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close this bookAssessment of Experience with the Project Approach to Shelter Delivery for the Poor (HABITAT, 1991, 52 p.)
close this folderVII. Conclusions and recommendations
View the document7.1 General criticism of the project approach
View the document7.2 Projects in the context of national shelter strategies
Open this folder and view contents7.3 Future emphasis and priorities in housing projects
Open this folder and view contents7.4 A framework for assessing the efficiency of project components
View the document7.5 The role of projects in the development and implementation of national shelter policies and the Global Strategy for Shelter to the Year 2000

7.1 General criticism of the project approach

As with any other approach, shelter projects have both advantages and disadvantages. A major limitation of the project approach is that it deals essentially with symptoms rather than causes. Irrespective of the skill and sensitivity with which they are prepared and implemented, projects only address the needs of a small proportion of total demand. Structural constraints of inefficient or regressive land and property markets and other expressions of inequality and deprivation, are rarely addressed.

The focus on technical efficiency to the detriment of other issues, such as community participation and social relevance is another major shortcoming, as is a general failure to resolve the affordability issue. This is partly because even the original calculations of affordability excluded the poorest households. Later increases in project costs have further reduced the potential for low-income household participation in housing projects. These constraints result in projects that may satisfy internal objectives, but have little impact in the wider context, or over time and are myopic in nature (Mutizwa-Mangiza, 1990: 50). Even in cases where the affordability issue has been resolved, whether by skillful design or some form of subsidy, problems frequently occur due to a lack of availability. For households seeking a modest dwelling, it is of little help to know that affordable units are being developed, if the numbers allocated are insufficient to ensure access.

A further limitation is that projects are often not planned, or evaluated, in terms of their impact upon the wider urban housing markets of which they form a part. Their effect upon public expectations of the role of government is therefore not known, or even considered, though it may exert a profound effect on patterns of demand. This “multiplier effect” may take several forms, such as the unauthorized development next to the Baishnavghata-Patuli project in Calcutta. Projects will influence the perceived options of land-owners, developers and individual households alike. A failure to see projects in this light thus restricts the ability of public-sector agencies to use them as instruments of urban housing policy.

Given the seriousness of the limitations outlined above, it is necessary to ask why the project approach has been so popular with so many governments for so long. Among many reasons, projects are generally consistent with the ways in which existing institutions organize their budgets and work programmes. Furthermore, they can easily be monitored and evaluated against pre-determined criteria, and, finally, they are familiar to all the professional groups involved. The ground rules for identifying and developing projects and providing houses, plots or services have been developed over many years and have therefore generated powerful vested interests simply through inertia. Yet, it should not be ignored that they also provide opportunities for patronage and profit that have benefited politicians and professionals at least as much as they have low-income beneficiaries.

Projects also have several other attractions: they have a beginning and an end, involve the investment of a given level of resources for a pre-determined output and accountability can be assured, making them visible and easy to administer (Mutizwa-Mangiza, 1990: 49). Another positive aspect of the approach, however, is that when it is successful, it can generate considerable investment in shelter from private-sector investors, as was the case in the Kennedy City project in Bogota and the Baishnavghata-Patuli project in Calcutta.

Within the context of developing a housing strategy that encourages enabling concepts in the promotion of housing-production processes, the experiences outlined in this report beg some main questions to be addressed. Given the widespread acceptance of the project approach to shelter delivery for the urban poor, how can projects:

(a) Be made more responsive to the diverse needs of low-income households?

(b) Provide a basis for addressing structural constraints in land and housing markets?

(c) Stimulate additional investment by the formal and informal private sectors and communities themselves?