Karachi is and will always remain the country’s economic powerhouse. Sitting pretty on the fringes of the Arabian Sea, the city is a hotbed of industrial business and employment activity and attracts workforce from around the country. From bankers to bricklayers and marketers to masons, Karachi holds the manifestation of many Pakistanis’ dreams of making it big and better in the city of lights and the cool sea breeze.
While Karachi offers a host of opportunities to work seekers, the rising migration to the industrial hub is also contributing to an unchecked rise in the city’s population. Estimated at 24 million and counting, the bulging population brings along a number of problems for the city, top of which remains an acute shortage of adequate housing.
Although Karachi has maintained its allure for the urban and rural population looking for a better livelihood, the sheen got somewhat dampened in the last few years owing to deteriorating law and order. Many a households living in this promising land for generations decided to bid farewell to the city for good in recent years. Targeted killings of ethnic minorities, political workers and unsuspecting citizens coupled with extortion and kidnapping continued unabated for several years, forcing many to move to other parts of the country for fear of their life and property. But things have started to turn normal after the security forces launched a crackdown on criminals last year. The sentiment in Karachi has seen an upturn, and life is beginning to return to normal, making both Karachiites – and those heading to the city for work – hope for better times again.
But despite an apparent containment of real estate issues like land grabbing and China-cutting, the elephant in the room, housing shortage, appears to remain unnoticed.
A place called home
Away from the twinkling skyline of Gulshan-e-Iqbal, Karsaz, Clifton and DHA, Karachi is home to a number of shanty townships that offer barely humanistic conditions for living. Yet, many who move to the city are forced to make do with these slum residences for lack of a better choice.
The situation up in the social ladder is not much different. As there is a clear lack of authorities’ involvement in the housing sector, homebuyers are left at the mercy of private developers and their half-baked promises.
A lack of effective construction and building laws, regulation governing private developers and mechanism to keep prices in check means the real estate market has turned into a galloping horse with no direction. The prices commanded by developers for their projects are purely arbitrary and builders end up getting their way in one from or the other because there remains a great demand for housing, but no civic authority to check undue profiteering.
Also making life difficult for buyers are illegal construction, forged building permits and no legal guarantees against payments made in advance for units yet to be built.
In its review of the real estate sector released earlier this year, the State Bank of Pakistan said, “Without using a strong regulatory authority to enforce corporate governance and allied standards for this sector, the quality of availability of housing facilities across population spectrum may not improve.”
With Karachi beginning to see an increase in business activity following an improved security situation, the population influx into the city is set to multiply in the months to come. The State Bank of Pakistan estimated the current housing shortage in the country at 9 million units, several million of which can be safely attributed to the housing shortage in Karachi. The central bank expected an additional annual demand of close to 400,000 units being added to the existing back log. That leaves the country with a lot of people to house, and the feat will remain unachievable without the government’s participation in the sector.
Zameen.com CEO Zeeshan Ali Khan said government intervention was a must for the welfare of the citizens as well as the real estate sector.
“Apart from putting in place stringent laws that keep builders, developers and inflationary trends of prices in check, the authorities seriously need to consider launching low-cost housing projects that cater to the needs of citizens around the country, especially the vast majority that lives in slums across Karachi. Where direct intervention is not possible, the government can always invite private parties to build low-cost houses or apartment complexes on public land offered on subsidised rates.”
Karachi has unbound potential of turning into a truly global city with its able human resource, its sea port and its strategic geographic location. But true progress can only be achieved if the people calling the city home actually find a half decent place in the city to call home.