The ecological impact of luxury second homes
The second home issue in Goa is a serious one, taxation will not really solve the problem. What is needed is a proper survey and mapping of luxury second homes
Story: Vishvesh | Kandolkar | 22nd May 2016, 12:00 Hrs
Environmentalists might have more important issues to pay attention to on a global scale, but the second-home ownership issue is the hidden giant that is being unjustifiably ignored (Müller & Hoogendoorn, 2013). Second homes are of many types and it is important to distinguish them in order to understand which ones cause higher environmental and social problems. The real evils are the ones used especially for the purpose of recreation and luxury, such as vacation homes and weekend homes. Owning of such second-homes is a continuation of a colonial way of being and operating, where there is a hierarchical interaction with people and a misappropriation of limited resources, given the size of Goa, with no stakes in the future of Goa.
The menace of second-homes is on the rise in Goa because Goa is treated as a pleasure periphery. Sociologist Anthony King (1980) argues that the capitalist economy produces not only a surplus of wealth, but also, for a sizeable minority, a surplus of time. King claims that the motives of owning vacation homes include seeking compensation for city living, understood as escaping from perceived overcrowding, noise, traffic congestion, air pollution, and the pressures of city life. Goa enjoys scenic settings, with world famous beaches, ‘green’ landscapes, as well as its Europeanised culture, which makes it a cosmopolitan destination for elite Indians. Many who invest here are looking for a ‘getaway’, to ‘have a good time’, rather than to merely invest their money in real-estate.
Premium property promoters, such as Saffronart, proffer the leisure incentive as the main incentive for buying a property in Goa. “Here’s one purely fun situation where buying a [second] home clearly trumps renting one”, writes R. Rashmi (2014) in an article on the Saffronart’s online portal. Her strongest argument to buy a home in Goa is because now the owners of this new property can “think nights of shenanigans with friends—pool parties, booze, loud music, dancing into the wee hours of the morning… is mainly possible when you buy a home [in Goa]”. Real-estate promoters like Saffronart seem to goad their clients, the elites in Indian metropolises into not just buying a second-home in Goa, but also buying into a certain lifestyle. The implications of these lifestyles on locals are severe especially the unaffordability to get basic housing. Clearly, the focus of the tourists who once came to Goa for its sights has moved on to the ownership of sites (Trichur, 2013), in the form of real-estate properties.
An article on www.moneycontrol.com, a website which claims to be India’s number one financial portal, states that “majority of real estate investments [in Goa] come from Delhi and Mumbai as people from these states, who once used Goa as holiday destination, are now buying their own cottage, villa or luxury house in the enchanting Goa”. In another article on Guide to Buying Properties in Goa, Dhruv Bharua writes that “in terms of property prices, North Goa gives the investor better returns on his investments”. Not surprisingly, this article is featured in The Holiday Home Times, an online magazine in India that claims to be a “trusted guide for second homes investors”. The decision of buying a second home in Goa is made easier as the real-estate prices are comparatively lower than those in large Indian metropolises. Improved mobility from the Indian metros to Goa, be it in terms of faster highways, train connections, and cheaper air connections have made this place into a weekend ‘getaway’ for the urban Indian elites.
The steering committee for the Regional Plan Goa 2021, headed by the late architect Charles Correa, did identify second-homes as a problem and proposed to tax them. But would mere taxation resolve the issue? The British government has increased taxation on second-homes, but as Clive Aslet, a second-home owner argues, such moves are not going to solve the basic housing issues of the poor because the problem of housing is a structural one. Apparently, the British Government is not doing enough to supply homes for first time owners, and methods like taxation of second-home owners are actually a deflection from the real issues of housing. Moreover, since the rich anyway invest in vacation second-homes for luxury, taxes would not deter them.
Switzerland is another place that inordinately suffers the menace of second-home buyers, essentially, elites from urban areas who occasionally want to live with ‘nature’. Not surprisingly therefore, on March 11, 2012, in a popular vote, the Swiss population approved an initiative proposed by ecologist Franz Weber calling for a halt on the construction of new second homes in districts where such homes already exceeded a threshold of 20 percent of total housing stock (Schuler & Dessemontet, 2013). A similar initiative needs to be taken up in Goa, for which the first step would be a detailed survey and building utilisation mapping of luxury weekend homes.
After all, the tourists who buy second-homes in Goa are not here to settle. They are here to consume Goa and move on to greener pastures when the going is not good and the green is gone. Their primary residence continues to be the Indian Metropolises from which they control this territory. As R. Benedito Ferrao has argued, Goa has now become a colony of a post-colony, literally, as its land and prime real-estate is controlled by the elites from Indian metros.
Vishvesh Kandolkar is an architect and urban designer who currently teaches at the Goa College of Architecture