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Housing woes 

Bhutan has no national data on her housing needs.

The Royal Audit’s report on housing development came at a time when the country is buckling under the pressures of shooting house rents and shortage of housing.

Housing is one of man’s basic needs. But the audit report reveals that our housing policies are obsolete and the one we drafted is yet to be adopted.

In August 2017, the former human settlement minister had announced to graduates attending orientation programme that a housing policy had been drafted to address housing problems. Later, the people were told that this policy was being revised. The audit report now tells us that the draft policy, 2015, is yet to be adopted.

Governments have changed. Our housing problems have not. The audit report aptly points out why the problems persist. We lack strategic focus on housing development at the policy level. We don’t have a national level data to plan and address the country’s housing needs. Thimphu city’s haphazard growth has not kept pace with its growing population and has today exceeded its carrying capacity. Phuentsholing is likely to face similar issues soon if business remains as usual.

The fourth pay commission had recommended the government to introduce a first home loan scheme to promote house ownership. The second pay commission had also proposed a similar recommendation in 2014.

When the pay revision report was deliberated at the on-going parliament session, the recommendation on housing received no mention. Entitlements and raise for top public servants grabbed the attention of our parliamentarians, not the housing needs of the rest of the population. The recommendation on home ownership however, remains a far cry from the issues of house rentals that a majority of the working population grapple with.

The living standards survey had found that in urban areas, about 64 percent of households live in rented houses while 19 percent own homes. Most urban residents spend a huge portion of their income on house rent. Paying house rent allowance to a section of the population will not address the issue that impacts the whole population.

With elected governments at the helm of power now, we have begun to see basic needs of the people getting politicised. Addressing water shortage to housing needs and education, political parties promise them all. More often than not, these remain promises. The housing crisis continues to grow because in reality, we are building more hotels and restaurants than homes.

We are catering to the needs of visitors, not the residents. We have commercialised Bhutan at the expense of the Bhutanese people, the custodians of her culture and traditions.

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