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Building regulations are a barrier to affordable housing in Indian cities: the case of Ahmedabad


Cities in developing countries seldom consider the cost increases that regulations impose on development. To build legal housing, developers must meet a high minimum cost threshold established by mandatory standards. Many standards impose costs on building construction, make them less affordable to low-income households, deprive them access to legally built housing, and fuel the formation of slums. This study analyses the impact of relaxing a few mandatory building and site planning regulations on the cost of small two-room homes in Ahmedabad by developing two alternative layouts for the same site, one in accordance with prevalent regulations, and another after modifying a few regulations. It shows that rationalizing regulations can reduce housing cost by 34% and increase supply by as much as 75% without significantly lowering quality or compromising safety. It also shows that for a large portion of poor households, the costs imposed by mandatory standards are not trivial and have a high impact on the affordability of legally built housing. It recommends that if municipal authorities are interested in tackling the rapid growth of slums by expanding the supply of affordable housing, they should critically examine their building regulations and modify them to address the housing needs of their low-income residents.

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  1. For instance, recent regulations for Ahmedabad City enforced in 2015 and those for Surat City enforced in 2016 mandate rainwater harvesting for buildings larger than 80 sq. m. and lots larger than 500 sq. m. Proposed GDCR for Gandhinagar included in its draft 2024 Development Plan for GUDA mandate rooftop solar water heating for lots larger than 500 sq. m., rainwater harvesting for lots larger than 1000 sq. m., and graywater recycling for lots ranging from 5000 to 10,000 sq. m.

  2. Floor Space Index (FSI) is defined as the ratio of the total floor area on all floors to the lot area. It is similar in concept to the floor area ratio (FAR).

  3. Affordable housing concept is based on the amount of household expenditure that goes toward housing as a portion of the total household income, and a threshold of 30–35% is generally considered affordable (Gopalan and Venkataraman 2015). The Government of India considers both income and size criteria to define affordable housing and adopts a threshold of 30–40% gross monthly household income as affordable (GOI 2012).

  4. “Housing for All by 2022” Mission—National Mission for Urban Housing. Available online

  5. “Slum” refers to informal settlements that may have inadequate infrastructure and services, absence or lack of recognition of legal tenure, overcrowding and poor quality, or location in areas not suited for habitation. Slum population data as reported are unreliable, as it varies considerably from 4.5 to 30%. As per the 2011 census, there were 51,451 slums in Ahmedabad having a population of 250,681 (about 5% of total population). However, census counts only notified slums, which exclude small slums and upgraded slums de-notified by local governments for the purpose of providing basic services. Patel and Phatak (2014) estimate the 2001 slum population of Ahmedabad to be about 25%.

  6. Chawls are large low-rise buildings having multiple one-room tenements with shared toilet facilities. In Ahmedabad, most of chawls are located near older industrial areas on the eastern periphery, are old and in dilapidated state (AMC and AUDA 2006).

  7. The financial eligibility criteria were below Rs. 100,000/year (approximately Rs. 8300/month). Recently, the threshold income was increased to Rs. 250,000/year.

  8. Presentation to CSMC by A. Kumar, I.A.S., Secretary (Housing), Urban Development & Urban Housing Department, Govt. of Gujarat dated 03-17-2016.

  9. The 2012 Ahmedabad GDCR and the National Building Code of India 2005 (BIS 2005) specify minimum floor height for a habitable room at 2.8 m., so a five-story building can be built within 15 m.

  10. While disposable incomes and car ownership rates are rapidly increasing in India, the cheapest car still costs more than 10 times the annual income of target households.

  11. Part IV Structural Design, Part V—Building Materials and Part VII—Construction Practices and Safety of the National Building Code of India 2005 (BIS 2005). Ahmedabad GRCDs also mandate several Indian Standard (IS) Codes for structural, seismic, cyclone, and wind storm protection.

  12. This rate includes the developer’s profit, but does not include the cost of site development such as providing roads and pathways, developing open spaces and other amenities.

  13. Equated monthly installment (EMI) is a fixed mortgage payment made by a borrower to a lender each month. EMI includes both interest and principal. Over a specific number of years, the loan is paid back in full.


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This study was initiated in 2012 at the request of the Mahila Housing Trust (MHT), promoted by the Self Employed Women’s Association (SEWA). SEWA is a renowned large NGO working to improve the economic and living conditions of women working in the informal sector. MHT’s primary objective is to improve housing delivery and infrastructure provision for its poor women members living in slums.

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Correspondence to Sweta Byahut.

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Patel, B., Byahut, S. & Bhatha, B. Building regulations are a barrier to affordable housing in Indian cities: the case of Ahmedabad. J Hous and the Built Environ 33, 175–195 (2018).

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  • Affordable housing
  • Ahmedabad, India
  • Building regulation
  • Housing affordability
  • Slum formation