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Housing


Housing refers to the development of living facilities for people. The UN housing policy guideline for developing countries states that the concept of housing is more than merely a physical shell. Housing encompasses all auxiliary services and community facilities which are necessary to human beings. As a basic need housing is a fundamental human right. In Bangladesh existence of human settlements or housing have been found as early as prehistoric times. Since then style and pattern of housing have evolved in adaptation to environmental, economic and social needs and guided by climatic and geographical locations.

Even in the second decade of the twenty first century Bangladesh is predominantly a rural country with over 70% of its population living in nearly 80 thousands villages and the rest in over 525 urban centres ranging in size from small growth centres to the huge megacity, Dhaka. As such a discussion on housing in Bangladesh need to be done as under the two geographical sectors, rural and urban.

Rural housing [Courtesy: Amanul Haque]

Types of Housing there are two types of housing in Bangladesh, rural and urban housing. Rural houses are a component of homesteads, the other components being the uthan (or courtyard), trees around the houses and, in some regions, one or two ponds around. The rural homestead, in turn, is a part of a Gram or village, a linear or clustered compact settlement. A rural homestead may have one or more houses. Structurally rural houses can be of different types. Sirajul Islam Chowdhury, a cultural geographer, classified rural houses of Bangladesh mainly on the basis of cultural and social influences. The types identified by him are:

choushala griha or a house with four units on four sides (bhita) of a courtyard or uthan in the middle; briti griha a house completely surrounded by wall made of bamboo or mud or other materials; atchala griha, an eight roofed house, four on the main structure and four over the attached verandahs; posta griha a house with raised platform all around. Sometimes, for rich families the platform can be pucca; dishala nanda griha with two houses on either side of the courtyard; shusthita griha or balanced house with verandahs on all sides; tribal house and adibashi house.

The choushala house is widely found throughout Bangladesh and the form has also found popularity in urban areas. briti, atchala, dishala, shusthita and posta houses are not too commonly seen these days. briti houses are seen only in Northern Dinajpur, atchala in Satkhira, dishala in Sylhet, shusthita in Sitakundu and Posta in Mirsharai. Tribal houses are found in the Chittagong Hill Tracts as well as in other districts inhabited by the tribal communities. Their houses are distinguished by form and function and mostly made of wood and bamboo, sometimes on platforms. Adibashi houses refer generally to those of the Santhals, one of the earliest of the indigenous peoples in Bangladesh. Their houses are made of mud walls. The current predominant house types in rural areas are the dochala or double tin (Corrugated Iron Sheet) roofs with bamboo walls, the all-tin dochala and the chouchala (four roofed), and the semi pucca houses.

Urban living in Bangladesh became prominent from the colonial period. Development of small townships in ancient Bengal by kings, maharajahs, zaminders, wealthy merchants and landowners started the era of urban housing. The European architectural design of housing for the elite became fashionable in the nineteenth century. In the Pakistan period (1947-71) modern structures were built for housing for the rich and powerful both in the public and private sectors. Large tracts of lands were acquired by government bodies and developed as planned residential areas and new satellite towns in Dhaka and other cities. Planned low-income high-density areas with small single storey pucca nucleus houses were also built, such as the ones in Mirpur, Dhaka. Housing in spontaneous urban poor settlements (or slums and squatter areas) consists of kutcha and semi- pucca structures similar to rural settlements.

Apartment housing as a phenomenon started from the nineteen eighties and has evolved from six-storyed walk up buildings to tall buildings of 10-20 floors, with elevators. Individual homes of the rich have taken the form of single storey bangalow type to two-storyed duplex and even three-storyed triplex type. However the numbers of such houses are very limited. Floor spaces range from under 300 square feet for low priced units to over 3000 square feet for luxury units.

Components of Housing Housing as a product or commodity comprise of various components namely, land, infrastructure and utility services, building materials, design and technology, finance, labour, management, and entrepreneurship.

Land' is the primary component for housing. Ownership of land is an important factor in housing. It belongs to either public or private owners or cooperatives. Of the total land (35 million acres) available in the country, 27% (or 9.5 million acres) is classified as non-agricultural and is mostly used for housing, roads and other construction purposes. Of the 27%, only about 3 percent (1.06 million acres or 1656 square miles) is under urban areas and the rest are under rural areas. With population growth, more land is being taken over for housing and settlement purposes in both rural and urban areas.

In rural areas, housing is done mainly on land owned privately by the individual or family. However, 15% of the rural households do not own land even for homesteads and build homes on land owned by others. The poor and low-income people in the rural areas build their houses on land parcels as small as 360 sq.ft (half a katha), the middle class on land between 2 katha (1440 sft) to 10 katha (7200 sft) and the rich on larger pieces of land.

