‘Green’ solutions for socialized housing

In Photo: The five-story building in Camarin, Caloocan City, is designed to have a roof deck which serves as common area for building occupants to encourage gardening for vegetable or ornamental plants. Insets are the façade and model unit.

IN February the Department of the Interior and Local Government announced the plan to transfer 577 families of informal settlers in Sampaloc, Manila, to what it described as the first environment-friendly, disaster-resilient housing project in an in-city relocation site under the Lumikas para Iwas Kalamidad at Sakit, or Oplan Likas.

A model unit of the building—the Estero de San Miguel micro-Medium Rise Building (micro-MRB)—now stands along Estero de San Miguel on Legarda Street, in Sampaloc, Manila, which is uniquely designed for energy and water conservation, and resistant to flood and earthquakes.

The three-story building has a rainwater-harvesting system—including a built-in water tank on the roof that will allow building occupants to harvest rainwater. 

The unit has windows designed for cross-ventilation and is built to withstand an intensity-7 earthquake. The second and third levels of the unit are for beneficiaries, while the ground floor are open space for possible commercial use—to encourage livelihood activities among housing beneficiaries. This would also ensure the safety of the building occupants in case of excessive rainfall that could trigger flash floods.

Each of the micro-MRB occupies a 24-square-meter (sq m) lot and each unit of approximately 18-sq-m floor area has a kitchen and toilet. It was built outside the 3-meter easement along the Estero de San Miguel along Legarda Street.

Based on the approved people’s proposal submitted by the project beneficiaries, the monthly amortization ranges from as low as P350 to P500, depending on the beneficiaries’ income or capacity to pay.

Going green

IN 2012 the National Housing Authority (NHA), International Labor Organization and the Philippine Green Building Council came up with the Green Guide for Socialized Housing Projects to promote green building. It was in response to challenges posed by intensifying typhoons, stronger earthquakes, unprecedented long wet or dry seasons that either triggers flood or drought.

“Green” housing has improved water and energy security, and, more important, reduced environmental pressure through sustainable use of natural resources for construction during design, construction and operation phases. 

According to the document, green building has the potential to contribute to the greening of the supply chain and stimulate the creation of green jobs in the socialized-housing sector. Green building, as defined by experts, generally puts people and the environment ahead of all other considerations. With climate change and the need to conserve energy and water in mind, plus concerns on budget limitations, the NHA, the lead government agency in charge of socialized housing, is starting to promote green building for socialized-housing projects, Arch. Benita Regala, the head of the agency’s Housing Technology Development Division, said. The guidelines, she said, provide stakeholders—national and local governments, private building contractors and would-be beneficiaries—an idea on how to go green through socialized housing.

The NHA’s target market belongs to the 30 percent and below income bracket. The cost of socialized housing is limited to a maximum of P450,000, as defined by the Housing and Urban Development Coordinating (HUDCC).

Socialized-housing projects over the last two years are being designed for energy efficiency and water conservation—maximizing what nature has to offer, such as natural light, cool breeze, rainwater, use of housing technology and materials that are environment-friendly, whenever possible, Regala said.

Site-specific designs

DESIGNS for socialized housing, according to Regala, also the president of the United Architects of the Philippines, are site-specific, considering limitations under existing laws, policies and guidelines set by key shelter agencies and the availability of land for housing development.

Regala said the site or location for housing projects are assessed and evaluated as certified safe.

By 2016 the government targets to relocate Metro Manila’s 104,000 informal-settler families who are living along creeks, rivers and esteros, which are considered danger zones to in-city and off-city relocation sites. This is part of the Aquino administration’s disaster-risk reduction and flood-control plan in the country’s capital region.

For areas devastated by typhoons in 2013, such as in the Visayas that was ravaged by Supertyphoon Yolanda (international code name Haiyan), the government’s battlecry is “build back better.” This requires site identification for permanent housing for more than 200,000 families who lost their homes. For Yolanda survivors, housing are designed to withstand strong typhoons in an area away from the 40-meter easement that was declared as “no-build zones” by the government.

The structures to be built are 22-sq-m units of row houses, designed to withstand a wind load of 250 kilometers per hours, and strength of wall and superstructure of 3,000 pounds per square inch (psi, a unit of measure for pressure).

Limitations

HOWEVER, lack of accredited green technologies for socialized housing, lack of suitable relocation sites and budget limitations are some of the challenges the NHA is facing.

While the HUDCC allows a maximum cost of P450,000, inclusive of the costs for land acquisition and development and housing construction, the NHA allocates a maximum of P290,000 per unit. Each unit ranges from 24-sq-m to 30-sq-m floor area, with a room or two, bath and toilet as set by Housing and Land Use Regulatory guidelines and as mandated by Batas Pambansa 220.

