Feature

Safe Haven

SEWA Grih Rin is empowering women in low-income households by providing loans to help reconstruct their homes

Photographs by Vishal Koul

Bali Devi, who is around 50 years old, used to run a small makeshift shop in the front of her home in Jaipur. The small kutcha house was home to her two sons, daughter-in-law and two grandchildren. Devi dreamt of better living standards, but getting a loan from any formal lending institution was unthinkable given the temporary and informal employment of her household. However, today she lives in a pucca house, with a newly constructed floor, rented out a room to another family and made her makeshift shop a little bigger and better. 

According to UN-Habitat estimates, there are 40 million homes in India that are in need of safe, sanitary and permanent housing. Bali Devi’s house would have continued to be one of them had she not come across the pamphlet of SEWA Grih Rin (SGR), the Delhi-based housing finance company (HFC) which provides loans to women from low-income groups to construct or refurbish houses. Like Bali Devi, who received a Rs.2 lakh loan, there are 1,750 such customers for whom SGR has been the lender to help build their first pucca house. 

A helping hand
Self Employed Women’s Association or SEWA is a trade union established in 1972 in Ahmedabad by Ela Bhatt to promote the rights of working women from low-income groups. SGR under SEWA was established in 2011. The group, which had its own SEWA bank based out of Ahmedabad, started seeing an increase in demand for housing loans following the heavy downpour in Ahmedabad in 2000, earthquake in 2001 and the Gujarat riots in 2002. This germinated a thought within the group to form a separate entity that provided home loans in the range of Rs.50,000 to Rs.10 lakh to those denied access owing to lack of clear title deeds or income proof. “There was no other player offering loans of this kind. We are not even an affordable housing finance company. We are a low-income HFC,” points out Shruti Gonsalves, CEO at SGR. However, setting up a for-profit HFC that had its roots within a non-profit organisation was not easy. Though SEWA had members across 14 states, raising funds was hard. It was a task cut out for the organisation to raise Rs.10 crore needed to set up a separate HFC. An RBI restriction preventing an urban co-operative bank from setting up

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