Low-cost housing scheme yet to get off ground

Published: March 24, 2017

LAHORE: Ideally the budget announcement is not something that many look forward to as a harbinger of good news, however, things prove to be different for Azeem Siddiqi, a Lahore-based middle-aged man.

Siddiqi was pleasantly surprised after listening to the first budget speech made by the current finance minister, who announced the prime minister’s low-cost housing scheme.

By the time the speech ended, Siddiqi had made up his mind that he would try to avail himself of the opportunity in order to have his own shelter. Hence, he made an estimate of his savings and the procedure through which he could acquire a two-room house.

Now, with just about 14 months left before the next general elections, Siddiqi is still waiting, though not with the same enthusiasm. He believes that this is the only hope to get his own house at a low price with payments in instalments.

“I felt that this project was for people like me who are living just above the poverty line,” said Siddiqi while talking to The Express Tribune. “But I believe that government priorities have changed over the years and have been hijacked by the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).”

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“Every project under CPEC has the premier’s interest, so why not add the PM housing scheme as well,” he asked.

Siddiqi was not the only one hoping to have his own home at a low cost. There were many who not only praised the scheme, but also prepared themselves to capitalise on the opportunity.

In the federal budget for 2013-14, Dar announced that the government would provide 0.5 million housing units to the low-income group by 2018. Under the programme, the government had planned to set up 1,000 residential colonies with 500 units each across the country.

It was expected that 50 million people would benefit from the scheme, which would help bridge the widening demand-supply gap of housing units all over Pakistan.

Each unit would cost Rs1 million and the government would take necessary steps to engage banks and other lending institutions to provide loans for these units. The government would pay the interest whereas the rest will be paid by home buyers in instalments.

Sadly, it has been almost four years and not a single housing unit has been constructed.

Ministry of Housing and Works Secretary Syed Sajid Mehdi told The Express Tribune that paperwork and legislative process had been completed and they were waiting for the premier’s green light for a briefing. After that, he said, the project would start appearing on the ground.

“Progress on this project is slow, but no one can say that we have done nothing,” said Mehdi.

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“Except for Sindh, all other provinces have identified potential sites and as soon as the Ministry of Finance releases funds, we will start purchasing land from the provinces.”

However, Association of Builders and Developers of Pakistan (ABAD) Chairman North Zone Akbar Sheikh said the developers had no clue what actual progress had been made.

“Initially, it appeared that the federal government was serious, but later they might have realised that they would not be able to handle such a mega project at the federal level as provinces were the key due to land availability and expertise,” said Sheikh.

He revealed that ABAD initially gave a few proposals about how to develop such projects through public-private partnership.

“The federal government has to identify the land first and then decide how to construct these units; private developers are ready to work.”

He, however, insisted that “now is the time and we should not wait for further announcements. There is not much time left for the government, so we should build these housing units.”

Published in The Express Tribune, March 24th, 2017.

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