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Auroville Adventure

October 2004

Problems of housing

- by Carel

Who will own the land and buildings of Auroville? Mother’s answer: The Supreme Lord.1

“Auroville is only for the rich.” This bitter remark was made by a French visitor some time ago, when she realised that to live in Auroville one has to bring a lot of money to build a house – and then a house that will never belong to you. “How can Auroville expect you to put your savings in a house, and if you leave they say ‘goodbye and thank you very much?' It is not possible.” The visitor left disillusioned. But though her comment was true, it did not contain the entire truth. For still people join Auroville who have no money and they manage, in the course of time, to find accommodation.

No ownership
The principle that individuals cannot own land or houses in Auroville dates back to the very beginning of Auroville. On The Mother's instruction, the first land for Auroville was bought by the Sri Aurobindo Society as early as 8 October 1964 2 , four years before the official inauguration of Auroville in February 1968. In the brochures issued at the time it was explained that interested persons, once accepted by The Mother, could financially contribute towards a house in Auroville, but that they were only granted the right to live there with their family. Ownership of the house and land was never given, though from the leaflets issued by the Sri Aurobindo Society it may be inferred that the right to live in the house would be extended to the person's family after the demise of the person.
The principle of non-ownership of immoveable assets was subsequently laid down in the Charter of Auroville of February 28th, 1968 . The first line of Auroville's Charter states explicitly:
Auroville belongs to nobody in particular.
Auroville belongs to humanity as a whole...

and Mother explains to Satprem: “So this is the material fact. Auroville belongs... I didn't put “to no nation” because India would have been furious. I put “belongs to nobody” – “nobody” is a vague term which I used precisely so as not to say “to no human being”or “to no nation”. And I put “Auroville belongs to humanity AS A WHOLE”, because it amounts to nothing! Since people can't agree together, the thing is impossible! I did it deliberately.”

Some people argue that the first line of Auroville's Charter refers to the ownership of the whole project and not to individual ownership of houses in Auroville. But this is a moot point. The fact is that no individual Aurovilians has ever owned land or houses in Auroville. At first, land was legally owned by the Sri Aurobindo Society. Later the Auroville Trust and a specific land holding trust, the Auroville Resource Trust, were used to purchase land. Organisations and individuals would make donations towards these trusts, which in turn would buy available land. Houses, meanwhile, were built from Aurovilians' personal funds on Auroville land regardless of whether they were owned by the land trusts or by the Society.
When the Auroville Foundation Act was passed in September 1988, the Government of India became the temporary owner of all the land and houses, without paying compensation to either the Society or to individuals. The Government transferred the ownership of all these assets to the Auroville Foundation on April 1, 1992 . In later years, the Auroville community, in its Housing Policy, designated how it envisions the legal ownership of the Foundation: “The Auroville Foundation will hold the ownership of all these assets in trust for humanity as a whole.” 3
At present, all land required for Auroville is bought by the Auroville Foundation from donations made to Auroville Fund for this purpose. Individuals who wish to build a new house or move into an existing house in Auroville are also required to channel their funds through Auroville Fund. However, they will not own the house and if they leave Auroville they cannot sell it. The Auroville Land Policy and the Auroville Housing Policy, both documents made by the Funds and Assets Management Committee, specify the conditions under which Aurovilians have the right to use the immoveable assets.

The problem
Though the principle of no individual ownership of immoveable assets is undisputed, the observance of the rule is fraught with difficulties. The first difficulty is the one commented on by the French visitor: in the outside world, an individual can take a 20 or 30-year loan on condition that the house bought with that loan is mortgaged to the bank. In Auroville, loans are not available and an individual has to make a donation to the full value for the right to build and live in a house. Not many individuals will be prepared to make a large donation to Auroville – the indicative square meter price is at present Rs 10,000 (US $ 225) – if they do not know for certain that Auroville will be their ultimate place of residence. The realisation that Auroville is not one's place might come years after one has joined. Another risk is that the Government of India, for reasons of its own, might decide to cancel permission for a foreigner to remain in India. 4 In neither case can the individual claim the value of the house back to start a life somewhere else. Another consequence of the need to make a donation for a house is that it affects the balanced structure of Auroville's population. Few people in the age group of 25-35 join Auroville, as they normally have not yet been able to build-up a sufficient capital.

