Housing, a burning issue in the Gampaha district | Sunday Observer

Housing, a burning issue in the Gampaha district

21 November, 2021

The problem of housing and shelter is becoming a burning issue in the district of Gampaha due to rapid development activities that are taking place there. Negombo, Katana, Wattala are the areas where many industrial activities such as fisheries, tourism, garment and travel and transport are being carried out. The population in these areas is increasing as there has been a growth in migration from rural areas towards the industrial areas during the past several decades.  

It would be unfair if other places in Sri Lanka where the housing problem is quite acute are not mentioned. Eg. The refugees and victims in terrorism affected areas and also the worker families living in the line rooms in the plantation sector.

The problem of housing and shelter in the Gampaha district appears in various forms. The demand of a large sector of people is land to construct houses. The other sector of people demand titles for the land given to them during election times which they have been occupying for several decades. 

The lack of privacy due to heavy overcrowded “homes” is one effect of the housing and shelter problem. In some instances, three families or even more live in a small house (shack) made of wooden planks.

Most families are forced to pay a large portion of their monthly salary as house rent creating a situation of food scarcity in their families. A housing or shelter issue does not arise if people receive high incomes. Then, the market solves the problem.  

One who does not have his or her own home does not also have a “home address”. Such families find it hard to secure social recognition and self- respect.   

The MPs of each electorate, the members of the Provincial Councils and the Central Government have to work together in planning out solutions to the housing issue.  The State authorities and those who have the decision making power on development priorities should to give top priority to the housing needs of the poor.  Governments may not have the resources to provide a complete house to every family. However, in a democratic set up, the State and the people can initiate a dialogue to develop a process of collaboration among the stakeholders in designing a solution. During such a dialogue one can learn what people actually need, what people can contribute and what people expect from the State and what the State can provide and so on.  

The issue of housing and shelter is brought before the public only during the election times by the politicians but it is soon forgotten. People’s issues are used by them as political tools.  

Role of the people

Often we find those people who are acutely affected by this problem are hardly taking action to lobby their representatives and sensitise them about the burning issue. They simply wait doing nothing hoping until one fine day their leaders will step in with a solution. Some others believe that they will receive a house when their party takes over power.

However, contrary to such beliefs governments have come and gone but the housing problem has never been solved and remains a major challenge to the authorities and people as well until now. The poor are continuing to suffer as a result. 

Indeed a solution to the problem can be found if people begin to influence   policy makers. So long as people remain dormant without voicing out their grievances the authorities too would go into slumber until the bell announcing another election is heard. 

Therefore, a third party such as civil society organisations, need to come into the scene to empower people with shelter needs to play an active role of undertaking many tasks entailed in solving the housing and shelter problem. 

Solving the housing problem of the poor is not a private task but ought to be a community exercise. Therefore, the poor need to develop their organisational strength. The involvement of people and their active participation in housing programs is a concept that was heavily promoted by the late Susil Siriwardana who was the chief architect of the million houses program.

From the development perspective the participation of people in the pursuit of solutions is worth encouraging. The poor will then have to be assigned with tasks related to self help housing activities.  

Undoubtedly such negotiations will take years to produce positive results. Meanwhile, they can start their savings programs to build a fund within the family and even form a housing cooperative with the expectations that the government authorities will one day provide facilities supporting actual construction. 

The media in this context has a supportive role to play in the housing and shelter programs of the poor.