According to the World Bank Report, one in every four people live in the South Asia region, and more than 14% of South Asians have no home, not counting a further 45% living in overcrowded conditions. The region’s urban population is expected to grow by more than 300 million by 2040, with India accounting for more than 85% of this projected growth across the region. However, the population density shows a declining trend in cities where the urban land area expanded at about twice the growth rate of the urban population between 1999 and 2010. The natural process of rural to urban land conversion due to the spillover of urban activities and the settling of migrants in the per-urban area has now turned to unplanned urban sprawl, taken over by the speculative housing market.

Housing in the South Asian Context - Sheet1
Private housing scheme _©Global Village Space

The Housing market comprises owner-occupied and rental sectors; the former is treated as an asset by the owner, whereas the latter is treated as a consumable good. In terms of housing development, there is primarily the Greenfield development observed on the urban fringe or the redevelopment of already built-up “brownfield” areas. South Asian cities mainly secure land through the process of acquisition which has been built into the legal framework. The problem, however, is the fair compensation for land due to the unreliable valuation of land assets. 

Housing in the South Asian Context - Sheet2
Singapore’s private-public housing mix_©The Globe and Mail

The conversion of productive agricultural land into unproductive vacant private housing is observed in the urban fringe of many south Asian cities. This dispossession isn’t always forceful but strategic; Real estate development becomes the preferred mode of urban development. The non-land-owning tenants and wage labourer class, with their livelihood tied to the land, stand to take the biggest hit.

In contrast, massive profits are up for grabs for anyone who can leverage their market knowledge accurately during land conversion into instruments of speculation. With an ongoing housing crisis intensifying, most of the foreign remittances, national savings, and even institutional investments are channelled into real estate, which offers a better investment for the ordinary man than stocks and bonds

Housing in the South Asian Context - Sheet3
Slums in South Asian city_© Global Alliance

This situation is leading to an artificial increase in the price of housing and amplifying the deficit in low-income housing. This unmet demand is taken care of by two types of informal settlements: the occupation and subdivision of government land (katchi abadis) and the informal subdivision of agricultural land (ISALs) on the periphery of urban settlements. The migrant influx created by the urban sprawl is also intensifying the housing deficit. Government housing policies, however, continue to fail due to the implicit biases in their structure. From the strong developers’ lobby, an affluent middle class investing in land, the small scale of low-cost housing which remains unaffordable, long waiting periods, and poor access to housing finance. 

Housing in the South Asian Context - Sheet4
People collect their belongings after a demolition drive carried out by the railways in Shakur Basti of Delhi_©PTI

Policy Options when it comes to dealing with land speculation include restricting ownership transfer for a certain period of time after the purchase, regulating institutional investment in real estate, capital gains tax increase and a non-utilization fee on idle unproductive land. Other mechanisms include the mandatory integration of affordable housing in the new private schemes by dedicating anywhere from 20 to 35% of plots for low-income groups (smaller plot sizes serviced by the sale of commercial plots). An urban land ceiling act whereby no one person can own more than 500m3 of urban land and establishing a minimum density requirement (420 persons per hectare) is also an option. However, any policy-level framework like progressive taxation and the ones mentioned above is futile without properly accessible finance for low-income groups. 

Ultimately making ill-planned low-income schemes which are a)unaffordable, b)provide poor transport connectivity c)have fewer nearby employment opportunities is clearly not the answer. Free or subsidised government land for low-cost housing is step one on the road to filling the deficit, Alongside incentivising the building of green and energy-efficient homes using climate and disaster-resilient construction designs and materials. The regularisation and improvement of informal housing are also very important. Upgrading consists of providing water, sanitation, drainage, road paving, and supporting community and NGO initiatives for health and education through land and grants.

Affordable Housing integral to India’s urban planning_©MagicBrick

The housing problem is twofold, with speculative housing fueling the low-income housing crisis. Low-density housing (80 persons per hectare) is chipping away at the scarce land resource available to the low-income group. Not to mention the ecological impact of turning prime agricultural land, forests, or orchards into unproductive vacant housing. Food insecurity and, in some places, the encroachment of drainage systems to make way for the speculative market is another side effect of ill-managed urban development.

The increased occurrence of urban flooding, severe heat waves brought on by the heat island effect, and the air quality is all issues connected to the wider debate of inequality in housing provision. The most direct impact of these events is felt by the low-income residents living in unsafe and congested conditions. It is necessary to develop appropriate housing standards with the necessary legal and monetary processes to implement them. From initiating a research program for developing cheaper insulation material to an extension program for providing these materials to builders and homeowners. This design and research cell can work alongside the credit providers to provide standardised units which meet the minimum requirements for a dignified standard of living.


Ballaney, S. et al. (2022) Land pooling in South Asia – Asian Development Bank. Available at: 

Deb, P. et al. (2022) Housing Market Stability and Affordability in AsiaPacific

Hamza, A. and Arif, H. (2018) Pakistan: The causes and repercussions of the housing crisis. Available at: 

Housing Finance needs to reach South Asia’s poor (2012) World Bank. World Bank Group. Available at: (Accessed: January 15, 2023). 

Mukhtar, A. (2022) Real estate bubble should burst, The Express Tribune. Available at: (Accessed: January 15, 2023). 


Fresh out of architecture school Ana is actively exploring the intersection between architecture and planning in her role as an Urban Designer in Lahore. Questions of inclusive planning systems in the south Asian context with a focus on climate change ,affordability and gender are her key areas of research.