In a recent study conducted on urban households, it was found that in big cities 83% of slum households and 73% of non-slum households had no land of their own (Urban Health Survey, 2006). However, in secondary cities and municipal towns, two thirds of the households have built their houses on own land.

Price of land is a major determinant of housing and land price has increased very rapidly in almost all urban areas, but in astronomical rates in Dhaka and other major cities. Dhaka presents one of the highest prices of residential land anywhere in the world such as being Taka 50 million for a katha (or Taka 70,000 per sft or more than USD 9,000 per square meter) in Gulshan, the most expensive location in Dhaka. In Dhaka, price of land comprise between 50%-90% of the total price of an apartment unit.

Infrastructure and Utility Services The concept of housing is not limited to a mere house, it' encompasses a physical and social environment, and' includes proper and adequate provision of infrastructural elements like roads, water, sewerage, sanitation and garbage disposal, drainage, electricity, fuel and also social services. In rural areas, over 90% of households have access to safe drinking water, generally the source being hand tube wells. In urban areas, piped water supply is available inside houses in 26% of slum houses and in nearly 60% in non-slum households in metropolitan cities (Urban Health Survey, 2006). Major sources of drinking water are still the tubewell in small and medium size cities.

Quality of sanitation has improved in Bangladesh since the independence of the country but still not more than 56% of the urban households and 15% of the rural households are served with standard sanitary facilities such as flush toilets and septic tanks, or water sealed toilets.

The proportion of households with electricity connections has also increased since independence, and yet only about two thirds of the households in urban areas in 1991 were served with electricity. The share was less than 10% in rural households. The use of solar panels has marginally improved access to electricity in rural areas in recent time.

Building Materials Irrespective of location, housing in general is classified by type of materials used for construction. In this way houses are classified into four categories i.e. a) Jhupri (shacks); made of jute sticks, tree leaves, jute sacks etc. b) Kutcha (temporary); made of mud brick, bamboo, sun-grass, wood and occasionally corrugated iron sheets as roofs. c) Semi-pucca (semi-permanent); where walls are made partially of bricks, floors are cemented and roofs of corrugated iron sheets. d) Pucca (permanent, life span over 25 years); will walls of bricks and roofs of concrete. The four types are also associated with durability where jhupri and kutcha are temporary and semi-pucca and pucca are semi-permanent and permanent. The dominant type of housing by building material is kutcha type in the rural and pucca and semi-pucca type in urban areas (Table).

The problem of housing is particularly accentuated by difficulties in obtaining building materials at affordable prices. Traditional local materials like timber, bamboo, straw and leaves have all become scarce. The other common material, mud, is still amply available but expensive if it has to be bought and carried far. Moreover mud is not suitable for all regions. Most durable houses in rural areas are made of timber and C I sheets. Pucca structures are commonly found among the affluent families in rural areas.

In urban areas, building materials commonly used in housing for the poor are, bamboo, rags, thatch, polythene sheets etc (90% of houses in the slums are made of scrap materials). Middle-income groups and the rich choose more durable materials. There is need for replacement of forest based building materials and mass production of new building materials. Such materials should have to be affordable by the majority of people and also have to be durable. The question of hazard resistance is also important.

Building design and Technology are important components in housing as these reflect the cultural, social as well as functional needs of the people. There have been significant changes and development in recent time both in the designs of houses or buildings and in technology. Even rural houses are experiencing transformation, with adoption of urban housing designs, or construction of two or even multi-storeyed buildings.

Urban housing exhibits radical changes in design and technology, specially applied for high-rise apartment buildings. Elevators, for example have become a common element in such buildings. Use of steel/ aluminum and glass makes demand for new technology. Pre-fabrication of elements is also a new feature. Most new residential buildings are not really earthquake resistant. The Bangladesh National Building Code, however, now makes more stringent building construction technological requirements.

Housing Finance Finance is an essential element in housing. Finance is needed for purchase of land as an initial step to build a house. If the land is already available free, finance is required for the process of constructing structures or buildings and provision of utility services. Finance for housing is arranged through one or more ways: Own or household savings; Overseas remittances; Liquidation of assets i.e. land sales, property sales etc; Owners of land arranging their finance through partnerships with real estate companies; Loans taken from friends and relatives; Formal loans from banks and mortgage companies; and Formal loans taken from employer institutions.

