Building regulation and low-income housing

Building regulation and low-income housing

Building regulation and low-income housing A case study from India Barjor Mehta, Banashree C. Mitra and Peter Nientied Present building regulations ...

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Building regulation and low-income housing A case study from India

Barjor Mehta, Banashree C. Mitra and Peter Nientied

Present building regulations in Third World cities often originate from European history, and are frequently irrelevant for popular housing. This article presents a case study from India. First, an example is given of the limitations and contradictions of building codes and regulations for housing lower income groups and of the authorities concerned. Secondly, based on the notion of affordability for the poor, a differential set of building standards is presented. This set ranges from traditional building codes which may be applied to 'modern' construction, to community-based control for popular housing. Barjor Mehta was with the Centre for Development Studies and Activities, Pune, India and works at present as a consultant in Bhutan. Banashree C. Mitra is with the Human Settlement Management Institute, New Delhi, India. Peter Nientied is with the Institute for Housing Studies, Rotterdam, and is currently based at the Human Settlement Management Institute, New Delhi, India. ~C.G. Mathur, 'Inadequacies in building regulations and remedial measures for effecting control of urban building activities' in D.D. Malhotra, ed, Control of Urban Building Activities, Indian Institute for Public Administration, New Delhi, 1980. 2D.B. Cook, 'Building codes and regulations in low income settlements' in P.J. Richards and A.M. Thomson, eds, Basic Needs and the Urban Poor: The Provision of Communal Services, Croom Helm, London, 1984. 3R.j. Lawrence, Design by legislation', Habitat International, Vol 9, No 2, 1985.


The absence of comprehensive policy of urbanisation, land use and housing, especially for the low-income groups, is by and large responsible for uncontrolled building activities in urban centres,I Exphinations for the unsuitability of building regulations and codes for the urban majority, and the inability of the authorities concerned to ensure their enforcement, can be sought at various levels. There are problems, for example, related to the institutions responsible for building legislation, to the technical viability of regulations, codes and by-laws, to cumbersome procedures, and to general poverty. Often, these wirious levels become mixed up when dealing with the complex subject of building regulations and codes for low-income housing. When taking a close look at the legishition itself, what is essential to a basic understanding of the meaning of building reguhitions and codes for low-income housing in the Third World, is that their origins lie in European history. 2 Three foundations of early European building legishltion are of particular rclewmcc to this discussion. Firstly, there were building regulations and codes which ewflved throngh the context of separating housing users and producers, and which were also by-products of health acts and fire regulations in particular. These reguhltions w e r e aimed at the protection of users by significantly influencing thc design and use of dwellings through legishition. ~ Secondly, at different levels, planning laws (zoning and subdivision reguhitions) wcrc employed to control externalities and attain orderly development. Thirdly, through building reguhttions and codes, new construction technologies were disseminated as detailed manuals and instructions infomlcd lhosc involved in construction and engineering. When the present housing situation of the Third World urban poor is addressed in connection with the above fundamentals of building legislation, only the second point is found to be relewmt. With regard to the first point, it may be noted that through "self-help housing" (self-construction or self-management) the distinction between user and producer is often absent. With regard to the third point, hardly any 0264-2751/89/010050-09503.00 ,, 1989 Butterworth & Co (Publishers) Ltd

Building regulation and low-income housing

"Op cit, Ref 2, 1984. 5Centre for Development Studies and Activities, Bibwewadi Low Income Shelter Project: A Case Study, Maharashtra Housing and Area Development Authority, Bombay, 1986. 6A.T. Row, 'Goals for urban planning with reference to programme', in A. Datta, ed, Municipal and Urban India, Indian Institute of Public Administration, New Delhi, 1980. 7A. Turner, 'The effects of development control on the growth of rapidly expanding cities', Habitat International, Vol 9, No 3/4, 1985.