No places for rent
To solve the difficulty faced by Newcomers – people who are admitted on a probationary period of 2 years – Auroville has built a number of small Newcomer houses that are made available against the payment of a monthly rent for a maximum period of two years. Also the possibility has been created that Newcomers build their own house. In case the Newcomer period is terminated for whatever reason, 80% of the money invested by the Newcomer would be returned; but if the Newcomer becomes an Aurovilian, the investment will be considered a donation to Auroville.
The Housing Service recently reported the shortcomings of this scheme. The recent batch of Newcomers is unable, it appears, to make any full contribution and instead needs to rent places. But hardly any spaces for rent are available as some Newcomer units have gone to Aurovilians due to the housing shortage. For many Newcomers there is no other option than to take a room in a guest house, and go through a rigorous ordeal to try to secure housing for themselves.
A solution was proposed in an Entry Seminar last year, to rent housing for Newcomers in the surrounding villages. This would allow the villages the opportunity to develop this industry and so be of benefit to all parties. But this viewpoint met with the objection that such an industry would be purely materialistic and not be in any way connected with the ideals of integration and co-evolution of Auroville with the surrounding villages. A suburb of Auroville in the villages might be the result and in this way Auroville itself would not develop.
The problem was painfully illustrated when, over the last six months, there was an influx of potential Korean newcomers. They had seen a video about Auroville on Korean television and thought that they could rent a house in Auroville and experience Auroville, secure in the knowledge that if it did not work out, no major investment would be lost. The video had been shot by a Korean video team but had not been submitted to Auroville for prior editing – explaining the housing shortage. A visibly upset member of the Auroville Housing Group explained the difficulty: “They all are in their mid-thirties, they are full of energy and we have to tell them that we have no newcomer houses empty. Then we tell them that they had better come with a substantial sum of money to build themselves a house, but if they leave after they have become Aurovilian, they have lost their donation. And they simply cannot afford this. India is a difficult country, Auroville is unknown and challenging, and they are not sure that even after two years they will be fully committed. So they leave. But if Auroville is to become a vibrant city, members of that age group need to be present in large numbers. It is ridiculous and unacceptable that young people are not welcome unless they bring cash.” Evidently, the people who now apply to become a newcomer are more cautious than the idealists who joined Auroville in the seventies and eighties.

Stagnating house exchanges
A third problem is that the no-ownership rule has created stagnation. Although individuals do not own the house they are occupying, they are de facto more attached to it than in the outside world, as they have no possibility to liquidate the asset and redeploy the funds for some other purpose. As a result, sometimes individuals are staying in houses that are much larger than their needs. It also leads to a growing number of under-the-table deals, where individuals grant others the right to live in the house against payment. As these deals are detrimental to Auroville's reputation and integrity, Auroville's Fund and Assets Management Committee recently issued a public warning against it. 5
Solutions to all these problems have still to be found. One solution, often suggested to attract young people to Auroville, is that Auroville builds apartment buildings and rents them out. However, Auroville lacks the money to do so and frowns on borrowing. But there may be no other solution. For is it realistic to expect that benevolent outsiders will solve our problems by making large donations for this purpose?

1 In early 1965, someone asked Mother a whole list of questions on Auroville, each of them with the answer he proposed. Only those questions for which Mother wrote her own answers were published in 1969. When she read the notation of
8 October 1969 , she changed 2 answers. For this article the published version is followed.
2 Source: Records of Auroville's Land Service

3 Auroville Housing Policy section 1a, as Approved by the FAMC on
28 July 2000 last modified on 22.2.2002
4 Under the Indian Foreigners Act, 1946, Aurovilians of non-Indian origin, like any other foreigner, can be evicted from India at any time without reasons, irrespective of the period they have lived in Auroville.

5 In its monthly report of July 2004


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