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Housing and GDP

Mumbai Housing which ranks next only to food and clothing amongst basic human needs has always had and continues to have important socio-economic implications. Especially in countries like India which are in the throes of rapid development housing has come to assume a crucial role as it contributes significantly to the national economy and nation building. Arguably, housing has been the only industry in recent times which has not only withstood the recessionary pressures, but has also shown a consistent and healthy growth and if the future is to be interpreted in light of the macro picture, the best is yet to come.

Housing and GDP are interlinked and contribute to each others’ growth. It is, therefore, no wonder that ‘Housing for All’ is invariably proclaimed as a national priority by all major political parties and adopted as a goal by the Government of India in the National Housing and Habitat Policy document. Integrated housing development not only satisfy the basic human needs but also facilitates holistic development within the parameters of a planned welfare economy. Safe, secure and affordable housing by any means increases employment and educational opportunities for individuals and enriches communities leading to a better civil society and better quality of life. Besides the direct contribution which housing makes to GDP it increases social capital which is intelligible wealth that comes with good social network at the heart of which lies clean environment, hygienic living and quality housing.

India, with its billion plus population , still witnesses an acute shortage of dwelling units. Despite sharp increase in the Usable Housing Stock from 70 million units in 1961 to170 million units in 2001, the shortfall in 2001 was estimated at 19 million dwelling units, although unofficial estimates peg the figure at higher levels. This has occurred due to the high population growth, especially in urban areas. Studies reveal that the population in the five most populous cities of India, namely Mumbai, Kolkata, New Delhi, Chennai & Hyderabad are set to increase at a scorching pace of more than 50% between 1995 and 2010 and by 2025 the number will be more than double. The 2001 Census reveals that the decadal population growth in the urban areas is one and a half times higher than the national average. All these statistics point to a high level of migration of population from rural and semi urban areas to a more urbanized form of settlement. The percentage of population staying in urban areas have steadily climbed from 23.34% in 1981 to almost 28% in 2001. As on 2001, more than 5000 centres have been identified as “urban centres” in India.

Coupled with the demand for dwelling units, another major factor which has contributed to the buoyancy of Housing activity is the affordability of properties. This, in turn, has been the result of a combined effect of stabilized property prices, higher level of incomes and lower cost of borrowings. In fact the boom witnessed by the Housing Finance sector can be heavily attributed to these factors.

Housing has often been called the “Engine Of Domestic Growth” of the Economy. An investment in Housing and construction triggers of a series of investments in various sectors. From Heavy Industries like Steel, Cement to industries like Paint, Furnitures and even to Small Scale Industries, Housing affects as many as 269 industries directly and indirectly. Housing ranks third amongst 14 major industries in terms of total linkage effect in the Economy. The linkage effect, particularly with reference to the Steel and Cement Industries was also underlined by the Government in the Economic Survey of 2002-2003.

In terms of contribution to the GDP, for every rupee invested in Housing and construction, 78 paisa gets added to the GDP. Housing ranks fourth in terms of the multiplier effect on the Economy, ahead of sectors like transport and agriculture. The Investments in the Housing sector has steadily increased from Rs. 1150 cr in the First Plan period to more than Rs. 1,20,000 cr in the Ninth Plan period. Estimates of the Tenth Plan peg the figure at about Rs. 7,00,000 cr.

Perhaps the greatest socio-economic impact of Housing is in employment generation. Housing is the second largest employment generator in the country after Agriculture. A host of vocations and professions derive their livelihoods from Housing, either directly or indirectly. Construction workers, builders, developers, suppliers, civil engineers, valuers, property consultants, furnishers, interior decorators, plumbers – the list is virtually unending. In a developing nation like ours, Housing can be the solution to the most nagging problem that any Government faces – that of employment. Apart from these various indirect benefits that the economy derives from Housing, the Government itself is a direct beneficiary in terms of collection of stamp duty rising out of acquisition of real estate assets.

It is therefore not surprising that the Government has left no stones unturned to support Housing activities. The continued tax incentives on Housing Loans to trigger a higher off-take in credit for retail Housing is a reaffirmation of the Government’s committment to aid the sector. Other initiatives like extension of benefits u/s 80 I to mass housing projects, scrapping of the Urban Land ceiling act, implementation of the Securitization Act are all in line with the same objective of propelling growth through Housing. However, it may also be added here that there is scope of further improvement in various areas , mainly with reference to streamlining of laws related to construction activities and rationalizing of stamp duties on transfer, securitisation, etc.

When one looks at the future, the ‘big picture’ appears to be very bright. A comparison of the Mortgage Finance to GDP ratio places India at the foot of the table with a penetration rate of less than 2% , lower than the 9% of Thailand, 36% of Singapore and 51% of USA. There is thus much room for the upside and a long way to go.

With the population of India steadily increasing, it will not be long before India overtakes China and emerges at the top position. Demographic experts have predicted India’s working age population – the segment which has the highest demand for Housing – to be the highest. This ensures that the demand for Housing is a long and sustained one. Rapid strides in Infrastructure development like the Golden Quadrilateral Project and the National Highways Development Programme, which have progressed at an impressive speed is bound to trigger off a fresh round of Housing and habitation through further development of semi urban and rural areas as well as setting up of new Satellite Townships.

To sum up, a reference to the Goldman Sachs Report on the Development of the “BRIC Economies” can be made, wherein India is projected to have the fourth largest Economy in less than 30 years time from now. In order to achieve that level of growth, it is imperative for the Housing Industry to continue its contribution to the economy at an increased pace in the future as well.

By S C Jain, CEO, LIC Housing Finance Ltd.

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