COVID-19 and Precarious Housing: Paying Guest Accommodation in a Metropolitan Indian City
Paying guest accommodations are an informal, yet organically organised, segment of the rental housing market in India. Offering inexpensive housing, paying guest accommodations mainly cater to young adults who migrate to cities, primarily for education or employment. However, this affordability and viability often comes at the cost of decent living conditions. The COVID-19-induced lockdown has exacerbated the precariousness of such accommodation at a time when adequate housing can play a pivotal role in mitigating the spread of infection. Based on qualitative research conducted in Bengaluru, India, this article examines the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on tenant well-being and the shifting relationship between tenants and operators in paying guest accommodations. The analysis of narratives collected from the tenants and operators of paying guest accommodations reveals the following: first, in addition to the closures of paying guest accommodations and evictions of tenants, the lockdown led to a deterioration in the overall living conditions in these accommodations; second, in many cases, tenants had to compromise on adequacy and safety for affordability and viability, which exacerbated the negative effects on their well-being; third, the operators of paying guest accommodations faced severe economic and psychological stress during the lockdown, partly as a result of being invisible to policy; and, fourth, the relationships between the tenants operators of paying guest accommodations – a key factor shaping the overall experience of living in a paying guest accommodation – took a largely negative turn during the pandemic. This article brings to light an under-studied but important form of affordable rental housing, and serves as a much-needed starting point for future research.