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attention has been paid to the dissemination of low-cost construction technology through building legislation. It may be concluded 4 that 'building codes based on European models are by and large irrelevant in developing countries', mainly because standards enshrined in building codes and subsequent procedures constrain the development of lowincome settlements. In India the Town Planning Acts of the colonial period and even town planning efforts after Independence have tended to reflect the professional values of the middle and upper socioeconomic classes. Not surprisingly, the majority of people who cannot afford either the high standards set by the legal system or the artificially inflated costs of land, are forced to seek solutions on their own and live in settlements that have come to be labelled as 'unplanned', 'unintended', 'uncontrolled' or 'unauthorized'. Legal, financial and administrative institutions continue to support disproportionately expensive solutions which are incongruous with the needs and means of the people. Consequently, the development control systems which operate within the prevailing archaic legal and procedural framework are rendered grossly inappropriate, unrealistic and unmanageable. The statutory documents of the development plans or master plans do not seem to make adequate attempts to correct the inherent contradictions. Proposed plot sizes and permissible land uses continue to reflect assumed costs which the majority cannot simply afford. Suggested land-use patterns are static and generalized and usually become obsolete even before the complex procedures of ratification are initiated, Housing is conceived, not as a process, but as a one-time physical event, and deficiences are calculated by subtracting the number of legal acceptable 'minimum standard' housing units from the total number of households. This entirely omits a sizeable wealth of incremental housing stock created in the non-formal sector from housing statistics. The urban poor are not recognized as contributors to the economic, social and political life of the city on an official plane. 5 But it is commonly known that the office-bearers of local government are mainly elected by these urban residents. Ironically, in many cases, democratically elected local governments end up using all manner of police powers and various degrees of control against the very people who are responsible for their being elected. On the one hand, official planners (who seem to have no idea as to who their principal clients are and cannot accept the fact that the city is being built by different sectors participating in various developmental processes) are not in a position to set out appropriate corresponding objectives for their planning efforts. 6 On the other hand, local governments often appear as large bureaucratic organizations dedicated to an arcane process involving pious goal statements, elaborate but unachievable plans, and a system of controls which look good on paper but which hardly make an impact on everyday life. 7 Although these situations prevail at the local level, recent comparative discussions have concluded that the usefulness of existing regulations, especially for low-income settlements in the sociopolitical context of the Third World, has proved to be rather dubious. The need for an alternative form of building regulation is widely acknowledged. According to UNCHS, 'A useful code must be technically feasible, economic, easily understood, responsive to the needs of the poor, compatible with


Building regtdation and low-income ho.sing

traditional skills, easy to administer, enforceable, and consistent with national development. 's The remainder of this article presents a case study of building codes and resettlement colonies in Delhi, '~ and suggests an alternative framework of building regulations and codes.

Building regulations in Delhi's resettlement schemes

eUNCHS (Habitat), How Building Codes and Regulations can be Adopted to Meet the Basic Needs of the Poor, Nairobi, 1981. 9See M. Sarin, 'The rich, the poor and the land question', in S. Angel et al, eds, Land for Housing the Poor, Select Books, Singapore, 1983; and J. Van der Linden, The Sites and Services Approach Reviewed, Solution or Stopgap to the Third World Housing Shortages, Gower, Aldershot, 1986. mHutments. ~Delhi Development Authority, Delhi Squatter Resettlement, New Delhi, 1982.


In the late 1970s the Delhi Development Authority ( D D A ) embarked upon the massive implementation of a squatter resettlement scheme. The guidelines for this resettlement had been laid down in the early 1960s in the Delhi Master Phm, 1962-1981, and in the Jhuggi-Jhompri m Remowfl Scheme of 1960. In the years between 1960 and 1975 some 57 ()00 families were relocated in 18 new colonies. However, during the period of Internal Emergency (1976-1977) no less than 141 820 units were demolished and around 700 000 evicted squatters were accommodated in 16 new resettlement colonies created in a period of 12 months. These settlements were located far from the city, transport facilities were inadequate and the provision of services was poor. In time, these new resettlement colonies became integrated with the city. Allottees in the resettlement schemes were not given a permanent title to the land but a right of occupation, and they were expected to pay a rmmthly ground rent. However, because there was no administrative machinery to collect the rent, and also for wlrious political reasons, the practice has been that families reside free of cost. In the first schemes families could apply for a loan from the State Bank of India of Rs2()0() to construct their houses. The monthly repayment was Rs5(I. ttowever, this loan scheme never gamed momentum, mainly because the people found the eligibility criteria and procedural requirements too stringent. Only those who had already constructed a permanent plinth were eligible for the loan. A formal application had to be made. followed by verification at site by the bank. Many did not have the resources to construct a permanent plinth, others did not want to build a permanent house. Thus there were only a few hundred applications and even fewer loans were given. Following the election of a new govermnent in 1978, all unpopular policies adopted by the previous government during the emergency were rejected, including the large scale resettlement of squatters. In rejecting resettlement the government also neglectcd support for existing resettlement colonies. The State Bank of India, which had bccn virtually forced into the loan assistance programme, withdrew as soon as it could. The physical plan of a typical relocation site 11 comprises identical blocks of 5()() plots, each covering an area of 25 square yards (21 square metres). The net density is 275 plots per hectare. Plots are laid out in rows, back to back, with five metre wide lanes in between. Blocks are bounded by 15-18 metre wide roads for vehicular traffic. Land use is classified as 3()% for streets and roads, 3()% for community facilities (schools, open spaces, commercial sites) and 40% for residential land use. The construction of ground and first floors only is allowed, the permissible plot coveragc being 1()()'}/,,, for the ground floor and 80% for the first floor. The D I ) A have made available a few suggested house designs in which wlrious family activities (ranging from receiving visitors to holding cattle) have been identified and incorporated, though not ahvavs practically, in:~ide or at the front of the house. In the initial

