Cities

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Housing the poor: Mumbai's underground rental market

About 80 percent of low-income rental units in India exist in the informal market. These affordable units house Mumbai's working poor and are rented out by makeshift landlords, who are often poor themselves but who capitalize on any extra space they have at home. For migrant laborers, renting makes sense. Many migrants are short-term residents, earning enough during short spurts of work to then return to their home villages. While in the city, their circumstances are precarious, and work opportunities come and go quickly. Renting, as opposed to home ownership — which has dominated the government's policy focus for the urban poor — allows for flexibility and a fluidity that matches the migrants' life and experiences in the city. Chetan, for example, does not pay rent when he returns to his family in his home village for months at a time. While there is certainly a place for home ownership for the urban poor — some of whom have been the fabric of this city for generations — a mixed housing stock is essential for meeting their varying shelter needs. Learn more.

Is Dharavi a symbol of Mumbai's failures?

While some Bombayites have adopted the Bandra-Worli Sea Link as a symbol of everything they believe is right with the city, I must confess that I'm quite astonished by how many others seem to believe that Dharavi is a shining example of the city's potential. New urban studies jargon now refers to Dharavi as "an informal city" that has been created by the boundless enterprise of its residents. In fact, when Barack Obama visited Bombay in 2011, he made it a point to praise the people living in the "winding alleys of Dharavi" for their optimism and determination. Learn more.

Dharavi: a settlement, not a slum

The picture unfortunately painted in most of our minds of Dharavi, which covers some 175 hectares in the heart of Mumbai, is that of an overcrowded, densely packed, filthy slum. The more time I spend in Dharavi, however, the more I realize what a misnomer it is to label Dharavi as a slum. Don't get me wrong: there is a significant lack of proper sanitation, ventilation, and light in Dharavi, and during the monsoon, the residents have to deal with flash floods entering their homes and are restricted in their activities. However, there's more to the story. Learn more.