Opinion: House Unrest: A closer look at the housing problem

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Resource persons at the Kapihan on Housing

Resource speakers from the NHA, PAG-IBIG, HUDCC and Urban Poor Associates

By Patricia Vega

Access to adequate housing is a basic human right, under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, but unlike food and education, it ranks low on the list of government priorities. In the recently ratified Php 1.54 trillion national budget for 2010, allocations for the country’s key shelter agencies add up to approximately Php 5.3 billion, or just about 0.5 percent of the total budget. And yet, government statistics show that projected accumulated housing need – or the number of households that require adequate shelter – has reached 3.7 million households for 2010.

At the Kapihan Session on Population and Housing, the Mulat Pinoy team asked the experts about the disparity between housing demand and government support, and how best to alleviate this dire situation.

Settling down

Population growth and high urbanization are the key factors affecting the large demand for housing. In search of better jobs, people flock to urban areas – Metro Manila in particular – with real estate prices that they cannot afford. This leads to informal settling – the Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council (HUDCC) estimates 544,600 informal settler families in 2007, while the non-government organization Urban Poor Associates contends that the actual figure is closer to a million.

Relocation of informal settlers is often controversial, with concerns such as human rights violations during demolitions, or lack of livelihood in relocation sites. According to National Housing Authority (NHA) assistant general manager Froilan Campitan, forced demolitions are only used as a last resort; prior to relocation, NHA engages the settlers in social preparation. But there is only so much that the NHA can do regarding the relocation site. Local government units are responsible for securing land for their cities, but not all LGUs have publicly available and affordable lands left to spare. When this is the case, settlers are moved to areas where land is less expensive. Relocated families are given basic house and lot at highly subsidized prices.

However, not all resettled families stay in the relocation site, especially if it’s in an underdeveloped area. Due to lack of income, some households decide to sell or sub-let their house, and move back to the city and become squatters again.

It’s complicated

While government agencies are unable to prevent resettled families from leaving, there are some measures in place to keep housing accessible. The Home Development Mutual Fund or PAG-IBIG has expanded its services from personal loans to institutional loans for real estate companies, to encourage them to develop cost-friendly housing projects. HUDCC assistant secretary Cecilia Alba also notes that subdivisions are required to allot 20% of their lots to socialized housing, though a similar measure for medium and high rise developments has not yet been passed.

However, both Alba and Campitan agree that there is much more that government can do to alleviate the housing situation, beginning with an increased national budget allocation and the creation of a Department of Housing to provide better planning and improved facilitation of all shelter-related initiatives. Another measure would be to strengthen the implementation of the land use policy. Since all housing concerns are devolved to the local level, LGUs should undertake a land use inventory to determine the availability of and potential use of land in their respective areas. As it is, HUDCC has yet to receive substantial feedback about the land use inventory despite numerous follow-ups with the LGUs.

It doesn’t help that the problem extends beyond housing. Rapid urban population growth is not only caused by a high fertility rate, but more so, by high migration rates. Providing livelihood and development opportunities in rural areas would encourage families to remain in the area instead of migrating to the city in search of employment.

Projects like Gawad Kalinga that work with local governments (which provide the land), shelter agencies (which provide technical assistance and subsidy) while providing livelihood training and values formation have proved successful in keeping families settled. For middle class households, PAG-IBIG is working on providing financial assistance to non-members. At the moment, it seems that private-public partnerships are the most feasible solution, and it remains to be seen whether the new administration will go forward in this direction, or provide more support to this growing problem.

Note from PCPD:

Civil society networks include housing as a key electoral issue in the 2010 elections. These are their specific recommendations on housing for the next administration:

  1. Decisively create and implement a comprehensive shelter plan;
  2. Ensure transparency and accountability in housing and institute mechanisms for the strengthened implementation of the Urban Development and Housing Act (UDHA);
  3. Work towards the creation of a Department of Housing and increase the budget for housing from 0.5 to 2% of the total budget.

Reference: Primer on Development and Reform Agenda for 2010-13 Summary, Oct. 2009, CODE-NGO.

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