ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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The Hope and the Dilemma of the Urban Poor

A common view about economically weaker sections and lower-income groups in India is that they live in slums because they cannot afford to buy or rent decent accommodation in the formal market. However, some can pay a monthly rent and/or for the services such as garbage disposal and water, but they, and others who can afford to buy, are deterred by institutional constraints. Many slum households face a dilemma: opting for better and more secure living conditions would mean losing some of the advantages of living in a slum and the possibility of a free home.

The authors are grateful to Ian Hodge (Department of Land Economy, University of Cambridge) for his suggestions in improving earlier versions of this paper. Financial support and scholarship grants were provided by Cambridge Political Economy Society grant, 2012 and 2013; Cambridge University Graduate Student Research grant, 2011; Clare Hall, University of Cambridge, research scholarship 2011; Smuts Memorial travel grant, 2011; and Gilchrist Educational Trust, 2011.

The policy debate on housing the urban poor has evolved—from the sites- and-services approach, to slum upgrading, to enabling upward mobility out of slums. Recent studies find that slums are often “traps rather than springboards” (Marx et al 2013). There is evidence that contradicts the conventional wisdom: if given implicit recognition by the government, informal settlements consolidate over time and housing improves (Gulyani and Talukdar 2008). The result is that slum dwellers are often stuck in a suboptimal equilibrium of low-quality, but high-cost, housing.

Urban poverty researchers are advocating that efforts should be made to understand and encourage one of the benefits of urbanisation—upward mobility out of city slums (Glaeser and Dempster 2015). The emphasis in housing the poor is now on a pluralistic approach that stresses enabling housing provision for the poor by expanding the range of providers to include government, the private sector, the poor themselves, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), and cooperatives (Yeboah 2005).

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Updated On : 8th Oct, 2018
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