Transit and residential neighborhoods: Questioning the affordability of residential neighborhoods around Metro Rail stations, a Delhi case study
Delhi faces the challenge of ensuring that neighborhoods have access to quality public transport without compromising housing affordability. Shown here: commercialization around the Pitampura Metro Station in the Dakshini Pitampura area. Photo by Prerna Vijaykumar Mehta and Alokeparna Sengupta/EMBARQ India.

Delhi faces the challenge of ensuring that neighborhoods have access to quality public transport without compromising housing affordability. Shown here: commercialization around the Pitampura Metro Station in the Dakshini Pitampura area. Photo by Prerna Vijaykumar Mehta and Alokeparna Sengupta/EMBARQ India.

Large-scale mass transit projects such as the Delhi Metro Rail often lead to transit-oriented development (TOD) that can enhance quality of life, but also compromise housing affordability. Planning authorities in urban areas around the world have acknowledged the need for the integration of land use and transportation (LUT) planning for many decades. Only since the 1980s though – when the concept of TOD was coined by Peter Calthorpe – have cities revisited this concept and acknowledged its benefits for urban development. While the application of TOD can have positive features, the inherent spike in real estate prices associated with transit expansion can displace lower- and middle-income households to transit-poor neighborhoods. Delhi faces the challenge of pairing land use and transport policies to ensure affordability and access to mass transport.

The affordability challenge in Delhi

Affordability is a function of both housing and transport costs. For example, housing in the urban periphery is cheaper, but requires residents to pay high commuting costs to travel into the city for employment. On the other hand, living in established areas of the city with good access to subsidized public transport is unaffordable for many, given the high price of property in these neighborhoods.

To reduce overall cost of living, cities may work to improve transit in affordable neighborhoods. However, this can lead to considerable speculation in real estate prices, which may undercut affordability and reduce equity. Besides increasing prices, other indicators that neighborhood affordability is changing include:

  • The change in the pace of development in a neighborhood before and after transit provisions.
  • The change in household incomes, which can indicate whether the intended resident income mix has been preserved or eroded.
  • Modifications to the housing stock: the division of single household plots into multi-family divisions can indicate the acceptance of smaller dwelling units and increasing demand for housing.
  • Commercialization of residential units, thereby reducing housing stock.

Delhi faces a severe housing shortage and is unable to accommodate the continuous influx of new residents with varying income levels. This makes affordability considerations related to TOD particularly important. The 2011 national census estimated Delhi’s population at 16.7 million. According to the 2007 – 2008 Economic Survey of Delhi, only 23.7% of the city’s population lives in planned communities, while 39.2% of the population lives in unplanned and illegal communities. This shows the absence of affordable housing for various income groups.

A closer look into affordability in Delhi’s Dakshini Pitampura neighborhood

The Dakshini Pitampura neighborhood in northwest Delhi has had a metro rail stop since 2004. We explored this area and found a number of visible clues that indicated how the urban form has transformed and adapted to the presence of metro. We listened to narratives of residents and local real estate agents in order to understand the change they have observed over the last decade.

The tour helped us to understand how building use and the housing stock has changed, while speaking with residents and real estate agents gave us an overview of the changes in the real estate prices due to speculation, appreciation, rate corrections, and overall demand. The people we spoke with described that over the past decade, the rate of development and commercialization has increased. They estimated that residential property prices have grown by about 30%-35% a year, and commercial property rates have increased 100%. Commercialization has also led to parking problems, and the construction rate of multi-family housing in the plotted communities has increased. The housing stock did not appear to be distributed based on the social and economic structure originally intended for the neighborhood.

Delhi’s 2021 Master Plan explicitly indicates that the provision of housing for residents of varying incomes is an important aspect of planned development. The issue of housing affordability in these decade old rapid transit corridors is also highlighted in the Delhi Development Authority’s TOD draft policy, released in 2012. The effectiveness of TOD depends heavily on the connection between land use and transport planning. Strengthening their symbiotic link through equitable policies regarding affordability of living and commuting is necessary for a modal shift to occur, especially in a city like Delhi, which covers 1483 square km (573 square miles).

Delhi’s larger concern is to envision tools and processes through which mass transit and residential areas will be able to exist symbiotically, whereby areas can be accessible to transport and affordable for various income groups.

The authors would like to acknowledge Himadri Das, who contributed to this blog as a reviewer.

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