“We focus on using green building materials, cutting-edge design, innovative construction technologies and integrating social services to provide residents with a great home and community,” says Evan Woods
Taking on a new idea and developing it comes with its share of struggle and excitement. Struggle because you take on an unknown road – one that pushes you both emotionally and physically. Excitement because that road takes you to interesting and inspiring places and people you had never met or heard of before. Vianar Affordable Housing (VAH) is exploring one such road and for people associated with it, it is turning out to be quite an interesting journey.
The idea is simple – to provide high quality, affordable, green housing to the urban poor, says Evan Woods, Director of Partnerships at VAH, “We focus on using green building materials, cutting-edge design, innovative construction technologies and integrating social services to provide residents with a great home and community.” 30-year-old Evan did his Masters in Economics from UCLA and at VAH, he is in charge of, “Reaching out to educating NGOs, healthcare organizations, women’s groups and microfinance organizations to bring in social sector leaders who can share best practices and provide great services.
We are looking to involve leading NGOs and social enterprises in our project from the beginning so that we can create the best schools, clinics, self-help groups and social services possible at our development.”
But why get involved with affordable housing when all the other construction companies are busy constructing luxury apartments for the rich?
Answers Evan coolly in his Californian accent, dressed in a crisp blue shirt, “Vianar Affordable Housing is focused on affordable housing for two reasons. The first is that there is tremendous social need for quality housing for the poor that we feel compelled to address. The vast majority of the urban housing shortage (over 99%) in India is in homes for the economically weaker segments (EWS) and lower income groups (LIG). We feel we can really contribute to solving this by building quality homes at an affordable price for those with the greatest need.
The second reason we are building an affordable housing project rather than a luxury development is that there is a lot of market opportunity at the lower end of the pyramid. We believe that there is huge unmet demand and that social entrepreneurs can create financially sustainable models by providing great affordable housing.”Agrees 29-year-old Varun Nagpal, co-founder and CEO at VAH and adds, “We have been doing extensive research on affordable housing for the last two years. We knew there was a huge shortage of affordable/mass housing by looking at various surveys conducted by the government and private agencies. The challenge was to understand whether this segment would be able to avail cheap loans and government housing policies.”
Vianar Affordable Housing is close to breaking ground on a 700-unit affordable housing project in Bhiwadi, Rajasthan by providing ecologically modern 300-600 sq. ft. homes in the price range of 6-8 lakhs. 65% of the project area will be open space, with rooftop cultivation, a school, day care and a hospital within the community.VAH’s home buyers will likely be VAH’s home buyers will likely be families earning between Rs. 12,500 and Rs. 20,000 per month, adds Evan, who conducted market research for labor unions and looked into the effects of climate policy on India’s poor before joining VAH, “They live in Tier II or Tier III cities, and currently live in substandard housing or apartments close to their work. We’ve spoken with a number of industrial workers in Bhiwadi and they have been very interested in our project. Many have lived in the area for over a decade without owning their own home and they expressed a desire to improve their living situation. Like many affordable housing projects, we expect to sell all of our units very quickly after opening our
sales window.” But what really motivates them to take on this project?
“My passion for real estate development and social responsibility to give back to the society and make a difference in whatever way I can,” says Varun. To that, adds Evan, “I’m motivated to be a part of VAH because of the innovative approach we are taking and the strong team of people I work with. A lot of affordable housing developers use old construction methods to plop down dreary looking developments without a commercial district, school or clinic. They’re more focused on providing dirt-cheap housing than providing high-quality affordable housing.
Vianar’s approach is to really lead the industry in green building, in innovative construction technology, in pleasing aesthetic design and in creating a great community. Poor people do not just want four walls and a roof, they want to live somewhere they can feel proud of within a clean and vibrant community. That’s what we are trying to do.”
Kudos to that! Yet, for them and their team, the hardest part so far has been, “Getting to know the market dynamics of cities and communities we’re interested in serving. There’s a real lack of data when it comes to how the poor live, where they work and what they want in a home. Luckily, we’ve been able to partner with leading microfinance institutions, housing finance companies, community health providers and primary school operators who have given us some deep insight in these areas. We have spoken with a number of indus-
tries and workers on the ground, so we have a much clearer picture of the market now than when we started,” shares Evan.
Despite the hardships, team VAH hopes to build 100,000 homes over the next ten years and, “Be a leading developer of small and medium-sized affordable housing communities in India within a decade. That’s an ambitious goal, but we think our business model is strong and that given the opportunity, the urban poor will choose
Vianar Affordable Housing over other developers,” concludes Evan, before leaving for a meeting with a Microfinance Institution.
You might also like
More from Economic Development
Families in Shilonda village will not fear the upcoming summers and the possibility of water-cuts in their houses. Habitat for …
In a fine human gesture, acclaimed Indian film actor, producer and Bollywood superstar John Abraham honoured Habitat for Humanity India’s ‘Impact Assam’ …