From concrete houses to cozy homes

Sruthi Suresh
Jan 14

The dream came true in the pandemic!

Sanjay Nagar is one of the 22 slums in Ahmednagar and the only slum located on corporation land. Covering 2.09 acres, all the 209 houses are Kachcha homes or corrugated sheet shacks. With a population of 873, Sanjay Nagar comprises 17 different communities and has a unique social structure. 

The Initiative – The Housing Project

Snehalaya’s core activities since 1989 have been providing childcare and healthcare facilities to various communities in Ahmednagar. The biggest pain point of providing a hygienic shelter for all had been identified in the beginning. “A House plays an important role in the development of a child. It is where the culture is formed and transferred to the children”, says Mr Hanif M Shaikh, Assistant Director, Snehalaya and Snehalaya-Sanskar Group.

Completely Owning their Dream Home

In partnership with the Community Design Agency, Snehalaya identified the Sanjaynagar slum for an in-situ rehabilitation project. In order to bring about a participatory development approach, CDA was met with a set of challenges. Each family was comfortable with neighbours and relationships that they had built over decades of living together. But both Snehalaya and the CDA believed that with a strong social and cultural infrastructure, the physical infrastructure would be well taken care of. The decision-making power rested with the community while ensuring that consensus was arrived at before the construction had started. 

They created a sample flat to show the community and they were excited to see how their homes would look like. As the construction progressed, more interest and enthusiasm were evoked among the people, Sandhya Naidu Janardhan (Managing Director, Curry Stone Design Collaborative) says. 

Snehalaya and CDA didn’t want to only provide shelters. They wanted to make a lively space for everyone in the community. The residential space also included spaces for playing and recreational activities, community building spaces, animal shelters, and most importantly, an edible garden on the terrace to curb malnutrition in the community. 

Rang De’s support

Mr. Hanif says that Snehalaya wanted the community to contribute a small part of the construction expenses by themselves. This would instil in the community a sense of ownership for their new houses. 

With timely support from Rang De’s social investors, Snehalaya was able to provide the families with customized and affordable credit. Rang De was also able to co-create a suitable loan product for the community ensuring that they did not have to worry about being exploited by exorbitant rates of interest.

The Challenges

Despite many earlier efforts to start a slum redevelopment project in Sanjaynagar, the project never took off due to a lack of support from the government or badly designed ideas. The residents of Sanjaynagar were often sceptical and feared that their land would be taken away. However, Snehalaya, by continuously working in the region, was able to build trust with the community, and after numerous meetings with the residents, they finally agreed to the project. 

The Biggest Challenge

The Housing Project had just taken off when the pandemic caused havoc. Loss of livelihood, lack of hygiene, and the fear of the pandemic brought life to a standstill at Sanjaynagar. With a focus on providing healthcare, food, and other necessities, Snehalaya stepped in to support the residents’ tide over the new crisis. However, as the situation began to improve, the project came back to life slowly yet steadily. 

The Future of the Project

The aim is to provide almost 300 families with a home. Limited access to resources like the right contractors has affected the project. This is one of the issues the CDA intends to address, i.e., to build capacities within the local construction and labour communities. The housing project has been marred by a set of challenges, but it continues to progress. With the first of the six buildings nearing completion, the residents of Sanjaynagar can also see their dreams coming to fruition. 

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