We have launched our most ambitious, landmark housing policy of building 5mn homes in 5 yrs. InshaAllah this will provide affordable houses for our less privileged strata of society, plus 6mn jobs, create demand in 40 industries directly involved in house building & attract FDI.

— Imran Khan (@ImranKhanPTI) October 11, 2018

More than 125,000 forms have already been downloaded from the NADRA website.
More than 125,000 forms have already been downloaded from the NADRA website. © The Express Tribune

Though there is no clear framework yet and there remain more questions than answers at this stage, the scheme has managed to generate enormous public interest, as more than 125,000 forms have been downloaded from the National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA) website, temporarily affecting the site itself. The project, which was initially launched for seven cities, has now been extended to 10 more cities in Punjab.

Detractors are of the view that this is just an announcement, and that nothing concrete will take place over the years. The biggest criticism thus far has been towards the fact that the funds-starved government does not have the budget to initiate this scheme. Although the state has remained mum on budgetary matters, the amount of $180 billion has been suggested, which of course seems unfeasible and unrealistic. Provincial Housing Minister Mian Mahmoodur Rasheed also revealed that this project will be a public-private partnership. A land bank will be created through which the government will provide land to builders, who will then be responsible for constructing the houses. Concerns have subsequently been raised over the transparency and monitoring of the construction, to ensure no money is set aside by compromising on the quality of the construction.

In my view, the launching of this initiative is a step in the right direction, but the road is full of bumps and obstructions.

Cuba, Norway and Singapore are the only countries in the world to have successfully launched public housing schemes, but they did so roughly four decades ago, and their population is significantly low in comparison to Pakistan. India has a ‘housing for all’ initiative and has set a target for the year 2022, with over 1.7 million houses getting a nod from the central government. If our government is serious in carrying its initiative forward, it can either follow the pattern of one of these successful efforts or can come up with its own footprint to complete this scheme.

Within Pakistan, we have limited success stories when it comes to the public housing sector. In Karachi, for instance, the government built houses for employees of the federal government in the 50s, now known as the Federal B Area and Buffer Zone. The former got its name because ‘B’ class residential apartments were built for the lower grade staff, while the latter was called so because it acted as a buffer between the housing scheme of upper and lower grade employees.

Unfortunately, Pakistan’s ratio of mortgage financing to gross domestic product is extremely low, at 0.25%, especially when compared to the South Asian average of 3.4%.