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October 02

 

Affordable Housing

- by Abha and Dirk


Can construction costs be brought down or is fundraising required?

From top to bottom: Jocelyn's house in Ami, dome houses in Samasti and houses in Grace. All photos by Pino.


Given the steadily rising costs of construction in Auroville, the need for affordable housing solutions is more urgent than ever. While the main cost of any building is related to the quality of construction expected by the house-occupant or architect, other major expenses relate to infrastructural and site development costs. According to the latest housing guidelines, the built-up area for an individual should be within 65 square metre (the Auroville Master Plan eventually calls for only 30 square metre space for each new resident in the high-density city area) and the end price of a housing unit should not exceed Rs 10,000 per square metre. For most people in Auroville this price range is beyond their means, a fact that has been recognized by many architects and builders. There is presently a strong movement towards collective housing projects where semi-collective facilities allow for lower construction and running costs. Unfortunately, how to further reduce construction costs is a contested issue among various contractors and architects.

Finding the Rs 10,000 per square metre rate unacceptably high, Dharmesh, who works with the Development Group, asks, "Why does one need to spend so much on a house when a cheaper alternative can be built? Not everyone can afford granite floors or ceramic tiles. Traditional terracotta works just as well, and looks just as aesthetic." Paradoxically a new residential housing project coming up in Grace under architect Helmut precisely provides this type of finishing: plain white-washed walls inside, terracotta flooring and the use of country tiles on the roofs. Yet, the cost for these houses still exceeds the ceiling level. Another idea that Dharmesh proposes is that 5% of the overhead costs can be cut if the various project holders of big residential or office complexes sit together and work out a collective plan of buying the materials, and have a common team of supervisors to monitor the construction. However, Vijay, a contractor who recently joined Auroville, explains that he gets the materials at the same low price, and that a centralized material procurement unit only would add an additional overhead on the material cost and it may result in the delay of actual construction process. Thirdly, Dharmesh suggests that architects and contractors should simply take a maintenance as he does, instead of charging their high percentages.

Without collective-oriented housing solutions, finding any clear-cut solutions to reduce construction costs remains a challenge. The onus, whether in an individual or collective housing project, is on the individual architect or contractor to skillfully use materials and space in an innovative manner.

Designing affordable collective housing projects based on Auroville's ideals of integrated living will allow a large number of Aurovilians and Newcomers with little or no means to obtain a decent place to live. Yet Auroville is still far from being the self-sustainable "city the earth needs", and therefore resources for partially-funded housing schemes need to come from the "rest of humanity". Partly innovative, experimental and environmental projects like Maitreye and Creativity are two collective housing complexes that attempt to reduce costs through professional fund-raising efforts.

Maitreye attempts to provide reduced-cost housing in a medium-density project. Costs will range between Rs. 2 to 2.5 lakhs for single resident dwellings not exceeding 45 sq. m. There are options for an extra floor in case of couples or families. To keep the costs low there will be efforts to approach different agencies for financial support for common facilities and infrastructure. Creativity, a project that professes to be "an experiment in intercultural, interactive community living for fifty people," has a similar approach. Presenting itself as "an integrated model of multiple eco-systems" (waste- water treatment plant, rainwater harvesting system and a solar energy system) and "an important Research and Development project" it has already succeeded in attracting 45% of the total estimated cost in grants and donations. This amount will cover the project's extremely high infrastructure costs and common facilities. The participants of the project have till now been able to raise only 25% of the remaining 56 % of construction cost. If successful, it may very well become a precedent for future collective housing projects. For affordable future housing in Auroville isn't merely a matter of cost reduction, but more and more a matter of policy, vision and fundraising.

 

The added percentages

This schedule is based on a basic construction cost (material plus labour), of Rs 6500 per square metre, an average for medium-density housing projects.

Particulars

Percentage

Amount

% on Basic

1. Basic construction cost 100%  Rs. 6500 100.00%
2. Infrastructure 20% of 1 Rs. 1300 20.00%
3. Architect's fees 5% of 1+2 Rs. 390 6.00%
4. Contractor fees 15% of 1+2  Rs. 1170 18.00%
5. Housing Service 10% of 1 Rs. 650 10.00%
6. Auroville Fund 2% of 1-4 Rs. 187 2.88%

Total 

Rs. 10197 

156.88%

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