Indian state vows to end homelessness with free flats

The state has surveyed its homeless population, and will build more than 400,000 homes for those who qualify. (Shutterstock)
Updated 27 April 2019

Indian state vows to end homelessness with free flats

  • Kerala’s model is the only viable solution to end homelessness, said Shivani Chaudhry, executive director of HLRN

BANGKOK: The Indian state of Kerala is offering free flats to homeless people, an ambitious model that activists say other states must follow as a nationwide “Housing for All” plan falls short.
The first 145 families moved into their newly constructed flats in a 270-unit complex in Adimali town in southern India this month, a state official said.
The state has surveyed its homeless population, and will build more than 400,000 homes for those who qualify, said U.V. Jose, chief executive of the LIFE Mission, a government agency overseeing the project.
“Those without a home are the poorest, most vulnerable. Many cannot afford to buy a home, no matter how cheap it is,” Jose told the Thomson Reuters Foundation on Thursday.
“A home is a basic necessity. With a home, they can feel more secure and confident, and they can focus on other matters, which can improve the quality of their life,” he said.
Each unit will cost about 400,000 rupees ($5,700) to build, and will be wholly funded by the government, Jose said.
This is in contrast to the federal housing scheme, which offers subsidised loans for home purchases.

NATION ON THE MOVE
With rapid urbanization, a shortage of affordable homes has spurred the growth of slums and informal settlements in cities across India. There are 1.77 million homeless people nationwide, according to the 2011 census data, although rights groups say the actual figure is at least three times higher.
The government plan, Housing for All, is meant to create 20 million new urban housing units and 30 million rural homes by 2022. But the rollout has been slow, and campaigners say it will not fix the issue of homelessness and informal settlements.
Some states are improving slum conditions, and assuring residents they will not be evicted for some years.
In eastern Odisha state, authorities have promised land titles to 200,000 households in urban slums and those on city outskirts, as well as loans to build homes.
But for others, evictions are a daily threat.
At least 11 million people in India risk being uprooted from their homes and land as authorities build highways and airports and cordon off forests, according to advocacy group Housing and Land Rights Network (HLRN).
Kerala’s model is the only viable solution to end homelessness, said Shivani Chaudhry, executive director of HLRN.
“The government’s ‘housing for all’ scheme has no provisions for the homeless, and all interventions by the center and the state governments have been limited to providing temporary shelters,” she said.
“This initiative by the Kerala government attempts to shift the focus from ‘shelters’ to ‘housing’. This is welcome and much needed, as it is the only way that the issue of homelessness can be addressed,” she said.
($1 = 70.2113 Indian rupees)


UK university SOAS to cut costs over COVID-19 and financial problems

Updated 32 min 8 sec ago

UK university SOAS to cut costs over COVID-19 and financial problems

  • Latest figures show that the internationally renowned higher education institution has multi-million pound deficits and risks running out of cash next year
  • SOAS said that it had taken short term action to reduce costs

LONDON: A UK university specializing in the study of Asia, Africa and the Middle East has been forced to slash costs and implement drastic staff cuts after the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic exacerbated its financial problems.
Staff at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), part of the University of London, said they feared that management was cutting costs to make the college an attractive takeover target for an overseas institution or one of its London rivals, UK newspaper the Guardian reported.
Latest figures show that the internationally renowned higher education institution has multi-million pound deficits and risks running out of cash next year.
The effects of the pandemic on student recruitment meant “a material uncertainty exists that may cast significant doubt on the school’s ability to continue as a going concern” over the next 12 months, SOAS’s auditors warned.
One academic at SOAS told the Guardian that the college’s senior managers had “been unable to make significant changes over the last few years, and now it has ended in a big crisis. This is a serious failure of management.”
Its senior academics were ordered to identify staff cuts that were to be submitted on Friday, and departments were asked to balance their budgets while expecting a 50 percent drop in new international students, the report said.
SOAS’s International Foundation Courses and English Language Studies Center, which provides courses to international students, has reportedly been told to make so many cuts that it will effectively disappear, along with its 55 staff.
The college’s highly regarded international development department, which is ranked eighth in the world, will also suffer from major cuts. Its famed anthropology and sociology department is likely to lose between a third and half of its academic staff.
“I think people are in shock,” a staff member said. “This all happened while we are still coping with COVID-19.”
SOAS released a statement on Friday saying the coronavirus pandemic had affected all British universities and that it was “taking decisive action now so that we can continue to ensure we provide an excellent student experience to our new and returning students.”
It acknowledged that although its “accounts show that SOAS has already taken steps to reduce its deficit position,” the “impact of COVID-19 has put finances across the HE sector under even greater pressure than before.”
It added that it had taken short term action to reduce costs including “pausing capital spend, line by line scrutiny of non-pay budgets” and reducing the use of building space in the Bloomsbury area in London, outside its core campus.
SOAS also said that additional proposals for change were being considered and would be implemented ahead of the start of the new academic year in September. 
SOAS, University of London, has been ranked in the UK’s top 20 universities for Arts and Humanities, according to the 2020 Times Higher Education World University Ranking.
The rankings place SOAS 13th in the UK and 57th in the world.