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The Empty Promise of Migrant Rental Housing


Migrants left Homeless Again 

Arjun Kumar, Ritika Gupta, Sunidhi Agarwal, Anshula Mehta, Sakshi Sharda

In March 2020, when India announced a lockdown to prevent the spread of the Corona Virus there was a jolt that reminded India how exclusionary urban planning and development had been. Millions of workers were left with no livelihood, no shelter, and no means of transportation. The Central Government had made promises for housing for all, but these migrant rental housing did not seem to have any impact.

The State Governments though late, realized the need for shelter homes. The conditions of these shelter homes were abysmal. The Indian government had conveniently glossed over this section of the population when it had decided to impose lockdown. This resulted in an Ad-hoc response to the reverse migration crisis. The crisis was the exacerbation of glaring gaps in Indian urban planning and the government did not realize the quantum of the crisis it was facing. 

The Ministry of Housing Affairs’ Deendayal Antyodaya Yojana-National Urban Livelihood Mission states that shelters should accommodate 100 of every 100,000 people in each city. That number was derived from an estimate of India’s homeless population as per a Supreme Court order in 2012. The estimates showed that Indian Urban centers were housing the burden of the homeless population. 

Even though these estimates are a decade old and do not account for the hot in livelihood due to the Pandemic. Then also the shelter homes could not meet the demand. According to the 2011 census, India had 1.7 million people who were homeless of which 1 million were in metropolitan cities or cities with a population of more than 4 million. National Capital Delhi last reported 238 shelters which can at most accommodate only a population of 17,128 people.

Systemic Issues

As per current estimates, Delhi has a homeless population between 1,50,000 to 2,00,000. Given these estimates, Delhi cannot account for even half of its homeless population. The issue is not just shelter homes, urban centers are not equipped to cater to the growing migrant population and in the absence of this population cities cannot sustain. The migrant population forms the sanitation workers, crematorium workers, run the informal economy, domestic help, construction workers, etc. They truly are the citymakers with no place to live.

According to the 2012 report of the Technical Group on Urban Housing Shortage for the 12th Plan (TG-12), the total housing shortage in Indian cities stands at 18.78 million. The current estimates predict that this number is expected to reach 38 million in 2030. The same report also highlighted the issue of congestion which has become a pertinent issue during the time of COVID-19, when there is a need for social distancing.

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Source: Report of Technical Group on Urban Housing Shortage

The mass exodus had many contributing factors, including inherent inequality of urban planning, availability of comprehensive data, improper policy formulation, etc. Indian cities were built on inequality, the livelihoods that the forgotten population of citymakers made would have been devastated with the smallest blow.

It should not be forgotten that the Pandemic was not the cause for the misery of the migrants, it was the systemic inequality and misery that the Pandemic exacerbated. Technical Group on Urban Housing Shortage for the 12th Plan gives a decade-old account of housing shortage in the Indian States. These concerns have only increased with the increased migration.

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Source: Report of Technical Group on Urban Housing Shortage

The housing crisis in urban centers has long been ignored by the government. The Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana is the central government’s flagship policy relating to affordable housing which aims to fulfill the governments promise to build 20 million affordable houses for the urban poor by March 2022.

In the Joint Session of the Parliament in 2014 the President spoke about the lofty electoral promise by NDA government to provide  “a pucca house with water connection, toilet facilities, 24 × 7 electri­city supply and access.” As part the 20 million affordable houses were to be made available for 18 million slum households and 2 million non-slum urban poor households.

The decision of migrant population of housing is much more complex, beyond the concerns of price, it is riddled with complexities of proximity to workspace, the nature of work, and planned duration of stay in the city. In such a situation affordable housing even on loans is not a lucrative policy measure. 

In most cases, the absence of affordable rental income resulted in migrants living in slums, chawls, shanties, footpaths, open spaces like parks, etc. These ‘citizens of India’ are not able to afford a dignified shelter. Seasonal Migrants are the worst of the lot because they have no choice but to live in make-shift houses with unsanitary conditions. Arusha Homes Private Limited is one such company that tries to provide affordable rental accommodation to migrants, but given the small profit margins, private sector cannot meet the demand.

ARHC Scheme 

The government of India had taken cognizance of the cause of reverse migration during the Pandemic. The absence of Affordable housing for migrants in urban centers near their worksites left the migrants with no choice but to return to their home states. Recognizing this glaring inequality Government of India under its flagship scheme Pradhan Mantri AWAS Yojana Urban (PMAY-U) launched a sub-scheme of Affordable Rental Housing Complexes. The scheme was set to ensure that workers employed both in the formal and informal economies could access these rental complexes. 