NHA projects are contracted out to accredited private contractors as mandated by Republic Act 9184, or the Government Procurement Reform Act, which gives the contractors the option on the technology or materials to use.   

For off-city, low-rise buildings, five-story buildings are constructed with a maximum unit cost of P550,000. For Yolanda-affected areas, Regala said the government, both national and local, are having problems identifying areas for the massive resettlement projects.

Not all green designs the NHA has can be applied—such as rainwater harvesting and a dual-piping system for water conservation—to give the projects a green touch.

She said such designs would entail additional costs that would exceed the budget ceiling under the HUDCC guidelines for socialized housing.

The NHA only allows the use of new housing technologies that are duly accredited by the Accreditation of Innovative Technologies for Housing (AITECH) on top of traditional materials and systems. AITECH accredits innovative technologies for housing. AITECH committee members come from representatives of various concerned institutions.

There are currently 48 accredited housing technologies but only a few of them are actually being used by private contractors tapped by the NHA for socialized-housing projects.

These technologies, however, were developed for cost-efficiency and faster construction more than environmental considerations.

According to Regala, there are green technologies that are already being used by private real-estate and property developers that are suitable for socialized housing. The technology developers, however, appear to be uninterested in partnering with the government for greener socialized-housing projects and are shying away from AITECH accreditation.

“AITECH is open for accreditation and we encourage green-technology developers to apply for accreditation,” she said.

Use of materials that are abundant and locally available—such as wood, bamboo and even nipa or cogon that are traditionally used in building nipa huts—or recycled plastics as construction materials or for interior design of buildings is also prohibited, if not discouraged in highly urbanized areas. They are considered fire hazards under the Fire Code of the Philippines, limiting designs for the use of “not so green” construction materials.

Green solutions

DESPITE these limitations, the NHA is promoting green building, Regala said. Some of the initiatives start with site identification and development for socialized-housing projects that are outsourced or contracted out to accredited construction companies. “We are trying to influence our accredited contractors to go green whenever possible,” she said.

She, however, noted that the contractors’ hands are tied to budget limitations.  For land use or distribution of saleable to nonsaleable portions, the NHA is increasing provision for common areas, including parks, to promote a greener community even in urban areas.

Nonsaleable portions include common areas and parks.  Regala said the proportion of saleable against nonsaleable portions of a subdivision for government socialized housing is 70-percent saleable and 30-percent nonsaleable as provided for under Batas Pambansa 220.

She said the proportion is now 66-percent saleable and 34-percent nonsaleable, giving more space for common areas, such as children’s playground and parks, which means more space for the trees, the birds and the bees. It is no coincidence that provision for bigger parks is now being pushed by the Biodiversity Management Bureau of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources as part of its urban biodiversity-conservation plan. The NHA is also designing houses with standard-size windows and is going beyond the minimum requirement which is 20 percent of the total floor area. 

According to Regala, housing projects lately are built with bigger windows and are higher than the usual socialized-housing units for proper ventilation. Some units have loft for more space—and to allow would-be unit owners to put up a bedroom at the second level—for extra space and again, for proper ventilation.

In some projects, the NHA provides cistern for rainwater harvesting to encourage occupants to conserve water. In terms of design, Regala said the NHA’s orientation of medium-rise buildings for off-city socialized housing is now greener with the broader side of the structure facing north or south, to reduce solar heat gain during the day while allowing light to come in.

One relocation site in Camarin, Caloocan City, has low-rise buildings with green roofing—a roof deck—which allows building occupants to use the roof for planting vegetable or ornamental plants. The concrete roof deck also serves as a common area, which can be used for drying of clothes. 

Ten three-story low-rise buildings have been constructed in Camarin for a total of 1,200 families.

In Barangay Ugong, Valenzuela City, the NHA Disiplina Village has three-story buildings, which have lofts. “We have efforts to go green. But our efforts are not yet enough. We, as the manager of the housing technology, together with other operations groups, have started to make some innovations,” she said.

She said that a dual-piping system for rainwater harvesting and use of solar panel to harness the sun’s energy are some of the ideal designs for socialized housing projects. These, however, would entail additional costs that are not realistic under present situations.

Nevertheless, with a little creativity and innovation, greening socialized housing—such as the Estero de San Miguel in Manila, and Camarin, Caloocan City—is possible but needs the much-needed boost from government through policies, guidelines, and rules and regulation to make green socialized housing a success in the country.

Image credits: Arch. Benita Regala

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