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Building regulation and low-income housing

schemes it was announced that families had to construct a house of permanent materials within two years of the date of allotment or the plot would be expropriated. Infrastructure standards were given as follows: public latrines (one toilet for seven families), no bathrooms, one handpump for 22 families for water, electricity in the form of street lighting, and open storm water drains in front of the plots. The provision of infrastructure has been gradual, and varies from site to site. The practice of squatter resettlement schemes has been quite different from what was planned. Although schemes were planned to be of a very low standard, many poor families have moved out. The main reason for this is affordability. The schemes were located far from places of work, entailing high costs of transportation, so people were forced to move to squatter settlements in more central locations. Under the pressure of housing market forces, where the supply of plots cannot meet the growing demand, the prices of plots in the schemes have increased. This is particularly a result of the fact that the schemes were incorporated into the expanding urban area, and many poor families in need of money sold their plot and squatted again. When the resettlement schemes are assessed bearing in mind building regulations and by-laws, the following comments can be made:

12Municipal Corporation of Delhi/Union Territory of Delhi, Building Bye Laws, New Delhi, 1983. A 'barsati' is a covered area on the roof for protection against natural elements.

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1) The resettlement schemes themselves do not comply with the regulations regarding infrastructure standards, zoning, and so on. By calling these schemes 'resettlement camps' and not giving regular leasehold tenure to plot holders, the D D A circumvented the zoning regulations of the Master Plan, putting to residential use the 'Green Areas' of the Master Plan. Under the guise of being temporary, non-applicability of regular building controls was also officially justified. With regard to plot sizes, for instance, the Union Territory building by-laws somewhat ambiguously state: 'In the case of low cost housing and slum re-housing, the minimum plot size could be 80 sq. yds. for two dwelling units, one on each floor, and about 33 sq. m. (40 sq. yards) for single dwelling unit - two storey building without barsati floor'. 12 As stated, the schemes consist of plots 21 square metres and at present there are plans to supply plots as small as 16 square metres. Transit camps with plots of 10 square metres were built in 1986. It is worth noting that each time the D D A wants to lower standards it does so not by changing the 'approved' minimum standards, but by introducing them in settlements that are designated as 'temporary' or 'transit'. 2) The residents in turn also do not comply with the zoning regulations, Many poor families are partly or wholely dependent for their family income on in-house economic activities, and small shops and petty manufacturing activities are commonly found on the plots. Residential zoning permits retailing and certain industries but only with prior permission. In many cases, the question of such a violation of the zoning regulations does not arise here because the entire settlement is a violation (although not officially). 3) The regulations of 80% coverage for the first storey, and no higher storeys, are also not complied with. Families who have the resources to construct another storey often cover 130°/,, of the first storey, ie an extension of up to three feet beyond a fully built floor, and in some cases, second or even third storeys have also been constructed. There have even been instances of building collapse due to inadequate foundations.


Building regulation and low-income housing

4) The standard plot size of 25 square yards is too small for larger families. The result has been that many families have occupied an additional 5-10 square yards to the side or in front of their house. 5) The enforcement of building regulations is completely absent. The main reason for this is that no enforcement machinery is available or envisaged. It is worth noting that it is not only in resettlement schemes that the enforcement of building regulations and codes is absent, but also in other D D A schemes, for which the D D A itself is responsible for development control. In the resettlement schemes, however, the building process is not totally chaotic and there is evidence of some sort of social control, where residents of a particular street have their own norms of how much, and where, individuals can build. These controls seem to break down once plots are "invaded' by 'rich" buyers. A question that needs looking into is whether it is possible to recognize 'social controls' and formulate regulations in consultation with small groups of residents. From the brief discussion it can be concluded that the Delhi resettlement schemes are an example of planning for housing lowincome groups with minimal standards. The building codes that should have been complied with are not strict enough and allow ample flexibility with regard to building materials and housing types. In spite of this, as far as the families are concerned, building regulations and codes have not been an issue, mainly because legislation on building control has not acted as a threat. At the same time, building control codes, while not being strict, have also not been of help for the rcsettled squatters. It is also clear that the nature (and violation) of building regulations and codes can be examined at different levels. Implicitly, there are at least three levels. First, the city level, where squatting, and the violation of regulations that it entails, can be linked up to urban housing and land policy in as much that squatting takes place when the demand for affordable plots exceeds the supply; secondly, the project level, where planning and zoning regulations become critical; and thirdly, the plot level, where detailed building codes are relevant or, as would appear in this case, not so relewmt.

