Some Mumbai residents risk safety for affordable, central housing

By Francis Mascarenhas

MUMBAI (Reuters) – *Photo essay:

Amid the luxury towers and expansive villas of Mumbai’s most exclusive postcode, a crumbling apartment block exemplifies the risks some people are willing to take to live in one of the world’s most expensive property markets.

Some 600 people, mainly middle-class civil servants and their families, live in the government-owned, dilapidated block, located across the Arabian Sea in the same Worli neighbourhood where the daughter of India’s richest man Mukesh Ambani lives.

Children play outside their units along corridors with rusted, broken railings held together with rags and the steel bars reinforcing the structure are visible from where the cement has fallen off the floors and ceilings.

“Anything can fall here, especially during the monsoon,” said Anil Aiwale, a government employee who has been living in the block with his family for the past five years. “The lack of affordable living options causes people to continue to live in high risk structures.”

Mumbai, capital of Maharashtra state, is India’s most populous city, and the nation’s most expensive place to buy residential property, according to data from Anarock Research.

Prices for prime property, such as that in Worli, saw the sixth fastest year-on-year growth globally in the first quarter of this year, a survey by international property consultants Knight Frank shows, just behind global financial hub Singapore and ahead of China’s financial capital Shanghai.

Some families living in the Worli block, which is particularly vulnerable to the monsoon rains that lash Mumbai from June to September every year, say these statistics reinforce their determination to stay put, despite the risks.

Because the block faces the sea, the walls and doors of many units are waterlogged and mouldy. Resident Rahul Makwana, who moved to a lower floor, said the entire fourth floor was going to be demolished because of structural issues.

“It’s dangerous, especially with parents and children,” added resident Sumit Shinde. “But it’s not possible for me, or any middle class family, to purchase a new home in Mumbai. It’s very expensive.”

Depending on their unit’s size, residents pay between 8,000 and 13,000 rupees ($97-$158) a month in rent to the state government. That rent would cover a property on the fringes of the city, but not anything more than a unit in a slum near Worli.

A state government official, who declined to be named because they were not authorised to speak to the media, said the bloc’s residents had not been served an eviction notice, but the state has offered them alternative accommodation in the suburbs.

Several residents, however, said transport to and from their offices in Worli would cost too much and take too long.

“The location of this building is great, it’s very convenient for me to go to work,” resident Aiwale said. “Affordable housing is impossible to find in a city like Mumbai.”

($1 = 82.2500 Indian rupees)

(Reporting by Francis Mascerehnas and Shilpa Jamkhandikar; Writing by Shilpa Jamkhandikar; Editing by Miral Fahmy)