“WE have come dangerously close to accepting the homeless situation as a problem that we just can’t solve.”
Although this statement by former Hawaii governor and housing advocate Linda Lingle was about the American housing crisis, when you read it today, it hits dangerously and painfully close to home. For even though there is an abundance of available housing units for the middle and upper classes, there is still a dearth in low-cost housing for the marginalized in our country.
The increasing backlog
When I wrote about the housing shortage around a year-and-a-half ago, I reported that the housing backlog was around 4 million units. Recent news reports, however, have pegged the backlog at 5.7 million units. Clearly, the demand for socialized housing has increased in just over a year.
One of the reasons for the continuously increasing demand is the series of typhoons that visit the country every year. These typhoons almost always leave death and destruction in their wake.
Typhoon Nina, for instance, left a total of 313,767 damaged or destroyed homes in Calabarzon, Mimaropa, and Region 5 after its onslaught last December 25. And that’s just one typhoon.
It is clear, therefore, that we need to step up our socialized-housing initiatives to keep up with the destruction caused by typhoons and the growing number of informal settlers.
The problem with socialized housing
Socialized housing refers to houses priced at P450,000 each and below. Under Republic Act 7279, or the Urban Development Housing Act of 1992 (UDHA), socialized-housing projects are those intended for the underprivileged and homeless since these have housing units that are priced low and with the lowest possible interest rates under the Unified Home Lending Program (UHLP).
When I first wrote about the UDHA, I said it was a well-intentioned initiative. A good start, if you will. It required property developers to allot 20 percent of their residential subdivision projects to affordable socialized housing units. The developers were even given incentives upon compliance. However, despite such incentives, the UDHA failed to trigger an inclusive and comprehensive urban development that specifically addresses the housing needs of the poor.
Allotting a fifth of private residential subdivision projects to low-cost housing for the poor may be a good idea at face value but it also causes quite a few problems. This initiative requires situating middle-income residents side by side low-income earners. However, the location requirements of the two economic groups are substantially different.
Middle-income families need access to simple conveniences, like stores, schools, transport hubs, and malls. On the other hand, low-income families need to be situated in places with good employment opportunities for them, like, say, industrial areas with factories, construction sites, or even wet and dry markets where they can eke out a living by selling. Finding residential subdivision project sites that address these two different sets of needs would be extremely difficult.
The government should bear in mind that it is a bad idea to relocate low-income families in suburban areas meant for middle-class convenience as it is equally bad to resettle them in isolated areas without any means to carve out a living.
And now, the good news
The good news is that, yes, strides have been made recently to address the socialized-housing shortage in the country, no matter how miniscule they may be in relation to the overall problem. For one thing, President Duterte recently gave the go-signal to grant free housing to the victims of typhoons Yolanda and Pablo.
Yolanda was one of the strongest typhoons to ever hit the country and left over 200,000 families homeless in Central Visayas and other areas in 2013. Pablo also left thousands homeless when it smashed through Mindanao in 2012.
Allocating P50 billion for this, the National Housing Authority (NHA) has now started building 131,000 of the 205,000 homes meant for the Yolanda survivors. The NHA plans to award these homes by the end of the year, while the rest of the houses that are yet to be built are being targeted for distribution by the end of 2018.
Moreover, in Lucena City, around 335 urban-poor families residing near railway tracks were given lot certificates through the efforts of the Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council. This initiative was replicated in many other provincial communities around the country. Also, several resettlement projects have broken ground, like the Sudapin Resettlement Project in Barangay Sudapin, Kidapawan, North Cotabato.
These are just some of the initiatives taken by the government to address the socialized-housing problem. However, these are mere islets of supply in a huge ocean of demand. To address the issue of informal settlers, the government should pursue a truly large-scale program that combines new socialized-housing initiatives with resettlement, relocation and, most important, livelihood projects. The key term here is “large scale”, which is just apt for an equally large-scale problem.
I really hope that we begin to seriously address the housing backlog and informal settlement situation through an innovative and integrated national program that involves not just the government and property developers, but also financial institutions, non-governmental organizations and expert consultants.
Some may say that this is such a big task. But to address a huge problem, one must be willing to think big and dream big. We have to remember that in order to change the world, we have to start reaching for the stars.
Image credits: vice.com, George Calvelo