Housing poverty in India

Tackling slums and inequalities
  • 3,897,015 people served 3,897,015 people served
  • 5,156 volunteers hosted 5,156 volunteers hosted
  • Projects: affordable housing, disaster response, WaSH Projects: affordable housing, disaster response, WaSH

We began tackling housing poverty in India through our very first operations in Khammam, Andhra Pradesh state in 1983.

Among the largest Habitat operations in the Asia-Pacific region, our local team now works across 20 states and has helped hundreds of thousands gain access to decent shelter as well as rebuild their lives following natural disasters.

Fighting extreme poverty in India

With the help of thousands of volunteers and experts, our India office has to date been responsible for:

  • Building 174,771 homes
  • Supporting 943,448 people


By 2019, we plan to reach out to another 500,000 low-income families with improved housing solutions, clean water and safe sanitation as well as post-disaster reconstruction.

Income inequalities

The world’s largest democracy, India has seen rapid economic growth and made progress toward achieving most of the Millennium Development Goals.

Income inequality remains a challenge though the poverty rate has been declining.

...on the rise in India

World Bank data showed the national poverty rate has fallen from 37% in 2005 to 21.9% in 2012.

However since the country’s population is growing quickly the absolute number of people living in poverty in India has actually increased, not to mention that many contest the definition of the Indian poverty line itself.

The end goal

To meet the country’s vision of a home for all by 2022, India will need to build an additional 110 million housing units.

This figure includes the current shortfall of 60 million units, according to a study conducted by National Real Estate Development Council and KPMG.

Key facts & figures about India

  • Capital: New Delhi
  • Population – circa 1.38 million
  • Urbanisation – 35.9%
  • Life expectancy – 67.22 years
  • Unemployment – 8.5%
  • Poverty line – 21.9%
  • Access to improved sanitation facilities – 98.6%

The housing shortage: a root cause of poverty in India

Economic growth and urbanisation in India are inextricably linked. Indian cities account for 2/3 of the country’s GDP, generating a…

Economic growth and urbanisation in India are inextricably linked. Indian cities account for 2/3 of the country’s GDP, generating a pulling factor for internal migrants in search of economic opportunity. Rapid urbanisation has aggravated the housing crisis and therefore extreme inequalities in India.

It is estimated that the housing shortage is currently around 73.6 million units, of which 26.3 million is urban. In addition, over 93 million people live in urban slums without adequate access to clean water, sanitation and security of tenure.

Since 2005, the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM) has fostered the development of diverse schemes for Slum Communities Rehabilitation, aiming at improving the living conditions of the urban poor, be it through resettlements on land allocated by the Government or through in-situ settlement upgrading of authorised settlements.

More recently, the Government of India has launched a massive campaign of providing housing to all its citizens by the year 2022. In the urban context, this campaign has notably taken the shape of public-private partnerships for the construction of middle and high rise buildings (particularly in metropolitan cities).

However, the older schemes are not yet reaching the poorest communities at scale and need to be broad based. As pointed out by the World Bank, it is the urban affordable housing for the poorest regions and families where major support will be required.

The national smart cities initiative is looking at promoting “cities that provide core infrastructure and give a decent quality of life to its citizens, a clean and sustainable environment and application of ‘Smart’ Solutions”. The core components of the “Smart Cities Mission” are:

  • Adequate water supply
  • Assured electricity supply
  • Sanitation, including solid waste management
  • Efficient urban mobility and public transport
  • Affordable housing, especially for the poor
  • Robust IT connectivity and digitalization
  • Good governance, especially e-Governance and citizen participation
  • Sustainable environment
  • Safety and security of citizens, particularly women, children and the elderly
  • Access to health and education

The new policy framework is yet to be implemented and its rollout will constitute a fertile ground for innovation in slum rehabilitation schemes – which we actively take part in.

Construction site India Bricks

How we alleviate housing poverty

Given the immense need for adequate housing in the country, we launched the “India BUILDS” campaign to engage donors, supporters and volunteers in our operations.

With more than half a billion people practising open defecation in the country, our “Sensitise to Sanitise” campaign aims to address this problem by improving access to sanitation facilities (toilets, water and educational campaigns around hygiene)

Voluntary labour for our housing and disaster response projects comes from international teams under the Global Village programme and from international or local schools.

Natural disaster relief and preparedness

bricks construction icon
We tap on the expertise built after the December 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami to respond to natural disasters. Our latest interventions included Cyclone Hudhud in October 2014, the Jammu and Kashmir floods in September 2014, and the devastating Uttarakhand floods in June 2013.

We also responded to the August 2010 flooding in Leh town, Ladakh region in the northwest by rebuilding 24 homes and providing families with smokeless chulhas, or stoves, which prevented indoor pollution.

Engaging with volunteers

hammer construction icon
India was a popular destination in 2014 with international volunteer teams coming from Australia, the UK, Greece, the Netherlands, New Zealand and the United States. More than 2,300 volunteers built in Pondicherry, New Delhi and surrounding regions.

Local volunteers from corporations and international schools and universities also participated in annual Habitat Youth BUILD campaigns and Women Builds.

"Sensitise to Sanitise" campaign

Globally, India has the highest number of people - 597 million - who defecate in the open, according to a joint report by World Health Organization and UNICEF in 2014.

That's why we launched the “Sensitise to Sanitise” campaign to address the problem with the construction of 100,000 sanitation units by end-2015. We are calling for donations of a minimum of 1,000 Indian rupees (US$16) to improve family health and protect the dignity of women and girls.

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