Dhaka is a huge city in terms of the number of people residing in it. The residents of Dhaka currently number above 10 million, according to some estimates. But nearly 80 per cent of these people are non-affluent ones meaning they include the poor and the middle classes. The economic pull factors of helping the earning of a livelihood are attracting more and more people to stay and work in Dhaka. It is likely that 60 or 70 per cent of these non-affluent people who live in Dhaka have developed permanent residential attachments to the city. They may have rural homesteads but they do not any longer consider relocating to the same on a permanent basis for economic and other reasons. Although they are inclined to be the permanent residents of the city, the vast majority of them have no homes of their own and they are compelled to live in rented houses or shanties. They are also required to spend some 40 to 60 per cent of their modest incomes on house rent. Thus, the extent of the housing-related hardships of the greater number of people in Dhaka city is so apparent.
The same calls for a planned attempt to provide homes to these people at affordable costs. But there does not seem to be a comprehensive plan in existence to progressively meet the housing needs of the non-affluent people in Dhaka city. The government has been building some flats for leasing these out to low income groups. But this is only a small venture and would be like a drop in the ocean when the need is large-scale planning and their execution to make a substantial dent in the housing problem of the non-affluent ones.
Clearly, the government on its own should intervene in a major way to solve the housing-related woes of the poor. It can build low-cost multi-storied flats on its own lands and then sell their ownership rights to the squatter population of the city. But it must not be in the real estate sector in this form with a profit motive. It should engage in this task with the intention of achieving social welfare. The flats to be built can be sold to the poor with the undertaking that their occupants will pay back an amount towards construction costs on a long term basis on very easy and small monthly or periodic instalments. Borrowing funds from donors at nominal rates of interest can be an option for the government to undertake works for such housing schemes. It was learnt that some donor organisations are quite keen to financially make a contribution towards such housing schemes for the poor. But the government, essentially, has to make a move, first, with some zest for the donors to come forward.
At the same time, the government may also start a preferential scheme towards selling lands to the middle class people at rates far below the current market rate. It is impossible for middle class people to buy plots at very high market prices and then to construct houses thereon after taking loans from housing finance bodies or companies that also charge high rates of interest. The government must play a far greater role to enable such middle class people to own lands at prices they are in a position to pay and then to finance their house building with similar concessions. For the same purpose, the government can explore the possibility for borrowing from donor organisations with nominal rates of interest and having extended period for repayments thereof and then re-lend the same to the middle class borrowers at slightly higher interest rates. The donors, again, are very probably in favour of extending such assistance, provided the government takes a truly purposeful initiative in the matter.