The House Building Finance Corporation (HBFC), and other banking sectors i.e. commercial, public as well as corporate banks, provides formal loans. DBH is a private partnered bank giving loans for only the urban dwellings. Institutions other than banks such as mortgage and insurance companies also forward loans for housing to their employees. For the rural population there is more dependency on private loans from family, relatives etc. Overseas remittance is a major source of housing finance.

Table 1  Dwellings by structural types in Bangladesh, 2001.

Structure Total Urban Rural
Number (‘000) Percent Number (‘000) Percent Number (‘000) Percent
Jhupri 2202 8.8 434 7.6 1768 9.2
Kutcha 18625 74.4 2732 47.7 15893 82.3
Semi-Pucca 2535 10.1 1321 23.1 1214 6.3
Pucca 1672 6.7 1241 21.7 431 2.2
Total 25034 100.0 5728 100.0 19306 100.0

Source Population Census 2001, Volume 3, Urban Area Report (BBS, 2008).

The rural people have access to housing loans from the grameen bank, some ngos like brac, asa etc. But these are conditional as the loan seekers have to be members of their micro credit programmes and also have deposited savings with the NGO.

Donors forward grants and soft loans to the government and NGOs for housing particularly for the rural and urban landless. Such funds are extended for mitigation of those who are rendered shelterless after natural disasters.

The rate of interest for loans vary according to the type of the banks i.e. public/private and the amount of loan also vary. This figure ranges from 14.5% - 16.5% in urban area and 2% to 5% for fund extended by NGO's to the rural poor.

The amounts of loan provided by HBFC for private homes extend upto Tk 5 million for a house and Tk 4 million for apartment purchase. Private Banks provide higher amounts of loans depending on the location of land and background of the borrower. The amount may exceed Tk 10 million. Banks and financial institutions provide these loans through mortgage of the land or apartment for which the loan is extended. Cost of housing construction varies depending on the design and quality of finish. For the luxury suits the price may go beyond Tk 10,000 per square foot and for the average middle priced units the cost will be in the range of TK 3,000 to Tk 5,000 per square foot. Low cost Pucca housing will cost at least Tk 1,000 per square foot and semi-pucca house will cost at least Tk 500 per square foot.

Labour, Management and Entrepreneurships Much of the labour input for housing construction in all both rural and urban area, have been in the form of petty commodity production by individuals, households, and community initiatives. In rural housing houses the poor are self-built with local labour support, artisans are hired in some cases. Urban poor slum and squatter housing are either self-built or with the help of hired labour within reasonable limits. Unskilled labour is in ample supply in urban areas and a large percentage of these are the poor migrant women. However, severe shortages exist in skilled manual, technical and managerial services in the housing construction industry. Demand for increasing number of new housing and rebuildings of old ones is being met with increasing number of technical human resources, such as architects, engineers, management executives and sales promoters. During the last three decades, particularly with the emergence and growth of the modern real estate sector, the roles of these professionals have been better appreciated. There is a need for training of unskilled labor to improve the quality of housing and production irrespective of cost.

Role of Government in Provisions of Housing The contribution of the government to the housing process is made in the ways, Building houses and flats for employees of all income groups; Developing sites and services' schemes for high and middle income groups; Developing core housing for low income groups; Developing cluster villages in rural areas; and Provision of house building finance loan to those who own land. Although housing is a basic need and a basic right, the government can provide only limited support to those who need it.

The contribution by the government to housing is, however, still very insignificant compared to demand. The government agencies involved in housing are the Public Works Department (PWD), and the National Housing Authority (NHA). In addition, the city development authorities like the Rajdhani Unyan Katripakhya, Chittagong Development Authority, Khulna Development Authority, and Rajshahi Development Authority, some city corporations, some government and autonomous authorities have some housing schemes. The Ministry of Housing and Public Works have formulated the National Housing Policy to facilitate the development of housing sector which contributes nearly 10% of the National Gross Domestic Product (GDP). [Nazrul Islam and Salma A Shafi]

Bibliography Nazrul Islam, Human Settlements and Urban Development in Bangladesh, University of Dhaka, Dhaka, 1997; Housing in Bangladesh, in Journal of the Bangladesh Institute of Planners, Vol. 1, No. 1, 1990.; S Islam Chowdhury, Arthonitik Bhugol: Biswa O Bangladesh, University of Dhaka, Dhaka, 1988. National Institute of Population Research and Training (NIPORT) and others, Bangladesh Urban Health Survey 2006, Dhaka, 2006; Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics, Population Census-2001, National Series, Volume-3, Urban Area Report, Dhaka, 2008.