Urban India is currently facing a wide gap between the demand and supply of housing, not only in terms of quantity but also in terms of quality. The Ministry of Housing and Urban Poverty Alleviation (MoHUPA) currently estimates the urban housing shortage at 18.78 million units, more than 95 per cent of which pertains to homes for low-income groups. If this shortage continues to increase, it would mean that nearly 110 million units will need to be constructed by 2022 (SKMPG and NAREGCO 2014), representing an investment of more than USD 2 trillion.

Through the ‘Housing for All by 2022’ programme, the Indian government intends to close this gap by aiming to construct 20 million units through a combination of slum upgrading projects in partnership with the private sector, direct government-led housing delivery, a credit-linked subsidy scheme as well as support to beneficiary-led construction. Since housing is by definition an energy- and resource-intensive sector, this will require not only human and financial resources at an unprecedented scale, but natural resources too. This represents both a grave danger in terms of environmental degradation, but also an opportunity for introducing life-cycle thinking into the building sector and promoting economic inclusion for millions.

That is why UN-Habitat – in partnership with the Low-Carbon Building Group at Oxford Brookes University, Development Alternatives Group and the Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) – has co-launched the Mainstreaming Sustainable Social Housing in India project, MaS-SHIP. Funded by the Sustainable Buildings and Construction Programme of the 10-Year Framework of Programmes on Sustainable Consumption and Production Patterns (10YFP),  it aims to identify what the impacts of housing production at a massive scale could be on our environment, our economy, and our communities, a tall order in an inherently data-poor environment.

To achieve the MaS-SHIP objectives, the project will develop two major outputs. The first will be a weighted Sustainability Index (SI) to evaluate building technologies based on a set of indicators developed in close consultation with the Government’s Technology Sub-mission under ‘Housing for All’ as well as India’s leading experts in the field.

The second will be a Decision Support Tool (DST) which will provide guidelines at the conceptual stage of housing projects to enable the adoption of sustainable building practices by social housing providers such as government bodies, private developers, and individual households which account for the vast majority of homes built in the country.

As a first major milestone, the project produced a background study entitled “Mainstreaming Sustainable Social Housing in India: Definition, Challenges and Opportunities” to be made available on the project’s official website.