Housing Crisis in Pakistan — Are prefabricated houses the solution?

Pakistan is facing a man-made crisis in the housing industry. This shortage of housing in Pakistan is not just a natural consequence of overpopulation but also reflects the heightened inefficiency in the country. There is an increasing gap between the demand and supply of housing globally and Pakistan is facing this issue at an alarming rate.

An important aspect of the housing gap is affordability. The growing inequality is particularly well-demonstrated in Lahore where families in the bottom 68% of the income distribution can afford just 1% of the available housing, while families at the top 12% can afford 56% of the available housing. More than 47% of urban households live in low quality/substandard housing, often located in informal settlements/slums without security of tenure while many are forced to live on sidewalks and underneath bridges.

Housing prices in Pakistan have gone up by 134% from 2013 to 2018 [data from Zameen.pk] and urban plot prices during the same period have also gone up by 151%. Pakistan’s GDP per capita’s increase, in comparison, is a meager 20%. The house price to income ratio in Pakistan is much higher than both developed and similarly placed economies.

The sixth Housing and Population Census (2017) confirms Pakistan is now the seventh most populous country in the world. Its overall population is growing at 2.4%, while urban population growth is even higher at 2.7%. More than half of Pakistanis will be living in urban areas between 2030 and 2040. This rapid population growth is causing an overall housing shortage, currently estimated at close to 10 million units. Whereas, the annual urban housing gap is between 3.5 and 4 million units, mostly (62%) amongst the economically weaker segments of the population. In Punjab alone the Urban Unit has estimated a housing shortfall of 2.3 million units. The situation may worsen as household size shrinks, leading to potentially higher demand even with the same population.

Pakistan’s rapid urbanization (one of the fastest in South Asia) has led to millions streaming to cities in search of security and economic opportunity, pushing up housing demand. However, the supply in the formal housing market (dominated by the private sector) does not match the needs of the majority of citizens. Ninety-nine per cent of housing in the formal market is beyond the buying reach of 68% of the population.

The failure of past attempts at low-income housing by governments was because they did not acknowledge or address the contradictions in this model. Hence, despite an increase in China-Pakistan Economic Corridor-related foreign investment, the sector has failed to invest in housing production, preferring the rapid capital gains from speculative trade.

A solution to the housing crisis of Pakistan is the presence of affordable housing through modular housing.

Modular building is building in boxes. You put materials together at an off-site location to create volumetric boxes, then you transport those boxes to the job-site, where you assemble them.

Can you imagine building an entire house in only three hours? Or constructing large cost-effective colonies with proper plumbing and electricity within a month? A house that can be assembled and disassembled like Lego blocks? A house that can be transported anywhere because it is flat-packed? No, not a shelter, but a real house that can last up to 30–50 years and cost under Rs 600,000?

But why modular, and why now? One pressing reason is the housing-affordability crisis. Across Pakistan housing prices for both homeowners and renters are going up at exponential rates compared to wages.

Prefabricated houses or buildings are constructed in a factory before shipping it and assembling on site. Compared to traditional house construction, the assembling requires less space and is completed at a faster rate. That is why you now see stunning state-of-the-art houses in the woods where it is deemed as a normally difficult environment for house construction, or jaw-dropping structures completed in less time than traditional housing.

Prefabricated Houses need to be acknowledged for all the advantages they provide consumers. Abstract Hub has acknowledged this need and has been tasked to introduce Modulus Homes which offer the following:

Reducing construction costs and time: Different construction projects feature different designs. Traditional construction needs more material preparation than what is really need for cutting. The leftover materials from cutting usually cannot fit the current project. However, prefab manufactures can fully utilize most materials. They have a wide range of projects which enable the manufacturer to fit leftover material for another project. As a result, prefabricated housing construction eliminates construction waste.

Energy Efficiency: Prefab manufacturers use uniform measurements for production. The pre-made parts are as standard as Lego pieces. As a result, the connection of the prefab homes or buildings are tighter than conventional construction. Tighter seams prevent air leakage between houses and the outside environment, and it also saves energy use. The modular design enables consumers to fit energy efficient appliances to the final package.

Arguable waste reduction and environmental savings: Prefab structures use 20 to 30 percent more raw materials than stick-built homes in order to withstand transportation. On a conventional construction site, 30 percent of the materials are wasted through theft, damage, or just being thrown away. Would you rather choose more of these materials into making your house stronger or being thrown away?

Modulus Homes is an ideal model for green building due to reduced chopping of trees to construct houses; each house is equivalent to saving 40 trees.

The homes are quick to assemble and are cost-efficient, they are built to last and they leave a much smaller carbon footprint than traditional housing. Off-site construction also means fewer builders are required, which solves another problem facing the industry — a shortage of skilled workers. Most important of all they are both affordable and relocatable. These structures can also be extended and used for different purposes.

Modular Housing can be the future of the housing industry in Pakistan because of the benefits it offers. With acceptance of new over traditional Pakistan can work towards solving its housing crisis sooner than expected.