Making housing viable in tier II cities

Tier II cities need to prepare for the impending housing needs to avoid repeating the failures of present megacities. 

In the recent announcement of the 20 cities chosen for the launch of the Smart Cities Mission, it was interesting to see tier II cities like Surat, Jabalpur and Bhubaneswar in the list. With the mega-cities being in midst of complex issues and planning failures, tier II cities are a ray of hope for a planned urban future. One of the primary requirements for any upcoming city is to provide shelter to its current citizens and prepare for the population that would migrate eventually.

Cities create platforms for a large number of people to live in close proximity. This increases the benefits offered by the interpersonal interactions and serendipitous meetings. The proximity and other benefits offered by the city increases the demand for housing within the city. This increase in demand raises real estate prices and makes living in a city expensive. The tier II cities like Jabalpur etc will face this rise in price if the supply in the market is unable to cover for the demand. To avoid this imbalance between demand and supply, it is vital that the planning authorities consider four major remedies: create and maintain land records, keep a high Floor Space Index (FSI), maintain easy and simple building code, and appropriately regulate Transferable Development Rights (TDR)s.

The first vital step to solve the housing problem is creating a set of land records. The identification of the land ownership within the regions will allow the municipal authorities to plan the development of the city better. It will also help guide the growth of real estate in the region. Basic step in this direction can be to ensure that all the land owned in the city is registered. The municipality should also use new technological tools such as Geographic Information System (GIS) to map the cities in a detailed manner.

The second fix is to increase the Floor Space Index (FSI). FSI is the built up ratio permissible on a piece of land. For instance, if the FSI is 4 and the plot of land is 10,000 sq.ft, the built up area would be 40,000 sq.ft. The FSI thereby decides the skyline of the city. A higher FSI artificially creates more living space in the city which helps balance the supply with the demand for housing.

The FSI limitation is set with respect to the burden that the infrastructural resources in the immediate neighbourhood can bear. Hence for the tier II cities, it is also important that resources like roads, sewage etc is planned in such a manner that it can bear the burden that comes along with high FSI. For instance, the greenfield development can be made keeping in mind the population that will be brought into the region due to higher FSI. For the already built up region, the resources can be expanded to accommodate for the growing needs. In return, the land owners can be provided with Transferable Development Rights (TDR)s if any property loss is incurred.

TDRs are the third piece in the solution. TDR refers to the amount of built up area that a land owner can use or transfer to any other agent for an agreed sum of money. TDRs can be used as an instrument to plan and modify the housing pattern in the cities. For instance, most of the cities have a restriction regarding the regions in which the TDRs can be issued. This is based on the same principle as the FSI, whereby, the restrictions on TDRs is based on the neighbouring resources. In a tier II city, the municipality can use the TDRs to further its plans.

An additional fix can be to create simple and easy building codes such that they are painless to understand and allow building development in the most efficient manner possible. The regional development authorities can set the codes such that they are comprehensive and rigorous enough to include the basic safety measures required. In addition to this the hassle of getting the permissions if reduced will also help increase compliance.

With the attention and resources that the tier II cities are receiving from the Smart Cities Mission, there can be no better time than now for the tier II cities to prepare for the inevitable growth.