While developers in the city are touting construction costs of Rs3,000 per square foot, an Indian-American academician is redefining the benchmarks of affordable housing with his $300 house challenge.
What started as a blog on Harvard Business Review earlier this year took the shape of a design contest that drew ideas from across the world. The six winners are now ready to unveil the prototypes of homes that cost just $300 (Rs13,500 approx).
“It’s an idea whose time has come. And more than any other place in the world, Mumbai needs innovations like these,” says Dartmouth-based Vijay Govindarajan, founding director of Tuck’s Center for Global Leadership and a visiting professor at Harvard Business School.
The low-cost home is made of mass-produced synthetic materials such as poly-carbonate or fibre. While the area of the prototypes is 225 sq ft, the living space is 10 ft high, and comes with basic provisions like windows for ventilation and sunlight, and solar panels for energy efficiency. Though there is provision for a private shower within the house, common toilets can be accommodated in a separate block for every cluster of homes.
The heat-resistant, rain-resistant and fire-resistant homes come with a water tank, and a scalable design that can be improvised depending on what the occupants can afford. “It is an extension of the concept of reverse innovation, something similar to what the Tatas did while making the Rs1 lakh car, Nano,” says Govindarajan.
Pointing out that there is a huge need for these low-cost homes in Mumbai, where millions of slum-dwellers live in inhuman conditions, Govindarajan believes that the $300 house can change the lives of the poor if all the agencies join hands.
“Corporate entities like the Tatas and the Mahindras, who are keen to contribute to society, should come forward to fund such projects. The government can provide the land and the NGOs can implement the work,” says Govindarajan, who has
offered to donate his time for the venture.
But to really make a difference on the ground, a $300 house alone is enough. Also needed is infrastructure to match. “In Mumbai, people are able to build houses for themselves on even lesser. What they lack are basic amenities like toilets, water and secure tenure,” says New York-based architect Makrand Bhoot, who has also worked with slum dwellers in Mumbai. According to Bhoot, ensuring equitable partnerships with the poor right from the beginning of the project is essential to make such ventures sustainable.