What we’re reading: A ‘nationwide gentrification effect’ is segregating us by education

On Friday, The Washington Post highlighted the views of Standford economist Rebecca Diamond, who believes that gentrification is no longer a problem for individual neighborhoods, but for cities as a whole.

As the returns to education have increased, according to Stanford economist Rebecca Diamond, the geographic segregation of the most educated workers has, too — and not by neighborhood, but by entire city.

This effectively means that college graduates in America aren’t simply gaining access to higher wages. They’re gaining access to high-cost cities like New York or San Francisco that offer so much more than good jobs: more restaurants, better schools, less crime, even cleaner air.

…Sure, the San Francisco tech worker has to spend a larger share of his income on rent than a low-skilled worker in Oklahoma City. But all of the added amenities of living in San Francisco outweigh that higher cost.

Read the full article here.

A Typical Home: the Town House – Sai Gon, Vietnam

By: Duong Huynh, Project Manager

Housing is complex. Its stakeholders and creatures are as varied as the skin colors of the human race – developers and financiers, consumers and policy makers. Its value chains are highly intertwined – demand side and supply side, taking us from land obtainment to consumer off-take and move-in. At the core of this complex system lies the key product it helps to produce more of, and in high quality: the home.

So via this post, I hope to inspire my colleagues and myself in understanding the typologies of homes all over the world in closer detail. For this first venture, I chose Sai Gon, Vietnam; otherwise known as Ho Chi Minh City.

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Sai Gon’s location on the southern tail of Vietnam’s “S” shape

A map of Sai Gon’s districts

A map of Sai Gon’s districts

Typical traffic in Sai Gon during busy hours

Typical traffic in Sai Gon during busy hours

With any emerging markets, growth and architectural landmarks sit alongside dated low-density residential uses.

The glamorous and trendy Sai Gon at night

The glamorous and trendy Sai Gon at night

Low and mid-density uses lie below and alongside the city’s landmark tower

Low and mid-density uses lie below and alongside the city’s landmark tower

Within any nation and economy, many diverse sets of housing typologies exist. Vietnam is no exception.

High density new build apartments. Targets higher middle income.

High density new build apartments. Targets higher middle income.

High density new build apartments. Targets higher middle income.

Old mid-rise apartments. Targets low and low-middle income.

Semi-detached villa style town homes in Phy My Hung, District 7 – Sai Gon’s high income new suburb.

Semi-detached villa style town homes in Phy My Hung, District 7 – Sai Gon’s high income new suburb.

Detached villas.

Detached villas.

Under-construction self-build detached home for my grandma-in-law. Courtesy of my urban design architect significant other, Vinh Le.

Under-construction self-build detached home for my grandma-in-law. Courtesy of my urban design architect significant other, Vinh Le.

The working middle class housing typology we explore today lies among Sai Gon’s densely packed urban grid in relatively tight quarters.

Mixed use town homes facing a major road. The street level is almost exclusively reserved for commercial use in homes that face good traffic.

Mixed use town homes facing a major road. The street level is almost exclusively reserved for commercial use in homes that face good traffic.

Most Sai Gon residents live in a small size town home.

Zoomed in snapshot of a part of District 1, Sai Gon

Zoomed in snapshot of a part of District 1, Sai Gon

In this snapshot, note Google Map’s recording of many traffic arteries in white, leaving out rectangles of tan’s and green’s in between. Within each of these colored blocks, tens and at times hundreds of alleyways exist. Many of the alleyways are designated with numbers, not names.

Tight alleyways branch from and weave tightly along main traffic arteries. Most alleyways average 2.5 meters in width.

Tight alleyways branch from and weave tightly along main traffic arteries. Most alleyways average 2.5 meters in width.

A more prosperous neighborhood with formally paved and wider road.

A more prosperous neighborhood with formally paved and wider road.

Houses located along significantly wider residential roads guarantee notable increases in price. Properties with access to roads of at least 4-5 meters are deemed to have good “frontage” and hence valued higher. Note that the properties that line these wider streets also have wider land parcels.

Architect Vo Trong Nghia’s site plan for his green town home.

Architect Vo Trong Nghia’s site plan for his green town home.

As noted in the architect’s site plan above, typical desirable plots within the city often come in the common tube like size of 4 meters wide by 20 meters deep. Despite that highly constraining size, many parcels of 2.5-3 meters in width abound within the housing market.