General points From the above description of a real world example of building legislation in the context of low-income housing the most salient conclusion to emerge is that there is no easy way to enforce people to comply with building regulations when policy tk)r low-income housing cannot meet the demands of the poor. When local governments are unable to provide affordable plots and minimal basic infrastructure, squatting is the only option left for a large number of households. In such a context the violation of zoning and building regulations can be traced to failing housing policy. At another level of analysis, building regulations and codes can be useful tools for ensuring the safety of construction, a healthy housing environment, the orderly development of the city, and, through the identification of indigenous materials, the promotion of the local construction industry. "Appropriately designed codes and regulations could provide a framework and guidelines for developing an expanded shelter and infrastructure programme that could satisfy the needs of


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130p cit, Ref 8, 1981.

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low-income settlements. '~3 However, given the inadequate policies for housing the masses, the nature of minimum standards and building codes is a long-term goal for housing policy, rather than an instrument for legal enforcement to ensure an orderly, healthy and safe living environment. For the economically weaker sections of the population who cannot afford the minimum standards, the matter of building regulations, codes, control, and law enforcement is almost a non-issue in the present circumstances in India. However, the above statement does not mean that building control in general is not important. For example, building regulations for modern buildings built by the organized sector are quite different and need strict enforcement. Equally obviously, if building regulations are to become more relevant to the self-help housing sector, their nature should be different from those with which the modern construction sector must comply. Thus different sets or levels of regulations are favoured. These could be geared at the plot level, the project level, the city level, or at a zone in a large scale plan. These levels could also encompass the distinction between planning regulations (off-site), and building/ construction regulations (on-site). For low-income housing, the main roles of the government are to provide land and basic infrastructure. Thus, legislation ought to concentrate on these two aspects: pertinent zoning and subdivision by-laws, and progressive standards of basic infrastructure should ensure an affordable place to live. With regard to regulating built structures for the urban poor, affordability should be a point of departure. This could be taken to mean that in practice no regulations and codes can be enforced. This may seem to attack current conceptions of a healthy and safe building environment, but accepting this fact is better than enforcing certain standards which are too high and render so-called low-income housing unaffordable. A recently launched housing scheme for the economically weakest sections of the population has recently been experimented with in India, with building by-law free zones. This could also be taken to mean that current suggestions in the field of building regulations such as the 'deemed to satisfy clause', 'building regulation in terms of performance requirement', 'enforcement of control through councillors', 'flexible standards' and so on, are often not to the issue at point as far as low-income housing is concerned. However, that is not to say that such ideas for innovating building regulations are not useful. On the contrary, it is simply stated that a realistic and practical attitude is required, and that affordability should be the first thing to be taken into account. Even though the enforcement of building regulations in low-income settlements appears to be impracticable, it is essential that the dwellings in these settlements be constructed under a legal umbrella which grants official recognition to their physical development processes. Only then can formal-sector finance, which is now available through nationalized banks, housing finance corporations and other sources, support the housing efforts of the low-income households, who would otherwise have to manage by seeking short-term non-formal high-interest credit and consequently often use substandard building materials. Another problem in innovating building regulations, apart from the affordability factor, is the current institutional arrangement. There arc many problematic administrative aspects, such as cumbersome pro-


Building regulation and low-income housing

cedures, the lack of inter-agency cooperation, complicated and ambiguous regulations and codes, and the lack of enforcement mechanisms.

T o w a r d s a model of a differential set of building standards and procedures. Considering the differences among the prevailing physical development processes, the wide gap in the economic conditions, and the great pressures on scarce resources such as land, finance, and materials, it becomes incumbent on local governments to utilize all resources optimally. The need to formulate differential building standards arises out of the concern to bring housing (including essential services, community facilities and public utilities) within the affordable limits of various sections of the population who have so far been deprived of such basic requirements. Similarly, the need to simplify development sanctioning and monitoring procedures arises out of the need to facilitate development activities and free them from an age-old arcane process of authoritarian control. One aspect that needs to be considered simultaneously is the reduction in the number of legally required participants in the process of obtaining building clearances and permits. The following is a brief description of a suggested model of a differential set of building standards and procedures (see Table l). Any model of a differential set of standards and procedures should require a categorization of building types. Since such a categorization on use alone would in fact further complicate matters, it is suggested that it be based on the size of plots and their use. Four physical development types should be used: special buildings; residential buildings on plots of more or less than 50 square metres; and dwellings located in slums (see Table 1).