The schemes was to be implemented in two models, first, Utilizing existing Government funded vacant houses to convert into ARHCs through Public Private Partnership or by Public Agencies. Secondly, Construction, Operation and Maintenance of ARHCs by Public/ Private Entities on their own vacant land. The loft outcomes that the scheme envisages are 

  • Effective Utilization of Vacant Land by Private/ Public Entities 
  • Promoting New Investment and Entrepreneurship 
  • Strengthening of Municipal Finances 
  • Economically Productive use of Government Funded Vacant Houses 
  • Sustained Workforce and Increased Productivity 
  • Decent Living Environment for Urban and Poor 

The initial estimates showed that the rent in these complexes would vary between Rs. 1000 to Rs. 3000 per month, while the decision of allotment would lie with the municipalities. The scheme in its first phase was to accommodate 3 Lakh migrants, including construction workers,service providers in hospitality, health, domestic and commercial establishments; and students. The scheme was announced with single or double bedroom dwelling units and a dormitory of 4/6 beds with common facilities. 

This policy formulation did provide the landscape to change the focus of Indian Urbanization and housing schemes away from ownership. This meant the Government had finally taken into cognizance that first land and house ownership is an unaffordable luxury for migrant workers and secondly housing is more complex an issue than mere ownership and that is one reason why migrant workers prefer rental accommodation.

The promise of these complexes seemed to be very realistic in the notification where Information and Broadcasting Minister Prakash Javadekar said some 1.8 lakh one-room tenements are already lying vacant in 107 cities which was built under UPA era schemes like Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM) & Rajiv Awas Yojana (RAY)

Yogi Adityanath was quick in responding where the State Urban Development Agency announced to build AHRC complexes of community lands in villages using the PPP Model. The proposal was to build 1 to 2 BHK multi-storeyed homes on land from the government pool. A similar case was that of Surat which promised to provide 400 houses under PMAY, and was the first to implement the ARHC scheme. During the second wave Surat is one of the worst hit urban centers for reverse migration. 

Under the PMAY, in Chhattisgarh till date only 1703 such flats have been allotted. At the same time five state Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand have been able to allot 5100 Government funded houses. Taking a Look at the number of Houses available under ARHC and those allotted does not give high hopes for the scheme.

image 6
Source: Times of India

Analysis of ARHC

While the government and state government have an abysmal record of implementing ARHC. The success of the scheme will at the end of the day depend on the real impact it has. This impact will only be a result of understanding the housing and rental patterns of the migrant population. The first pit fall the rent setting must accommodate for is the ability of migrants to pay the housing rent without impinging on the consumption of the minimum basic non-housing goods.

Secondly, accessibility to credit. Thirdly, reconciliation between cost of land which is cheaper in the urban peripheries and transportation costs to the nearest employment hub. Lastly, Access to adequate space, water supply, electricity, sanitation, sewerage management, open spaces, etc.

The AHRC carries the loft burden of the promise for housing for all by 2022. It is Mid 2021, the second wave of COVID 19 crisis has hit and citymakers are yet again facing the same issues that they faced a year back. Loss of Livelihood, complete crisis of confidence has left them with no choice yet again but that of reverse migration. What happened the ARHC Complexes and households? No timeline was ever provided for the scheme. 

Is AHRC actually affordable. If an average household spends 20 percent of their income on rent by that logic rent would be Rs 1000 for an income between Rs 5000 to 6000 per month. It is also important to understand the renting patterns of migrants in urban centers. Usually migrants who rent at collective housing are either single or have postponed their decision of shifting their family to the urban center due to un-affordability. This male migrant population then latches on to their identity from their home state, and are not incorporated in the government’s social security net in the urban center. 

The Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs (MoHUA) website states that total of 97.48 lakh housing units are either under construction (64.02 lakh) or have been completed (33.46 lakh) since 2014 under the PMAY. The MoHUA website does not give the breakup, but, in 2017-18, the CLSS and AHP components together formed 40% of the total housing units. This would mean that about 39 lakhs of the total 97.48 lakh housing units under the PMAY could be considered as forming part of the vacant public housing stock. 


Citizenship ensures a lip service which is paid to the idea of equality and we all actively rely on the image of horizontal equality. But, the migrant workers have been failed more than once at the alter of democracy. Without access to dignified living conditions, livelihood, they are left with no choice but to be at the ‘mercy’ and ‘benevolence’ of social security schemes.

The government needs to take cognizance off the failure of urban planning and its systemic inequality which had exacerbated the livelihood concerns of the migrant workers. If the reports of Reverse Migration can only result in policy formulation with no impact, the question what can really wake the government from its stupor?


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