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The Million Houses Programme

(Le Programme d’un million de maisons)

09 / 1995

General experience (1984-1989)

The idea of this programme was that the government of Sri Lanka would support a million or more families in upgrading or building shelter for themselves. The Programme was in effect a programme with a series of sub-programmes which were to do with rural, urban, private sector, plantation and Mahaweli Settlement housing (an on-going multi-purpose river basin development project).

Availability of land for the Urban Housing Sub-Programme was a major problem. High land values and their rapid rate of increase has meant that the poor could not own urban land. The current ownership pattern of land in the "urbanized" areas in and around Colombo is broadly as follows:Private: 72.7%; State: 21.8%, Local: 5.5%.

The majority of urban low income families are on state land. Most of these areas are made up of roads, railways and canal bank reservation, and very low-lying land subject to flooding, often abutting the marshes. In 1978, 53% of the population of the city of Colombo were living in sub-standard housing units and these included slums and shanties.

The minimum estent of land on which a house may be built is now 150 square meters. In the Special Project Areas declared as such by the UDA (Urban Development Authority), the minimum land extent has been reduced to 50 square meters. There are estimates which suggest that Colombo will need extra land for housing at the rate of 400 hectares annually to meet the population increase and demand by the year 2003.

Actors involved

The National Housing Development Authority (NHDA)remained the lead agency for the Government in the Million Houses Programme. It has decentralized offices in each of the 25 Districts.

-The Urban Development Authority (UDA)

- The Community Development Council (CDC).

Role of the NGO and grassroots

At the urban settlement or community level, the Community Development Council was the main institution to carry out the activities, supervision of overall development work, and co-ordination with other community-based organizations. It was the main channel linking the community vertically to the Local Authority and to the Central Government and also linking horizontally the members and familly within the community and with other community-based organizations.

Role of the Government

The role of the state would be to facilitate and support both individual home-builders and communities through the provision of plots and loans through training, among others.

Community Action Planning (CAP)was started in upgrading projects in the Colombo Municipal area. For the first time, community groups were involved.

With the inception in 1985, a team of consultants developed a methodology to conduct three-day workshop at settlement level by officials and selected community representatives. Workshop participants were expected to identify problems of the settlements, prioritise them, seek options and decide on the solutions. The process was called "Micro Plans".

However it was found that the community leaders as well as officials could rarely spend three continuous days for micro planning workshops. The field staff and community leaders have together adjusted and restructured this methodology to shorter workshops to be conducted at the settlements during week-ends. The CAP approach is not restricted to the solving of housing problems but also to other needs of the community like health, community development, and economic components like credit facilities for small entrepreneurs are also dealt with.

Type of relations between NGO/Community-based organization and Government

While the state is the supporter and facilitator, the individuals families will be doers and decision-makers. The intention of the programme was for the people’s participation will increase and that communities will be responsible for their shelter more than ever before. The slogan in the new programme’s implementation guidelines issued to the field offices was "minimum intervention, maximum support by the state: maximum involvement of the builder family".

The attitude to urban slums and shanties was to upgrade their dwelings and environment rather than demolish houses and relocate the dwellers. Planning and building codes were relaxed. The procedure too was innovative: the Urban Development Authority would declare the areas of worst housing stress as "special areas".

Levels and type of impact

The targeted group in the Urban Housing Sub-programme were to have a monthly family income not exceeding Rs.1,200 increased in 1987 to Rs. 1,750 (August 1991: US$ 1 = Rs 41.57).


participation communautaire

, Sri Lanka, Colombo


From 1989 to 1994, the 1.5 Million Houses Programme was the current housing programme of government. It aims at reaching another one and half million families of all income groups in the country that aspire to secure basic shelter for themselves. In terms od strategy, practically all the strategies used in the Million Houses Programme were being reinforced, they includes amongst others as:

-Primacy of the people’s mainstream process with support from the state;

The need to work in practically every village and town in the country;

- The practices of devolution and decentralization which invloves the forging of close linkages with local governments units;

- A larger and more intensive role for learning by doing and training;

- Community action planning;

- Community organization, and

- Skills training.

Loan limits were raised in 1989: rural loan ceilings went up to Rs. 12,500 from Rs. 7,500 and urban ceilings from Rs. 15,000 to Rs. 20,000.


Data card carried out for the governmentT/NGO cooperation project in the field of human settlement.


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