Table 1. An example of a differential set of building standards. Type of building standards Existing detailed building standards

Physical development Type I Special buildings

Type II Residential buildings on plots of more than 50 square metres

Minimum building standards

Residential buildings on plots of less than 50 square metres

Community Slum co-operative consensus upgrading framework schemes


Actors • Owner/builder/developer • Architect/engineer/ special consultant/ building contractor • Town planner/city engineer/fire officer/ traffic officer/etc

Procedures Design sanctioning Monitoring • Detailed submission and • Inspection at plinth level scrutiny of drawings • Detailed inspection of • Compliance bond by superstructure owner, architect, • Detailed inspection building contractor

Final sanctioning • Detailed on-site inspection by official actors • Performance checks and bonds

• Owner/builder/developer • Architect/engineer/ building contractor • Town planner/city engineer

• Submission and scrutiny of basic drawings • Compliance statement by owner, architect, building contractor

• Inspection at plinth level • Inspection of drainage, electricity, water systems

• Site inspection • Compliance statement by owner/s

• Owner/builder/developer • No architect/engineer if less than 11 plotted tenements • Town planner/city engineer

• Written application if less • Inspection at plinth level than 11 plotted • Inspection of tenements superstructure for • Minimum scrutiny if less flatted development than 11 plotted tenements

• Compliance statement by owner/s

• Community co-op • Community extension workers • Town planner/city engineer

• Auto-sanctioning by community and extension workers

• Auto-sanctioning by community and extension workers

• Auto-monitoring by community and extension workers

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Building regulation and low-income housing

1) Special buildings would include industrial and public buildings such as offices, cinemas, multistorey apartments and warehouses. For this type of development, stringent standards for safety, fire, pollution control, parking, service networks, and so on, need to be adopted. The prevailing building standards are ineffective and beset by too many loopholes. Local government should demand the participation of specialized consultants and should conduct a detailed survey of all technical drawings. It is of the utmost importance that the owner, the architect and the building contractor be asked to provide a substantially large compliance bond stating that their design proposal is in full compliance with all the specified requirements. Detailed inspection should be conducted at various stages of development. The final sanctioning should be done only after each subsystem has been inspected and the owners and the building contractor have provided the local government with a performance bond stating that all the subsystems will perform in the required manner. 2) Residential buildings on plots of more than 50 square metres would essentially require a simplified version of the prevailing building standards. Simplifications are needed, for example, in determining the floor space index and room sizes. The building developers need not seek the services of special consultants. A compliance statement should be made mandatory and basic drawings should be requested and scrutinized. Site inspections should be made at the plinth level and the drainage, electricity, and water systems should be checked. On completion, the final sanctioning should be given after the site is inspected and the owner has provided a performance statement. 3) Residential buildings on plots of less than 50 square metres should comply with the minimum building standards based on Indian Standard 8888 (which spells out the requirements for low-income housing). The owner and the town development office should be involved - there should be no need for any architect or engineer. The owner should be free to submit a written application in a specified format. Minimum scrutiny of the application should be conducted and inspection should be conducted only at plinth level. On completion, the owner should be asked to provide a compliance statement. 4) In slum areas the residents should be encouraged to form their own housing cooperatives (as is now being done in Maharashtra State). These cooperatives should be given condominium tenure (group tenure) on the land and should formulate their own standards based on a broad framework for upgrading their dwellings and the environment. These standards should be accepted by the local government and given legal sanction. This would make it possible for such cooperatives to obtain formal sector credit and the community would be able to develop according to its own capacity.

Conclusion This article has dealt with current building regulations and codes, in particular with respect to their relevance for popular housing in India. From the case study of Delhi's resettlement colonies we can conclude that this relevance is limited, especially since the government itself violates the regulations. The basic shortcomings of the building regulations and codes on the one hand, and the need for appropriate regulation on the other hand, suggest the need for an alternative CITIES February 1989


Building regulation and low-income hou~'iH~,,

framework. Differential building standards and controls for different types of physical developments would seem to provide an answer to the present impasse of the need for building regulation on the one hand, and the irrelevance of existing regulation for popular housing on the other. In fact, given the prevailing socioeconomic and political realities it becomes clear that in the search for solutions to the dilemma in question, there are two very distinct alternatives. First, current rules and procedures should be enforced by establishing ~m extremely authoritarian system with extensive police powers. Second, the extent of control should be reduced to what can be managed, while concentrating on providing a system that responds positively to people's needs. The latter stands out to be by far the most acceptable solution.


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