A street view of the moderately sized home, which blends in with Sai Gon’s typical streetscape despite its highly sustainable design.

A street view of the moderately sized home, which blends in with Sai Gon’s typical streetscape despite its highly sustainable design. This is not affordable housing by any means, but it provides a cost-efficient well-designed solution to the current challenge of land scarcity.

Architect Vo Trong Nghia’s eco-conscious and efficiently budgeted project, the green town home (direct translation: the garden home), serves as an ideal vehicle for demonstrating the layout of the Vietnamese home amidst increasing land scarcity and need for sustainability in architecture.

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Due to high size constraints, particularly from the limited width of the land parcels, the Vietnamese town home often features one key function per floor. Here, the first floor serves as parking and guest’s welcome room. The second features living and dining rooms, leaving the upper two floors as private living quarters for the household.

Semi-enclosed parking space at street level.

Semi-enclosed parking space at street level.

Living and dining area, with small kitchenette tucked away behind the bar (glimpse at bottom right corner of picture). The Vietnamese typically favor an open living space with joined living and dining areas.

Living and dining area, with small kitchenette tucked away behind the bar (glimpse at bottom right corner of picture). The Vietnamese typically favor an open living space with joined living and dining areas.

Bath.

Bath.

Simple bed room.

Simple bed room.

The layout of uses of the green town home mirrors that of most vertically oriented town homes. Vo’s design stands out in its utilization of greenery as light and heat filters, as well as the vertical columns that allow for top-down lighting to reach the lower levels. The greenery also allows for privacy amidst the tightly packed homes.

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Vo paid particular detail to the home’s ability to blend into the street scape of Sai Gon despite its modernity. Above, the green town home is featured at the center of the street section to showcase its chameleon nature.

I’d like to also draw attention to a critical feature of the Vietnamese home – the shrine room. Vietnamese of all religions mostly practice ancestral worship. Within this spiritual belief, ancestors’ worship space must occupy an auspicious and respectful space within the home. Typically, the shrine room, where photographs of ancestors, incense and flowers are displayed, is located at the very top level of the home for reasons of spirituality and practicality. The most respectful space should be located at the top. Additionally, with the constant tropic heat and sun, the top floor of any town home is typically undesirable as living quarters due to its high heat retention.

Typical shrine room at the top level of a town home.

Typical shrine room at the top level of a town home.

Aside from this religious feature, the modern Vietnamese home’s uses differ little from that of other nations. Of course architectural differences and features still arise due to factors of climate, construction materials availability, design preferences, etc.

Well, that’s aside from the fact that most Vietnamese bathrooms feature an open bathing space. This means the entire bathroom’s floor space is considered a wet zone – as you might be able to observe from the drainage hole located at the bathroom corner in the picture below.

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Historically, families did laundry by hand and the bathroom floor is constantly utilized for such. However, as washers become more common in middle income households, consumers might phase out of this design feature.

 

 

Housing is a complex system. It is so inherently complex and challenging, because it lies at the core of every society, nation and family. Without a home, ordinary citizens cannot thrive no matter how hard they work. Only with increased access to housing can nations all over the world continue to nurture their best citizens and maintain their most beautiful sceneries and moments.

Typical day on a motorbike.

Typical day on a motorbike.

Rice patties.

Rice patties.

Canal in Hoi An.

Canal in Hoi An.

Dong Thap, the capital of lotus flowers.

Dong Thap, the capital of lotus flowers.

 

Slummin’ it at the 2014 FIFA World Cup

By Judy Park, Analyst

Attending the World Cup is no easy task. From competing with millions of global fans for randomized lottery tickets at 5 AM in the morning to paying for transport, lodging, and entertainment, it takes dedication. And a small fortune.

But as I watch euphoric, emblazoned fans fill the corners of my low-def screen, it’s clear that it’s worth it.

USA USA USA USA USA USA USA !

To give you an idea of the actual cost: an all-inclusive package from a middleman vendor starts at $5000 per head. For anyone not a relative of a FIFA higher-up or the pampered staff of an oil company, it is tough going; most hotels and transport options are booked up a year before the first ball hits the turf.

So how’s an average entry-level twenty-something, and those of similar budget, to partake?

