Yesterday, I got a call from someone from a leading daily. She said that she had received some complaints from a few residents of the housing community I live in, and whether I, too, had any. No doubt to her surprise, I said I was very happy with everything, and that, the convenience of living in an apartment in a developed colony was indeed to be appreciated.

“What about water?” she asked, and I told her that I never lacked for it. “Drinking water,” she elaborated. “I heard that you have to buy water jars.” I found this to be bit funny, and I asked her, “If you had drinking water from your tap, would you drink it?” The point I was making is that, so used are we Kathmandu folks to the idea of water contamination, it will take some time for us to gain confidence, even if authorized bodies certify that the tap water is fit to drink. Knowing all about the hazards (with most disease being of the water-borne variety) no one wants to take any chances.

Anyway, I have been living a housing development colony for two years now, and for about five years before that in another similar colony, and I must say that I have been fortunate. Really, you don’t have to worry about mundane, but essential, things like water, electricity, security, and so on. And, I have found fellow residents generally go out of their way in terms of courtesy, consideration, cooperation, and collaboration. So, all in all, one can term them as nice neighborhoods.

But, as I mentioned, one has to be fortunate to be able to enjoy living in such a setting, because naturally, there’s a price to pay. The prices of the residences (whether they be houses or apartments) are pretty steep. And, getting steeper by the day. Literally by the day, because an authoritative individual disclosed to me that the developer adds about three percent to the going price every three months. This, I guess, is to offset the interest on their investment. Here’s an example: my apartment’s going price today (after about two years of my purchasing it) has gone up by more than forty percent!

Once, the papers were full of raids on Durbar Marg shops by authorities for pricing their products far and above the margins authorized by the government. And, this made me ask a housing development official, “When there is a ceiling on prices on most products, how can you price your products like this?” His answer was an amused chuckle. Sometimes, I am really surprised how they manage to get customers with such rapidly rising prices, but going by the present scenario, I do not think that’s a problem.

Most of the apartments in my multi-storied building are vacant, and many of those occupied have been rented out by the owners, as are many houses in the colony. This makes me think that it is those with already a couple of houses who keep on buying new property as a form of safe investment. That’s fair enough, I think, but the problem is, because they are not the needy sort, they can price their houses at pretty much whatever price they fancy, which naturally increases the value of all the other properties. So, in a way, the reason for the rapid (and frightening) increase in prices of real estate is due to this dual factor, one is the developers’ strategy of adding interest every quarter, and the other is that home ownership is more often than not just an investment. The result is that really needy people seeking a home face a frightening challenge.

Once, I had a chance to talk to the then governor of the Central Bank, and at that time the economy was in dire straits, with remittance slowing, severe liquidity crisis, and political upheaval. I told him, “Sir, I think most banks have their money tied up in real estate, which is creating a dangerous bubble. Another thing is that, owning a home is increasingly becoming a dream for many. Those who already have so many houses are the one buying property, and the prices of which are getting beyond the reach of those who really need it. I heard that, in Cuba, the government seizes any house that has not been lived in by its owner for two years and sells it those in need at a reasonable price. Can’t we do the same here?” I didn’t have my own place then, so I was a righteous soul, all right! His answer was, “Well, we can’t do that, because citizens have the right to acquire property according to our constitution. We are not a socialist state, you know?”

Well…