Where Will They All Live? Negotiating Access to Housing in Karachi and Manila-Seminar Series

  • Date:
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  • Venue:
    Online seminar (Zoom)
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  • Subject:

    Where Will They All Live? Negotiating Access to Housing in Karachi and Manila

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  • Host:

    SDGs Collaborative Research Unit

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As more and more people move to cities, the challenges of getting access to basic amenities, living in secure spaces, and finding sustainable means of livelihood—all pose significant challenges to people and governments. There are no easy fixes. Shaped by interactions among processes of (in)formal governance, local politics, and neoliberal policies, cities are complex spaces. For many, life can be challenging, and urban spaces unequal and insecure. While the workings of inequality may be visible along class, gender, sexuality, ethnicity, race, or religion, insecurity may be experienced through direct (state, non/state) as well as structural and cultural violence.

How do people, especially, the underprivileged sections of society, negotiate everyday living? What is the nature of challenges for the majority of people living in cities? Our speakers address these questions through the lens of access to housing, especially informal settlements in Karachi, Pakistan and Metro Manila, Philippines.


Dr. Noman Ahmed (Professor & Dean, Faculty of Architecture and Management Sciences at NED University of Engineering and Technology, Karachi)

Dr. Chester Antonino Arcilla (Assistant Professor of Economics, Development Studies, and Sociology, the University of the Philippines).

Dr. Nazia Hussain (IFI, University of Tokyo) moderator

In a conversation hosted by the SDGs unit and moderated by Dr. Nazia Hussain, Dr. Noman Ahmed and Dr. Chester Arcilla discussed challenges related to housing issues in Karachi and Metro Manila, two important megacities of Asia.
This was the third event of the four-part series on aspects related to challenges of governance and precarious living in an increasingly urban world.

In his presentation titled, “Issues related to rights and access to housing: the case of Karachi, Pakistan”, Dr. Ahmed highlighted key challenges faced by people, especially the under-privileged. He challenged the perception that housing is a tangible product that can be manufactured and delivered in numbers and ‘consumed’ in the same manner. On the contrary, housing is a process. It continues to evolve and change according to a resident’s needs, external economic and social influences, technology, governance mechanisms, and technological variations. Common challenges in respect to housing include diminishing options for the underprivileged, reduction in scale and delivery of social housing, and commodification of land. Karachi grapples with these and many more challenges.

Karachi’s housing needs derive from natural population growth, breakdown of joint families into nuclear families, migration, backlog due to unmet demands, and replacement requirements for dilapidated housing. Urban poor live in terrible conditions due to multiple reasons. No land supply initiatives have been adopted by state institutions during the past three decades. People continue to live in squatter settlements that comprise of varying categories. However, evictions and razing of settlements have increased over time. The poor are forced to move out to remote city peripheries, resulting in enormous hardships due to high costs of commuting, reduction in options of livelihoods, and limited access to social amenities. Government agencies and functionaries generally believe that squatter dwellers are criminals and that ‘anti-social’ elements must be elbowed out of the city. Support systems for the marginalized urban poor are limited. However, in some locations, the poor have built internal social linkages, which help them survive against the various threats and challenges they face on a daily basis.

An objective analysis of these dismal living conditions is in order. Based on this analysis, a consultative process must be launched to evolve workable solutions for upgrading urban poor settlements. Karachi shall hugely benefit if such an approach is adopted.

Sharing his perspectives on housing challenges in Metro Manila, Dr. Arcilla laid out the case of the elusive nature of affordable and decent housing for the Filipino poor. In his presentation titled, “Urban subaltern housing struggles in the Philippines: community barricades, state negotiations, and slum socialities fragmentation”, he discussed how dominant socialized housing approach displaces the Filipino urban subaltern to unsustainable and unlivable off-city resettlements to clear in-city spaces for gentrification funded by foreign capital and overseas Filipino remittances. Drawing from almost six years of engaged ethnographic research in a large slum in Metro Manila, he highlighted how heterogeneous grassroots socialities are affected, and how they respond to forced evictions and demolitions, and other neoliberal technologies for slum clearing. In their struggle for their right to adequate hous¬ing and inclusive urban development, subalterns adopt different strategies ranging from quiet encroachment to a politics of negotiations and confrontation. The politics of confron¬tation—community barricades co-constitutes claims and expands spaces for ‘democratic participation’, and builds upon long years of quiet encroachment capacities. Given the unequal relations between the state, elites, and subalterns, hard-fought democratic expansions enable some urban surplus redistribution but are routinized within neoliberal rationalities. Some grassroots associations are compelled to facilitate the segregation of slum peoples into market segments and ‘productive’ subjectivities to access limited housing resources and secure shelter for their families. This fragments community socialities excludes the poor¬est of the poor, and de-legitimizes militant right to the city struggles for all—a situation reflective of the increasing penetration into slum spaces of neoliberal dispossessions for elite accumulations.

During the open forum, participants asked if Filipino slum dwellers have used their numbers as vote-banks to advance their claims to housing and if their enactments contain the potential for radical class politics. Dr. Arcilla noted that, indeed, the urban subalterns have traditionally used this strategy as much as quiet encroachment and patronage politics. However, the increasing pressure from economic elites to supply high-end real estate and commercialize in-city spaces to attract foreign investment and overseas Filipino capital has resulted in increased forced evictions, and the emergence of confrontational politics manifesting as community barricades. The potential for radical politics of the Filipino urban subaltern is seen in historic moments such as the successful 2010 San Roque barricade and the recent housing takeover by the Kalipunan ng Damayang Mahihirap (Kadamay). Dr. Arcilla made the case that, on their own, the urban poor cannot sustain claims for inclusive and socially-just urban development. Thus, political participation from all urban citizens who have been left out of neoliberal development is necessary. He also noted that these radical political enactments result in more concessions, no matter how limited, from the state for the recognition of the right to adequate housing.

We have a video recording of this seminar on UTokyo TV website. If you are interested, please click the button as well.