Many have opted to save by staying at cheap rooms throughout Rio’s notorious slums, or favelas. As I mentioned in an earlier post about affordable housing and mega-sporting events, these favelas are the hot new spot for budget travelers looking for “authentic” Rio experience.

A room for rent is seen at the Maria Clara dos Santos home and hostel in the Rocinha slum in Rio de Janeiro April 11, 2014. Picture taken April 11, 2014. (REUTERS/Pilar Olivares) – via The Atlantic CityLab

A lounge is seen at the Mirante do Arvrao hotel in the Vidigal slum in Rio de Janeiro March 25, 2014. (REUTERS/Pilar Olivares) via The Atlantic CityLab

Vicente Magalhaes prepares a room to be rented at his home in the Pereira da Silva slum in Rio de Janeiro April 1, 2014. (REUTERS/Pilar Olivares) via The Atlantic CityLab

A driving force for this trend is the new start-up Favela Experience, whose young CEO Elliot Rosenberg, a recently minted graduate from UVA, was inspired with the idea during a summer internship with a social venture capital firm in Brazil. He now lives in the Rocinha favela full time.

To book out rooms, Favela Experience launched an Indiegogo campaign from December to February, drawing in customers with the promise of beach and city views at a third of the price in a “safe, centrally-located, culturally vibrant” neighborhood, and with pristine pictures such as these:

Single bed in a shared guest room for five nights: $250. Via The Favela Experience.

Private studio or one-bedroom apartment for two guests for five nights: $1000. Via The Favela Experience.

Private two-bedroom apartment for four guests for five nights: $1600. Via The Favela Experience. Am I at an internationally notorious slum or a Caribbean resort?

Contrast this with the Daily Mail’s adjective-heavy sensationalist take on things:

Daily mail

Who’s got it right? I’m guessing the truth’s somewhere between photoshop and overblown flash.

Favela Experience says their enterprise goes beyond just capitalizing on a supply-demand gap: it’s a model of cultural exchange and economic empowerment that can have a meaningful impact on the lives of favela residents. Sustainable tourism is the strategic tagline here:

Favela Experience uses sustainable tourism as a force for good in favelas and the world. We shun any tourism activities that exploit, misrepresent, or objectify marginalized communities, as many favela tour companies do. Those companies are operated by outsiders who perpetuate negative stereotypes about favelas, dehumanize residents, and do not contribute to local socioeconomic development.

As such, our services are born from our conviction to transform favela tourism in Rio de Janeiro and prove a replicable model of sustainable tourism as an example for similar communities elsewhere. By allowing meaningful and authentic dialogue between favela residents and guests, we show both the positive and challenging realities of life in these communities and do not glamorize poverty in favelas. Ultimately, we practice sustainable tourism because we generate additional income for favela residents, facilitate genuine cultural exchange, break negative stereotypes about favelas, and provide accommodations with low environmental impact.

In all, it is not yet clear what net impact the World Cup and the Olympics will have on the favelas and their residents. The pacification programme – which was cobbled together by the government in anticipation of intense international scrutiny during the country’s double whammy hosting of the World Cup and the Olympics – is credited with introducing key safety and municipal services. Not only that, but by doing this, it has quickly raised the investment value of these neighborhoods:

Today, with several UPP stations set up throughout Vidigal, the area is becoming a full-fledged neighborhood with municipal electricity, waterworks, and national mail service. The pacification program has not only removed the imminent threat of gang violence from the streets and reduced the city’s murder rate, it’s also created a new legion of real-deal slumdog millionaires who suddenly find themselves owning some of the most sought-after land in Rio. (The Daily Beast

I’m a bit skeptical about that last part: “legion of real-deal slumdog millionaires.” Things like this very rarely work out in favor of the poor. Also, the pacification programme is suffering a host of criticism about police abuse and misplaced priorities.

In the end, the Daily Beast’s assessment of the favelas’ fate seems rather glum:

Only one thing remains certain at the moment: Now may be the last time to experience this unique way of life in Rio before the community gentrifies beyond recognition, or before it succumbs to the clutches of its original drug overlords who are waiting to crawl out from the woodwork and reclaim what they believe is rightfully theirs. (The Daily Beast

So, either gentrification and cultural annihilation or a drug-slum-lord-dom. Is there no happy medium? I know I’m asking a difficult and perhaps fundamental question here, but how can we preserve what’s good about the favelas, their vibrant social and cultural fabric, while ensuring that standards of living and economic mobility improve?

