty hipped me to it.

  1. July 27, 2009 at 8:34 am

    I’ve always been perplexed by the desire to bunch low-cost housing together like this, creating de facto ghettos. Cities, states and national governments should provide tax incentives to builders to set aside a small percentage of new homes for low-income renters who could move into a nice neighborhood where the socio-economic may help them learn and grow and dissuade the ghetto effect?

  2. August 7, 2009 at 9:32 pm

    San Francisco has rules about new housing units being set aside for low income residents but what constitutes low income is pretty removed from reality… There’s also a long history of property owners gouging the fuck out of the city when they rent out Section 8 units so it looks like the incentives are working but the standards aren’t right…

    The desire to build little ghettos, so far as I can tell, is just a reverse of the gated-community effect… As you know you can have a protected home with security, but it’s also nice if the perceived threat is just sequestered on the outskirts of town with heavy police presence, poor public transit options and little economic growth…

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