The importance of housing worldwide cannot be overstated. Housing is a critical social necessity. Shelter has been historically equated with a basic human right alongwith food and clothing. Housing not only provides shelter, it is the also cornerstone of community life, the center of family activities and a reference point for societal esteem, and above all the most important financial asset of the poor. Of the three basic social needs i.e., the food, clothing and shelter, shelter is often beyond the reach of the poor of many societies around the globe. While the poorest somehow manage to procure food and clothing, still there are hundreds of millions of shelter-less poor around the globe.
In South Asia, which is home to one in four people on the planet, every second person is below the poverty line. Over the years housing shortages have become a pervasive problem, where issues are well known and answers are yet to be found. In India alone, more than 25 million families have no home, and nearly all of this shortage is in low income category. Major metropolitans in South Asia have millions of shelter less poor. This massive urban housing shortage is hiding itself behind high persons per room density (over 3.5 persons per room density in India and Pakistan), and the pervasiveness of slum dwelling areas and squatter settlements, people living on footpaths or even in abandoned sewage pipes. Nearly half of the major metropolitan areas in the region are taken up by slum dwellings. In Afghanistan, about 36 percent of people are not able to meet their basic needs. In Kabul city alone, nearly two-thirds of the housing stock has been damaged or destroyed during the last three decades of war.
The World Bank Housing Initiative in South Asia:
In May, 2008 the World Bank initiated a dialogue (GDLN) between countries of the South Asia region to address the issue of housing and housing finance. For this purpose, a global dialogue was initiated through a video conference at the World Bank headquarters in Washington. The World Bank officials behind this initiative were Tatiana Nenova, Olivier Hessler, Mehnaz Safavian and Zaigham Mahmood Rizvi.
The countries which participated in the video conference were Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Indonesia. The conference highlighted the challenging issues confronting housing and housing finance in the South Asia region. As a result of this deliberation, the World Bank decided to prepare reports on the status of housing and housing finance starting with five countries of the region namely Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. The report titled “Expanding Housing Finance to the Underserved in South Asia” is expected to be released soon as a World Bank publication.
The region’s housing institutions and central banks, aware of the importance of the issue of housing, have taken important steps in this regard. In addition to the many ongoing national housing initiatives, a regional initiative called the Asia Pacific Union for Housing Finance Forum is a key milestone. On May 27-29, 2009 the World Bank Group (World Bank and IFC) jointly organized a regional Housing Conference in Jakarta, Indonesia. At the Jakarta Ms Tatiana Nenova presented the findings of the above study. Inspired by the papers presented at the conference, Mr. Zaigham Mahmood Rizvi proposed the idea of setting up a more permanent regional platform in the name of South Asia Housing Forum (APUHF) with its Secretariat in Delhi, India. The purpose was to promote better understanding and cooperation between the countries of the region on issues relating to housing and housing finance. The proposal was endorsed by Mr. Abdul Qadeer Fitrat, Governor, DA Afghanistan Bank, Mr. R.V.Verma of National Housing Bank of India, and other participants. Mr. Verma, on behalf of the National Housing Bank (NHB) offered the services of NHB as Secretariat of the Forum for the interim period. The members of Advisory Board of APUHF are Mr. Abdul Qadeer Fitrat (Da Afghanistan Bank), Mr. Kamran Shahzad (State Bank of Pakistan), Mr. R.V.Verma (National Housing Bank India), Mr.Mohammad Abul Quassem (Bangladesh Bank), Mr.P.D.J.Fernando (Central Bank of Sri Lanka) and Zaigham Mahmood Rizvi. Mr. Abdul Qadeer Fitrat is the Chairman, and Mr. Zaigham Mahmood Rizvi being the Secretary General.
The Asia Pacific Union for Housing Finance Forum started functioning with its Secretariat at National Housing Bank, Delhi, India as a platform for knowledge-sharing and networking between different countries, which in turn will help in policy design, strategic intervention, the design of different instruments for low income housing, and ongoing research on housing and housing finance markets in the region. The Forum planned to use both a Virtual Platform (e-Portal) and a Physical Platform (conferences, seminars and publications. The e-Portal was formally launched by the Chairman, HE Abdul Qadeer Fitrat.
UNESCAP and UNHABITAT Pro-Poor Housing Initiative:
Around the same time the UNESCAP and UNHABITAT, in collaboration with National Housing Bank of India (NHB), had launched an initiative on Pro-Poor Housing in Asia-Pacific region. Under the initiative a study titled “Regional Project on Pro-Poor Housing Finance in Asia and Pacific -A Compendium of Seven Countries”, was launched by UN-ESCAP. The project comprised of Country Reports and a Compendium of Seven Countries. The countries covered in the study were India, Indonesia, Pakistan, Mongolia, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Afghanistan
At the Regional Policy Dialogue on Pro-poor Housing Finance held in New Delhi, India on 30 - 31 January, 2008 the summary findings of the report on Pro-Poor Housing Initiatives was reviewed by the participants.
The main findings and recommendations of the Compendium were:
The report emphasized the need to share common wisdom and experience on Low Cost Construction Technologies, Low Cost Construction Material, Builders with technical and financial expertise, Promoting Networking and Joint Ventures, Issues and answers in Long Term Funding, Product innovation and experiences, Policy Initiatives and Programs in different countries, Provision of Affordable Serviced Land and Land Banking, promotion of Housing Micro-Finance Institutions and correct Use of Subsidies.
The other important area that needed to be focused was making available long term funding for housing finance through mechanism like securitization, more so for housing finance companies serving the low income segment. The study had further emphasized that product innovations in pro-poor housing finance should include innovations both on the Liabilities as well as the Assets side. Housing Microfinance could provide pro-poor housing solutions but at the same time it required a different mindset. The existing housing finance institutions need to innovate in terms of product, delivery, personnel managing the product etc. It was felt that the creation of a regional network or forum would provide a base from where knowledge sharing about innovative approaches and networking between different institutions could be accomplished.
Joining the two initiatives at one platform- Asia Pacific Union for Housing Finance ( APUHF):
Discussions on the nature and shape of the network were also continued at the Asia Pacific Union for Housing Finance Forum (APUHF) meeting in New Delhi in January 2010. During this meeting it was decided that the APUHF network and the UN-ESCAP/UN-HABITAT/NHB initiatives on Pro-Poor Housing Finance would be merged into a single Regional Network. It was strongly felt that the creation of a regional network or forum would provide a base from where knowledge sharing about innovative approaches and networking between different institutions could be accomplished.
Subsequently, another meeting was held in Bangkok on March 25, 2010 to further discuss the modalities of creating the network. The first draft of a Concept Note, prepared to discuss the institutional and operational modalities of the network was presented and discussed at the meeting
At the Regional Symposium on Pro-Poor Housing Finance held in New Delhi, India during April 19 – 20, 2010, a presentation on the Concept Note was made for enabling discussions on different aspects of the Network. There were wide range discussions on different aspects of creating the Network ranging from its name, its vision and mission, activities and objectives, structure and other modalities, membership and financial resources etc. Following the discussion, it was decided that the members of the Network would be divided into Working Groups, who would work on finalizing different aspects of the Network, before its informal launch during the October meeting of the International Union for Housing Finance (IUHF).
Three Working Groups are presently working to finalize the following;
The next meeting of APUHF is planed to be held in Thailand, which will deliberate on the recommendations of the three Working Groups, and is expected to finalize the Charter, Membership Structure and Activities Calendar. The meeting will also decide on giving the legal structure to the platform.