Also, are you one of the lucky few who made it down to the World Cup and stayed in the favelas? Tell us about your experience in the comments below!

How to get a Master’s in Affordable Housing?

By: Janaki Kibe, Project Manager

I live in Boston, Massachusetts, part of a larger metropolitan area that is home to over eight universities, including Harvard, MIT, Boston University, Boston College, Tufts, Northeastern, Brandeis, and University of Massachusetts – Boston. Despite the plethora of academic types and abundance of obscure course titles (i.e. “Alien Worlds” – yes a real course offered at Boston University), I haven’t found a school yet that offers a Masters in Affordable Housing. (And yes, I have looked).mad_scientist

Yet, with my inherent Tiger Mother DNA and the endless enthusiasm of my mad-scientist boss, David Smith, my colleagues and I have been stealthily crafting our own unofficial Master’s in Affordable Housing.

tiger_mother

After much anticipation—I know you were anticipating it—I am ready to unveil the curriculum.

Course 1: SUP-665 Real Estate Finance and Development Fundamentals

Harvard Graduate School of Design or Harvard Kennedy School

Professor: Ed MarchantHarvard_gsd

Ed Marchant, an enthusiastic practitioner (read: actually worked in the field!) and real estate teacher extraordinaire, is a wonderful person to introduce you to the world of real estate development, and really, aren’t we all in need of such a person? In Marchant’s class, which is offered in the fall, you’ll build your own pro formas, calculate IRRs and NPVs, and understand how discount rates impact your returns. The class is a mix of students who have worked in real estate and finance and then the rest of us, who are pretty much akin to blank stares, I mean slates. While the first few weeks of the course may be overwhelming—Marchant has a tendency to surprise students with a slew of rapid-fire questions “What is the IRR? What happens when vacancy rates increase by 2%? What does 40B say?”—there will be a eureka moment when things fall into place and you realize, “Geez! This is amazing!”. And that’s when the fun starts. I definitely recommend this course for anyone who has an inkling that they are interested in real estate and wants to understand what the heck people mean when they say NPV!

Course 2: SUP-666 Affordable and Mixed-Income Housing Development, Finance, and Management

Harvard Graduate School of Design

Professor: Ed Marchant

In the Spring, you can follow up on your newly developed real estate skills by taking Marchant’s Affordable and Mixed-Income Housing course, which is offered at the Harvard Graduate School of Design (GSD). In addition to learning a heck of a lot about subsidies and financing for affordable housing development in the US, students also have the opportunity to participate in an affordable housing development competition. In our small office in Boston, four of us participated in this competition over the last four years—and three placed a prestigious second in the competition. One claims that she was fourth place (note: they only give awards for the top three places). The competition is great. You form a student team comprised of architects, planners, MBAs, and the occasional policy folk, are paired with an actual Community Development Corporation, and are given the task of creating a development proposal for a specific site in the Greater Boston metropolitan area. The proposals must be architecturally and economically feasible and desirable. For most of us students, it was the first time that we were working on “real” projects and the opportunity to deal with real world constraints rather than theoretical ones was appealing.

AHI Staff win 2nd place at the Boston Affordable Housing Development Competition

Course 3: Real Estate in Frontier Markets

Harvard Business School

Professor Nic Retsinas

After taking the two Marchant classes you should have a solid understanding of real estate fundamentals and may find yourself itching to apply some of your real estate skills in the exotic emerging markets. If you find yourself in that scenario, you should happily embrace Professor Retsinas’ Real Estate in Frontier Markets at the Harvard Business School. (Full disclaimer: You may have to change from the ironic hipster t-shirts you wore to the GSD to JCrew slacks to match your fellow students).

Professor Retsinas’ class is structured as a series of case studies focused on different countries and different types of real estate asset classes. We read about actual deals covering everything from slum upgradation in Mumbai to luxury condominium development in Europe, and even heard about Magic Johnson’s investment in urban neighborhoods around the country. Professor Retsinas organizes many visitors so nearly 80% of classes have a guest speaker who is a central character in the development. I always enjoyed listening to the guests share the rationale behind their decision making.

