HOUSING THE URBAN POOR: AN INTEGRATED GOVERNANCE PERSPECTIVE : The Case of Dhaka, Bangladesh
Abstract: It is claimed that low-income people in Dhaka city do not have the financial ability to enjoy adecent housing environment. There is a clear lack of knowledge on how low-income people,drawing upon both their available income together and support from formal financial institutions,would be able to afford housing. It is commonly considered a fact that their access to formalfinancial means is largely hindered by their poor financial status, along with the absence of anyform of land tenure security. The case of this study demonstrates, on the contrary, the adequatefinancial ability of the urban poor when it comes to meeting rent and payments for other necessaryservices. This study therefore primarily responds to the critical issue of whether the government isunaware of informal housing practices, or is simply ignorant of low-income housing provision.In this study, perspectives on change are analyzed in order to comprehend the obstacles andchallenges embedded within the housing organizations of Dhaka city. Within the local governanceparadigm, the concepts of deliberative dialogue and partnership are explored with the aim toreveal both the resources rooted in ‘informal’ low-income housing practices, and the resources atstake for the ‘formal’ housing gatekeepers. Different land tenure security options are explored inorder to understand their compatibility with the informal nature of low-income housing. Thetheory of social business is critically reviewed, and used to examine whether low-incomeaffordable housing could be seen as a product resulting from partnerships between vested actors,for whom the low-income community could be considered to be both a beneficiary and a partner.This study suggests that outside the boundary of ‘formal’ housing, there is an unexplored andfunctional ‘informal’ housing market where de facto owners purchase ‘business tenure security’from the slum lords, while de facto tenants buy ‘house rental tenure security’ in exchange forregular rental payments. Within this informality, an innovative financial organization (the JhilparCooperative) has emerged as a creative platform for business investment. This study reveals thatJhilpar’s inhabitants pay more than 30 percent of their monthly income for housing. As anabsolute value, this is more than what is being paid by middle-class – and even many high-income– people. The slum inhabitants also pay more for a limited supply of basic services, such aselectricity.This study concludes that the formal housing gatekeepers lack a complete knowledge of‘informality’ – a notion reflected in, for example, the actual financial ability of the urban poor; thestrength and potentials of systematic community-based cooperative business; and housing relocationdecisions (employment-housing nexus). This fundamental lack of knowledge precludesthe housing gatekeepers from taking the right decisions to achieve affordable low-incomehousing. These deficiencies have led to low-income housing projects that have barely benefitedthe urban poor, benefiting other income groups instead. Low-income housing projects utilizingland title provision, sites and services schemes, and relocation to other places (amongst otherstrategies) disregard the nature, strength, and potentials of housing ‘informality’ in the slums inthe most pronounced manner. This identified knowledge gap also rules out private and publichousing gatekeepers employing their resources as enablers or providers. To improve this impassewith regard to affordable low-income housing, this study advocates a ‘social business model forlow-income housing’ as the most effective option for the Jhilpar community, wherebypartnerships would be built on an ‘investment’ mindset, through a shift away from conventional‘give away’ practices.
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