Moving around: Resettlement and employment trajectories for low-income households in Chennai

Project Active from to Cities

“Slum rehabilitation” takes many forms around the world, from in-situ investments in infrastructure to relocation to purpose-built low-income housing areas. Relocation is one of the more common strategies in areas with high-priced real estate in central urban areas, but it can take a profound toll on the economic and social lives of families who are “resettled.” It offers new residential spaces as well as access to infrastructure and services that may improve household living conditions, human capital, and opportunities on the one hand, but the geographic shift also affects social and professional networks for employees, employers and entrepreneurs that may not be reparable or replaceable. Employees may find commuting prohibitive, employers may need to find new support, and entrepreneurs may find it difficult to access markets, suppliers, and financiers. Reducing disruption may not be as simple as providing transport.

This project seeks to understand the precise nature of the disruptions to economic life created by geographic relocation through in-depth study of the Semmancheri and Perumbakkam resettlement sites south of Chennai, India.

The first part of the study will establish the visible context for economic activity. We will use existing secondary data as well as observational research to map public and informal transport options to and from the settlement and conduct a census of commercial establishments onsite.  The second part of the study will use individual surveys to recreate economic activity histories, including employment, self-employment and entrepreneurship. It will also probe the geography-linked aspects of these livelihoods. Do individuals rely on geographic proximity to ensure a low cost of commuting to work, or is geography more important for access to information, chance encounters, suppliers and others in the value chain, for example? The third part of the study will undertake a series of focus group discussions to gather perspectives on commercial and entrepreneurial opportunities available for those in the settlement, as well as discuss prospective interventions to reduce the dislocations and increase opportunities associated with relocation.

Our intention is to provide a more detailed, qualitative, characterisation of the ways in which resettlement affects individuals’ economic lives so that more effective policy and non-policy responses to these disruptions may be designed.