Course 4: International Housing Finance Course

The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania

Professor Marja Hoek-Smit

Now, if you’ve really got the housing bug the capstone is dwharton_schoolefinitely attending Wharton’s International Housing Finance Course at UPenn. My colleague, Duong, and I attended this 9-day course last week and loved it. We were in a class of 50 students comprised of mid to senior-level executives (bankers, developers, and Ministry of Housing-Settlement-Development folk) who were all passionate about housing finance and figuring out how to make housing systems more efficient in their respective countries. Our year had sizeable contingents from Indonesia, Mexico, Nigeria, Philippines, and Thailand. Over the course of 9 days, we learned about the attributes of successful housing markets, housing policies, and housing finance systems. We also learned about the failures of certain housing initiatives. I always prefer listening to guests over reading text books (I know, I am a real new age learner), and Professor Marja was wonderful in arranging an array of guest lecturers who accounted real life housing choices and their implications.

One of my favorite guests was Sean Closkey, President of The Reinvestment Fund (TRF). TRF is a Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI) that invests capital in poor neighborhoods in the aim of helping spur neighborhood revitalization. What makes TRF particularly unique is that they have developed a very strong analytical mapping tool that helps them decide where to invest and also later assists them in evaluating whether their investments are “successful.” Their policy map is unique and a great tool to make sure that scare resources—ehem money—are used effectively and efficiently. In many of the countries where we work—India, Haiti—finding good, reliable, data on housing is extremely difficult. There generally aren’t housing indices and finding any sort of data on house prices at a granular house-level basis is challenging if not non-existent. The policy map is a great tool for governments to strive to develop over time and, I think, could be very lucrative for developers who know how to use it.

Another guest I really enjoyed was Soula Proxenos of the International Housing Solutions, a PE fund that invests in affordable housing developments in South Africa and its neighboring countries. IHS targets markets with high housing demand and stable political and economic landscapes. Fund I – The South Africa Workforce Housing Fund is closed and IHS is currently raising funds for Fund II.

Lastly, I can’t end this blog without mentioning Alejandro Murat, CEO of Infonavit, the largest mortgage lender in Mexico. Mr. Murat came to our class to talk about the changes in Mexico’s housing policy and the implications for Infonavit and housing development going forward. Mexico City is a sprawling city of 8.9 million people. Most of that sprawl has been made possible through the PAN government’s support of cheap social housing that was built on the outskirts of cities.

“The premise of a new life in a new home, away from the crime-ridden inner cities was enough to appeal to millions of Mexicans during this this period, who were initially willing to move far into the outskirts (as far as 30 km from the city center) and accept a smaller house (as small as 32 m2) than the one they left behind. With the public housing agencies (INFONAVIT and FOVISSSTE) dishing out subsidized mortgages at record low prices, it seemed like there was never a better time to buy.” Source: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/rodrigo-aguilera/mexicos-housing-bubble-fr_b_4349691.html

Unfortunately, by the time the 2009 crisis rolled around, residentAbandoned houses in Mexicos were no longer in favor of long commutes to houses that often lacked infrastructure and services. As a result, many residents decided to abandon their houses and move back into the city –closer to their jobs, social networks and transportation. Today, 5.5 million homes lie vacant across peri-urban areas in Mexico.

President Enrique Peña Nieto’s government, which is part of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), came to power in 2012 and shifted the direction of housing policy in Mexico. Recognizing the social and economic problems of building houses that are disconnected from infrastructure, jobs and transit, the PRI government has shifted the policy focus to spurring vertical (i.e. high-rise) development closer to city centers. Unfortunately, this has been bad news for some of the country’s biggest home builders, Urbi, Cases GEO and Homex, which had bought large tracks of cheap land under the previous government.

Stocks of Mexican homebuilders have dropped sharplyWith the poise of someone truly adept at answering difficult questions, Mr. Murat spoke about the implications of the policy changes on Infonavit, including the need for better coordination and facilitation between housing entities, the push to develop rental housing as a housing option that offers greater labor mobility and flexibility to households, and lastly a shift to find ways to retrofit and upgrade existing housing stock rather than continually focusing on new housing.

So, after writing far more than I intended, I would like to offer our loyal readers to contribute with their own suggestions of courses, articles or books that have been particularly meaning in shaping your own Master’s in Affordable Housing.

