January 2013, Colombo, Sri Lanka. A workshop on “Trends in Housing”, organized by UN-Habitat Sri Lanka, in partnership with the Ministry of Construction, Engineering Services, Housing and Common Amenities, brought together 50 senior technical professionals from the leading national housing agencies in Sri Lanka. The one day workshop, held at the Centre For Housing Planning And Building (CHPB), Battaramulla, discussed local and international experiences and good practices in promoting adequate shelter for all, with a specific focus on reaching the underprivileged low income earners, who account for some 80% of the need for housing in the country.
The workshop highlighted the importance of participatory, community and people driven methodology in promoting sustainable solutions for reaching an adequate supply of housing. The People’s Process, an approach pioneered in Sri Lanka during the 1980’s and since been enriched with international experience of UN-Habitat, was discussed through a presentation by Mr. Lalith Lankatilleke, Senior Human Settlements Officer, UN-Habitat Regional Office for Asia Pacific. Housing should be seen as a process of social-economic empowerment, rather than an end product; One where capital of the citizenry, private and public actors should be mobilized through apt policy guidance from a government.
The need for housing finance mechanisms that recognize the circumstances specific to low income earners, unique capacities of different sectors, and local economic and income generation patterns, in contributing to the construction process was recognized through a session on ” Innovative Housing Financing Mechanisms ” conducted by Mr. Laxman Perera, UN-Habitat Programme Manager for Sri Lanka. A catalytic mechanism would mobilize the resources of the formal financial industry towards funding low income groups, by bridging the gaps through joint community action. Community based micro finance organizations have proven successful in the Asia Pacific; the “Women’s Bank” of Sri Lanka is a prime example.
Earlier, in his inauguration speech, Mr. P. H. L. W. Perera, Secretary, Ministry of Construction, Engineering Services, Housing and Common Amenities, highlighted the rich history of community driven housing initiatives in Sri Lanka. He emphasized the role of the state sector housing professional as a facilitator in reaching the national housing objective of “adequate shelter for all”. Presentations made by the National Housing Development Authority and the Urban Settlement Development Authority discussed the government plans, present interventions, and provided the background necessary for the workshop dialogue.