One of the most critical issues facing cities today is the lack of secure housing for the poor. In Mumbai alone, 62% of the population lives in informal housing and slums, spaces which often have inadequate sanitation, light, electricity and water.


While for most of its history, India has been primarily a rural country, today it is rapidly urbanizing. As Indian cities grow, the demand for housing has greatly exceeded supply, forcing the poor to create their own homes wherever they can find land. Compounding this gap in affordable housing has been the lack of inclusive city planning and development; few authorities include the poor in their development plans and often the poor are seen as an obstacle to development, rather than as participants in the development process. It is critical for organisations of the poor, city authorities and financial institutions to work in partnership to create sustainable and affordable solutions to this housing crisis. If Indian cities are to grow in a healthy or sustainable way, we must learn how to partner and engage with informality and the urban poor. The Alliance of SPARC, NSDF and MM is currently working with 750,000 households across India and has built or is building housing for over 8500 families.


The Alliance uses core processes of household savings, enumerations and exchanges to first build capacity and organization within communities. On this foundation, we engage with government to undertake housing and sanitation projects which are led by the community. All of our projects are precedent-setting, in that they demonstrate how government can successfully partner with communities on projects which can be scaled-up across cities and states so that very large numbers of the poor can benefit. Towards this end, we work in partnership with various levels of local and regional authorities, financial institutions and poor communities to explore options together. While one part of our work is to explore what is possible under existing policies and subsidies, we also work with regulatory bodies to advocate for better housing policies at the city, state and national level.

Designs and Models

Wherever land is available, communities explore securing land tenure and constructing ground storey unit houses. Costs are kept low by contributing local labour, looking at low-cost construction technologies and blending government subsidies with housing loans. All construction is designed, supervised and implemented by the federation and local groups. When land is scarce, communities look at multi-storey housing options. Since this type of construction is more expensive, securing subsidies is essential.

Types of Housing Projects

The Alliance engages in several types of housing projects. For slum dwellers who are able to get secure tenure for the land they are currently living on, we undertake in-situ upgrading and redevelopment projects. A recent example of this type of project is the in-situ upgrading project Yerawada, Pune. For pavement dwellers and slum dwellers who are not able to get secure land tenure where they currently are, the Alliance works to support Resettlement and Rehabilitation projects, like our recent work at Oshiwara in Mumbai.

Community Contractors

The Alliance encourages Mahila Milan and Federation members to become active participants in the construction of their own toilet and housing projects through the innovative Community Contracting Program. Leaders who have built their managerial capacities and financial literacy by managing daily savings programs and slum enumerations can receive sub-contracts to supervise less technical construction work, such as plastering and bricklaying, in projects administered by SPARC and NSDF. By navigating the challenges that face any contractor – finding labour, competing for projects, and completing projects by set deadlines – they learn marketable skills, supplement their incomes, gain self-confidence, and improve their status as leaders in the community. Nirman now gives 30% of all project work to community contractors

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