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May 2009

 

Auroville’s housing crisis slowly easing

- in conversation with Carel

This year, the construction of five collective housing projects in the Residential Zone and two in the City Centre has started. A few other projects are awaiting building approval. The housing shortage, which worried the Entry Service so much that it once considered stopping new applications for joining Auroville, is slowly being resolved.

 

The first of the Citadines buildings under construction
The first of the Citadines buildings under construction

 

“We are moving fast,” says Sauro, L'Avenir d'Auroville's Housing Coordinator. “Drive around and you'll see new housing projects coming up everywhere. We expect Citadines, which began in 2008, to be ready in four to five months. It will have 35 apartments. Luminosity, Arati III and Realization may be ready by the end of the year or early 2010; Joy and the first phase of Maitreye will be ready the same year. That means that by the end of 2010 about 108 new units will have been built for 170-180 people against an estimated yearly population increase of about 100 persons. The pressure for housing will diminish.”

It doesn't stop at that. L'Avenir d'Auroville has applications pending for more collective housing projects. Swayam is starting (20 units) and Surrender phase 2 which will have 5 houses including a youth house, Muyerchi, is awaiting approval. The plans for the extension of Progress, Auroville's first Line of Force, are being elaborated. Sailam also will be extended with 6 units for 10 people; a proposal for building about 10 houses in Prarthna is expected; Realization and Maitreye will start their second phase once the first phase is completed; there are plans for the expansion of Grace, Courage, and Sukhavati; and a new community, Determination, is being planned between Grace and Gaia.

Who pays? “The total cost of the projects that are now being built is Rs 15 crores ($ 2.75 million) or more,” says Sauro. “About 63% is paid by the future inhabitants or by the Auroville Housing Service from their income from contributions; 14% is a donation from the Government of India (the Joy project); and the rest, approximately 23%, comes from private donations. For the extension of the Line of Force outside funding is being sought.”

In spite of all these ongoing projects and new ones in the pipeline, L'Avenir d'Auroville remains cautious about the ground reality. “We are in a peculiar situation,” says Sauro. “Although we welcome the new trend where significant grants for housing are made by the Government of India as well as by some private parties, the majority of funds are provided by the individuals who will occupy the houses. Auroville does not yet have sufficient funds to finance collective housing projects. Architects and project holders have to promote their proposals; they need a certain number of interested individuals, who have to give a sound financial commitment before their housing project is allowed to begin. Otherwise there might be unfinished projects which would cast additional burdens on those who have committed themselves, as well as on Auroville.”

With all the concentration on collective housing projects, L'Avenir d'Auroville has not forgotten those who wish to build individual houses. “Today we have ten applications to build individual houses, three of them inside the city area. As a general policy we will not allot land inside the city area for individual housing projects,” says Sauro. “Those who wish to have free-standing houses should participate in low-density projects like Surrender phase 2 or others planned in the Sukhavati area, or join Determination. We are also thinking about allowing clusters of free-standing individual houses around the Line of Force. And if someone would like to build in an empty space in a community outside the city area, we would consider it if the neighbours agree.”

L'Avenir d'Auroville is also in the process of identifying an area for people who want to construct their own houses to save on costs. “We are talking with two groups. We are concerned that those cost savings would only be apparent and that due to the low quality of construction, in the long run the maintenance costs would exceed the savings,” says Sauro. “And those costs might then have to be carried by the community.”

Joseba and Amy of the Housing Service estimate that, if all the projects are finished, still another 100 units will be required. But what about the people without money who need housing? “We did a survey a year ago,” says Joseba. “At the time there were 80 Newcomers without a house; 60 of them did not have any means or had insufficient means to contribute to a house. We proposed to the Funds and Assets Management Committee to sell a piece of outlying land so that we would have funds to construct a ‘free' housing complex for these people. This proposal was accepted in principle; however no action has been taken. More needs to be done.”

Joseba continues, “There were suggestions at the time that the community should build a settlement such as Aspiration with simple huts and keet roofs. But we observed that present-day Newcomers do not like to move into such accommodation. At one point there were four huts available in Aspiration and it was difficult to find any Newcomer to occupy them. The demands and expectations have changed. Moreover, cheap building now implies extra costs in the future. The condition of Aspiration is such that the community would have to invest about Rs 2 crores to bring all these huts up to present-day standard. Keet huts are no longer a solution.”

“Together with the Housing Service we are thinking about an Auroville rent or loan scheme,” says Sauro. “But our discussions are still in a very early stage. The first problem is to raise the capital; the second one to regularize a system of renting which, though it has never been officially accepted, is still done by quite a few people. Once this is done, all rental agreements could then be between the individual and Auroville, and no longer, as at present, between Aurovilians themselves. We also have to see how someone can pay rent from a basic monthly Auroville maintenance (at present Rs 5,500 a month). Perhaps renting is only an option for people who have a little money outside Auroville.”
The housing crisis is easing, though it will still be years before Auroville can offer ready places to new people wishing to join. But Sauro warns: “There is still an expectation that when people join Auroville, they will get a house for free. That is not possible. Under the present economic circumstances some financial commitment will be required.” Joseba agrees. “A discussion is going on concerning whether we shouldn't ask a financial commitment for a house before a person is admitted as Newcomer. There are pros and cons to this idea. But to continue as at present, where people are admitted who cannot obtain housing, is surely unsustainable.”

 

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