Me with Professor Marja and the Mortgage Professor

Photo update: Mongolia in June

By: Molly McGowan

It’s Friday, so I think photos are in order. Check out some city and country scenes from a recent AHI trip to Ulaanbaatar, where we are working with our local team to help the municipality of Ulaanbaatar develop an affordable housing strategy.

North-facing city view, taken from the Zaisan Memorial

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Ger area, north of city

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Development east of Zaisan Memorial (south of city center)

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Decorative ger outside of working retreat hotel

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Driving back from working retreat hotel

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Chinggis Khan statue

 

 

Inequality in India’s Development Dreams

By: Stephanie Tam, AHI Volunteer, Canada

In unspoken agreement, individuals melted into a crowd and closed ranks at one end of the Sabarmati Riverfront promenade. A reverent murmur rippled across: “The Chief Minister is here”. The sky clouded over with raised hands hailing Narendra Modi, the state of Gujarat’s Chief Minister since 2001 and India’s Prime Minister-elect as of May 16th, 2014. A feverish undercurrent threatened to bubble to the surface with a few shouts ripping through the silence. Modi’s trademark all-white attire became blinding under the sunlight, and the crowd hushed with awe when he began to speak.

Image 1

Modi speaking on the Sabarmati Riverfront promenade during the National Festival, August 2012.

Labeled as India’s most loved and most loathed politician, Modi has polarized politics nationally in the few years that have elapsed since that afternoon on the Sabarmati. His supporters claim that his Gujarat model of development will launch the country into a new economic era, while his opponents accuse him of inciting the communal riots that slaughtered thousands of Muslims in 2001. Modi’s landslide election victory shows that his platform of secularized development prevailed over misgivings about his right-wing Hindu roots. However, it remains unclear what development means for the 14 million households living in identified slums across India[1].

Throughout Modi’s electoral campaign, development has meant improved built infrastructure and industrial expansion. Gujarat’s major urban centers boast well-paved roads, few electrical outages, and a flourishing upper class that enjoys air-conditioned malls and luxury cars[2]. Enacted in 2004, Gujarat’s Special Economic Zone (SEZ) legislation has attracted foreign investors and industrial tycoons by doing away with taxes and offering up cheap land, thereby increasing wealth according to development measures that focus exclusively on market growth, i.e. GDP.

Development in terms of employment and consumption, on the other hand, reveals stagnation. Atul Sood et al. show through a series of studies that there is “poverty amidst prosperity”[3], revealing increased reliance upon contract workers and casual labourers, as well as overall wage growth that lags behind the all-India wage increase. This correlates to Gujarat’s slow growth in monthly per capita expenditures: with little increase in household profits, there is little capacity to spend. In short, industries are making a lot of money, but those profits are not benefiting the average worker.

If development is broadened to encompass living standards such as health and literacy, Gujarat fares even worse. The Gujarat government’s social sector spending is less than that of “poorer” (low GDP) states[4], and the results are telling. In 2013, the Comptroller and Auditor General of India reported that 66% of children in Gujarat were undernourished, prompting the state government retort that national nutritional measurements are skewed against the Gujarati vegetarian diet. At the same time, surveys in major cities warn against alarming obesity rates due to dining out and Western junk food[5]. These conflicting reports suggest increasing nutritional inequality. The urban population that was sampled for obesity reports was relatively well-off: they had access to doctors (through which they were sampled), they could afford to dine out, and to dine on expensive Western meals no less. Disparities in literacy remain higher than that of the national average, and Gujarat’s literacy ranking for 6-14 year olds has actually dropped between 2000 and 2008[6].

While Modi’s government did create the Chiranjeevi Yojana health insurance program in 2006 to cover services for those below the poverty line, frontline workers report that hospitals discriminate against those on state insurance, there is lack of awareness about the program among the poor, and the few healthcare facilities that accept state insurance are hard for the poor to access[7]. With underfunded programs that are poorly calibrated to target population needs, the Gujarat model of development is far from adept at improving the lives of those at the bottom of the pyramid, which is the majority of India’s population.

Built infrastructure and housing in Gujarat follows this model of exclusionary development. Heroic investments like the Sabarmati Riverfront Development Project claim space for middle and upper classes, offering snacks from regulated vendors, novelty gondola rides, and vistas of a cleaned up river emptied of the poor who used to rely upon it for their livelihood. The slums that used to line the riverbank have been removed, even though some had invested in upgrading projects that promised them land tenure.

