Pakistan’s affordable housing crisis is a definitive instance of both market and government failure.

Slums, katchi abadis, unplanned or informal, illegal settlements proliferate because the market and government have failed repeatedly to provide adequate housing to low-wage workers and their families.

In Karachi alone, nearly 60 per cent of the city’s population resides in informal settlements.

The country’s housing problem was predicted long ago by renowned urban planner Constantinos Doxiadis, who was hired in the 1950s by the government of Pakistan to design a new capital and reconstruct Karachi. 

As Doxiadis observed the massive migrations, staggering post-Partition overcrowding and ensuing challenges of shelter for thousands of people in Karachi, he correctly foresaw the issue of livable shelter would become a colossal challenge for cities across Pakistan, unless a comprehensive housing plan was put in place. 

When Doxiadis proposed to the Planning Commission a comprehensive housing and settlement plan, his ideas were were summarily rejected. 

The development economists within the Harvard Advisory Group, which was attached to the Planning Commission, were particularly disparaging of Doxiadis’ proposal. 

Ironically, they believed a national housing plan for Pakistan was akin to a disaster in the making. 

In the Planning Commission’s universe, investment in a housing plan was not complementary to Pakistan’s development agenda for prosperity. 

In fact, as the historian Markus Daechsel writes in a clever book called Islamabad and the Politics of International Development in Pakistan, economists saw housing as an unnecessary distraction and the least remunerative form of development activity. 

This significant moment in Pakistan’s early history pretty much sealed the fate for a comprehensive national housing plan for the poor. 

I see this period as a watershed moment for Pakistan because it set the tone for the colossal failures that have ensued in the provision of housing for the poor.