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The housing policy

There will finally be a housing policy- a comprehensive one indeed, that will come as a relief to the 81 percent and growing urban dwellers paying rents through their nose and always at the whims of the landlords.

Housing is one of the biggest problems. If there is not enough, those available are expensive. The problem is worse for the low or middle-income group. 

Most issues related to housing has its root in legal or policy inadequacies. If the revised housing policy comes into effect, at the earliest, it is one that is truly in the interest of the people.

The policy recognises all the problems and its causes. It is guided by the principles of affordability, adequacy, accessibility and safety among others. That is what most Bhutanese expect.

The scarcity or the cost of land had been a factor in driving house rents. The policy will identify state land for housing development including leasing it to corporate and real estate developers.

The other excuse had been the expensive loans landowners borrow to build houses. Recognising financing as a critical part of housing development, the policy looks into adopting fiscal measures or incentives to allow real estate developers develop affordable housing.

Another factor that drives house rent, cost of construction materials, is considered with interventions like exploring cheaper and locally made materials and technologies.

For many Bhutanese, issues like safety, accessibility or preserving tradition is secondary, as the priority is to have affordable decent housing. The policy does look into all these aspects.

With shortage or affordability the issue today, many salaried people end up paying not less than 40 percent of their income on house rent. The policy will ensure that this does not exceed 30 percent.

There are other areas the policy could cover to fulfil its visions. Cost of transportation has ripple effect. Those constructing houses buy trucks, as it is cheaper to buy than hire until the construction is completed. We have seen distances shortened, but not in the cost of transportation. The distance between Phuentsholing and Thimphu is shorter by about 20kms after the bypass. Trucks need not climb to Chapcha. Has it resulted in a drop in transportation cost?

The trend is that building owners offset the cost to tenants. If there are means to intervene in controlling construction costs, it will benefit the majority. Most urban hubs are congested. There is no space and the alternative is to go to the outskirts. Reliable and affordable public transport linking housing colonies to work places would bring down housing cost.

Design and requirement for buildings is determined by locations. Those outside the thromde do not follow standard building requirements. They can save cost from using lesser steel rods, for instance, even if the house is for rent. In the thromdes, strict regulations drive construction costs. There is no problem in the requirement. The problem is in urbanisation of the periphery. Does it mean that the lives of those living outside the thromdes are cheaper if the buildings are built without required specifications?

Meanwhile, the much-awaited draft housing policy is on the Gross National Happiness Commission’s website for comment. It is an opportunity to shape the policy that would affect more than half of the population.

It would be too late to criticise once it is endorsed.

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