Image 2

In 2010, the Sabarmati Riverfront Development Project was mid-construction and numerous slums remained along the banks.

 

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Prior to the Riverfront Development, the Sabarmati was used by the poor for transporting goods, dying and laundering textiles, watering livestock, and fishing.

 

Image 4

By 2012, the slums had been removed and the Sabarmati had turned into a leisure space for the upper classes.

Billboards advertising bucolic housing developments tower over every scrap of grass in the city. A few haphazard slums stubbornly remain, surrounded by new apartments and facing the certainty of eviction. The crumbs the poor once received from the government in the form of unguarded public land have been taken away in the name of progress, and sold off to private developers whose security forces now keep a close eye on property.

The government has not only given its land to private developers, it has passed on the responsibility of taking care of select populations to them. Beyond housing, roads and electricity, Special Economic Zones are slated to provide social infrastructure ranging from health clinics to nursery schools for their skilled and foreign educated employees. While this strategy theoretically frees up government funds to improve public programs, funds have simply been reinvested into attracting even more private developers through “world class” spaces like the Sabarmati Riverfront Development Project.

The poor fall, forgotten and abandoned, between the cracks. Development in Gujarat, and likely all of India in the coming years, has a narrow scope and targets exclusively those in the thriving private sector, with no evidence of trickle-down boons for the rest of the population. Slum dwellers across the country may witness the advent of impressive structures and luxury goods, but it is unlikely that they will have any access to them. The image of a developed India does not include them, and their fate hovers ever more tenuously with Modi’s new government taking the helm.

[1] Government of India, Census 2011

[2] Sohini Das, “In Gujarat, luxury car owners dodge tax sleuths,” Business Standard, May 26, 2011, http://www.business-standard.com.

[3] “Poverty Amidst Prosperity: Essays on the Trajectory of Development in Gujarat,” ed. Atul Sood (India: Aakar Publication).

[4] “Gujarat is spending more on infrastructure, less on social sectors: Planning Commission,” CNN-IBN, June 18, 2013. http://ibnlive.in.com/news.

[5] “Gujarat: All is not well! 42% Amdavadis are overweight,” DNA, January 19, 2013. http://daily.bhaskar.com.

Radha Sharma, “Gujarati waste waists outweigh Mum, Del bulge,” The Times of India, January 8, 2011. http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com.

[6] Atul Sood, “Poverty amid Prosperity,” Himalayan Mirror, December 5, 2012.

[7] Michael Edison Hayden, “Gujarat Experiments With Expansion of Public Health Insurance,” The New York Times, April 3, 2014. http://india.blogs.nytimes.com.

Industry Trends: Micro Houses as a market viable solution?

By: Duong Huynh, Project Manager

A home – a beacon of economic and personal stability to which one returns after a hard day’s work to rest and relax in relative privacy. Such a beacon takes on shapes, textures and sizes as malleable and diverse as the ecosystems in which their owners reside.

Two generations of Hong Kong resident in a typically sized "home" for the working class.

Hong Kong: Two generations of Hong Kong residents in a typically sized “home” for the working class. Part of an intriguing series of photographs by Benny Lam, posted via the Telegraph.

Traditional Mongolia ger (photograph property of AHI).

Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia: Traditional ger housing (photograph property of AHI).

6 Fort Street, Quincy MA. 34 units of affordable family housing designed by Davis Square Architects. Adaptive reuse from a church and an office building.

Massachusetts, US: 6 Fort Street, Quincy. 34 units of affordable family housing designed by Davis Square Architects. Adaptive reuse from a church and an office building.

Dubai: Citizen housing constructed by the Mohammad Bin Rashid Housing Establishment (an AHI client).

Dubai: Citizen housing constructed by the Mohammad Bin Rashid Housing Establishment (an AHI client).

For centuries, markets and their participants have all subconsciously lived by a practical and logical rule when it comes to housing obtainment: money = location, quality of housing, and space. Hence, affordability, when left to the market and without policy or financial intervention, fluctuates depending on those three critical factors. Cheaper homes possess any single or combination of (a) distance far from centers of commerce and jobs, (b) quality sub-par to mid-market products and/or (c) size smaller than mid-market homes. Let us assess each of the three components exclusively:

  • Location: critical in accessing employment and critical services such as healthcare, food, and education.
  • Quality: critical to health via its direct link to structural integrity, ventilation, and electrical and plumbing systems, among other key engineering, visual and operational components of a home.
  • Space: critical to essential needs (i.e. enough room to sleep, eat, bathe and rest in) and sense of comfort.

Upon the above inspection, Space stands out as a component most flexible in facilitating affordability. People can be tolerant and even preferable of living with less, but still functional, space if they can trade that for a quality and structurally sound home within a desirable location.

Enter the recent active research, dialogue and breakthroughs in micro housing design, development and construction. Oh wait – what’s a micro unit, you ask?

Micro Unit 101

Now on to the imagination-wired feast for the eyes.

Winner of NYC Micro Units competition. Also utilizes modular construction technology. nArchitects (though I don't see much anarchy in the monochromatic style of that design... or is it just the light?)

Winner of NYC Micro Units competition. Also utilizes modular construction technology. nArchitects (though I don’t see much anarchy in the monochromatic style of that design… oh, is it just the lighting?)

Micro apartment-thumb-535x359-103772

Micro apartment unit on display last spring at the Boston Society of Architects. ADD Inc. design.

“Manhattan Micro Loft” by Specht Harpman Architects, winner of the Architizer A + Award in the Small Living category. Though, in NYC, the savings from the small footprint of this home is nothing compared to the cost associated with the roof access to open air critical for its design success.

“Manhattan Micro Loft” by Specht Harpman Architects, winner of the Architizer A + Award in the Small Living category. Though, in NYC, the savings from the small footprint of this home is nothing compared to the cost associated with the roof access to open air critical to its design success.

Often times, it is difficult to draw that thread-thin boundary between certain micro-homes and SRO’s (single room occupancy units).

Micro home with adjustable/foldable furniture in San Francisco, CA.

Micro home with adjustable/foldable furniture in San Francisco, CA.

Rendering of a typical SRO with a shared bathroom.

Rendering of a typical SRO with a shared bathroom.

Oh wait.. did I just mix up the captions of the two above images? I honestly can’t tell.. The true difference to a normal consumer is in the finishings, furniture accessories and branding.

Here's a real life SRO picture to take the sheen off of those shiny renderings. It's definitely a decent living arrangement, but nothing close to glamour.

Here’s a real life SRO picture to take the sheen off of those shiny renderings. It’s definitely a decent living arrangement, but nothing close to glamour.

A marked success of the innovators in micro-housing design definitely lies in the branding they’ve built up. As soon as you say “micro houses” in New York, Boston, or San Francisco, you will draw the attention of young working professionals (I am looking at you, yuppy bachelors) who consider the concept cool and trendy. In fact, many of them have signed on the dotted line to cement their interest in micro homes.

Check out Factory 63. A hip, young, and classy brand and development in Boston’s Innovation District (whose name is derived from a trendy rebranding of the historically industrious waterfront, courtesy of former Boston Mayor Tom Menino). The project features Boston’s smallest units to date – result of a permitting and zoning exemption from the Mayor’s team. When someone asks you where you live, just simply answer “Factory 63.” If they are not hip, they will respond “You live in a factory?” And if they are hip, “Cool dude, you live in a factory!”

Versatility for the win.

Versatility for the win.

They sure sell up the Small factor.

They sure sell up the Small factor.

Of course, the fact that YOU lie at the heart of the project's success, that's also played up.

Of course, the fact that YOU lie at the heart of the project’s success, that’s also played up.

The future of micro houses, their market affordability, and to-be-tested practicality and functionality are still unopened cards. However, the research and exploration surrounding them, and other housing innovations, are critical to keeping the affordable housing world at a competitive forefront alongside the rest of the residential real estate market.

And now for my 5 seconds of glamour and glitz as I play up my project team’s 2nd place entry for last year’s Boston Affordable Housing Development Competition.

BAM! Interlocking micro units to save space. Please ignore the non-glittery design. Remember, practical = rooms are are not shiny!

BAM! Interlocking micro units to save space. Please ignore the non-glittery design. Remember, practical = less sheen!

Okay, so there was not really much glamour and glitz in the above, but it was practical and we had a sustainable pro forma that was real AND works! Unfortunately, in the world of design, pro formas are not considered pieces of art and cannot be readily displayed to draw immediate gasps of awe from visually-inclined audiences. And thus ends my moment of glory.