Will Shelter Code Solve Davao’s Homelessness?

Finally signed by Mayor Rodrigo Duterte on November 15 this year, the Shelter Code is supposed to address the growing homelessness in the city. Non-government organizations consider the new ordinance a triumph. But what does this new law promise a city, where an estimated half a million people are homeless?

Davao Today
Posted by Bulatlat
Vol. VII, No. 45, December 16-22, 2007

After nine months of grueling deliberations, the City Council has prided itself again of passing another landmark law, known as the Comprehensive Urban Shelter and Services Development Code, or the Shelter Code.

Finally signed by Mayor Rodrigo Duterte on November 15 this year, the Shelter Code is supposed to address the growing homelessness in the city. Non-government organizations like the Mindanao Land Foundation (Minland), consider the new ordinance a triumph.

But what does this new law promise a city, where an estimated half a million people are homeless?

A 1997 study, which registered 40,000 homeless households in the city, projected the city’s housing backlog to reach 109,000 households, or about half-a million people, by 2006.

Minland used this figure to push for the passing of the Shelter Code although the city government continuously denied that the city’s housing backlog has reached that number.

Former City Housing Chief Ceasar Dataya said that the city’s housing backlog hardly reached 10,000 at the end of December last year, based on the census tagging that his office conducted for the period, where social housing beneficiaries were identified and tagged, as priorities for social housing projects.

Dataya said there are households in areas tagged as “informal settlers” who could not be considered part of the list because their household members earn a salary of P6,400 and above, the amount deemed by the National Economic Development Authority (NEDA) to be the income of families who are already capable of accessing formal housing, said Dataya, who used to head of the city’s housing and homesite division under the City Planning and Development Office (CPDO) at the time the Code was still being deliberated.

But he admitted that there are still a lot more families of such income range who could not afford housing. “A lot of the middle-class do not pay the housing loan through Pag-ibig,” he said.

A collaborative research project between the city of Davao and the Davao Association of Colleges and Universities (DACUN) last year showed that 30 per cent of the city’s population could not afford housing. They fall under the category of “informal settlers,” or those living in makeshift houses made of sacks, cartons and scrap woods perched along road easements, river and creek sides, under the bridge, oftentimes turning open spaces into slums.

But often regarded as “eyesores,” these slums house the growing labor force in Davao; which include construction workers, salesladies, small store owners, jeepney and tricycle drivers, laborers, cooks, waitresses, mechanics and factory workers, and other migrants from the rural areas coming in the city for work. Will the Shelter Code answer their housing needs? Dolly Pascua, Minland’s urban program director, said the new law could be very helpful.

It gives the city government more to access loans from the Social Housing Financing Corporation (SHFC), which has some P400 million funds for socialized housing.

The SHFC is the agency, composed of government and private sector representatives, that administers the Community Mortgage Program (CMP) under the Urban Housing Development Act (UDHA) of 1992. CMP allows associations of the homeless to purchase the land and own lots under the concept of community ownership.

The Shelter Code also features a provision that requires developers of proposed subdivision projects to allot 20 per cent of their subdivision area-or subdivision project cost-into socialized housing.

With the new law in place, the city will be “more responsive” in dealing with the city’s housing problem through a body called the Local Housing Board, which acts as a government think-tank that will come up with strategies in dealing with the city’s housing problem, according to Pascua.

“The board may introduce schemes to enable the city government to acquire resources for housing relocation with options ranging from cash payment or through partnership with investors and developers,” she said.

The body may also come up with schemes that will enhance the beneficiaries’ capacity to pay and to install a mechanism to effectively collect loan payment from beneficiaries.

At times, this may give them more security of land tenure even without the land title. “A certification attesting that they are certified beneficiaries could be issued,” Pascua said. “We have experiences to pattern this from. We can prove that this system works.”

The Board is composed of officials from the private housing sector, the national government housing agencies, the city mayor, city government officials and community associations. People’s organizations are also given three seats for every district in the Board while non-government organizations and the private sector are given one seat each.

But the urban group Kalipunan ng Damayang Mahihirap (Kadamay) said increasing the city government’s access to loans would not necessarily solve the prevailing homelessness in the city.

Alfred Depala, Kadamay secretary-general in Davao, said solving the problem of homelessness in the city requires more than improving the city government’s access to loans.

“How can they ensure that problems faced by the city government in dealing with homelessness in the past will not be repeated?” Depala asked.

He said that the main reason that the Urban Land Reform Program was stopped was because of the people’s incapacity to pay. Amortization payment for low cost-housing loans would cost one family, P700 per month, for a period of 25 years.

Depala also pointed out that urban poor dwellers who wanted to avail of a government housing project under the CMP had to meet all the stringent requirements.

To avail of a housing loan, informal settlers had to be a member of a “legitimate” association. They had to get an “originator,” an organization that would act as a guarantor. Just to be qualified applicants, they have to spend to meet all the requirements, adding up to the amount of loan that a poor beneficiary will incur, Depala explained.

“If a beneficiary cannot pay the amortization in three months under the CMP, he either faces penalty or forfeits the deal,” he said. Depala said the termination of Davao’s ULRP only attests that no housing program for the urban poor would succeed as long as the government could not improve the economic condition of the people.

“If the government is really serious in housing the urban poor, it must first provide means – jobs and mechanisms, such as livelihood programs-for them to afford housing,” he said.

He pointed out that the minimum daily wage that a worker receives in a day makes it very hard for himself and his family even to survive, how much more to pay a housing loan.

A worker in the region receives only P209 a day, much lower than the P622 a day that, according to the National Wages and Productivity Commission, a family of six (the average number of a Filipino Family) needs to survive. Besides, there’s a rising unemployment rate in the city.

The former city housing chief, Dataya, did not sound too enthusiastic about the new Shelter Code, either. “I am not saying it is useless,” Dataya said in an interview with davaotoday.com before the law was approved. “But don’t pin all your hopes in it.” He said the only way the housing problem of the city can be solved is through a local government program, like the Urban Land Reform Program (ULRP), where the city government purchases land classified for socialized housing and grants the lots to qualified beneficiaries in the form of loans.

But the program, which was introduced in the city in 1993, was short lived. The city government had to stop it because of poor collection and low repayment rates from the beneficiaries. “How do you maintain a budget of 40 million a year?” Dataya asked. Of the P130 million the city government spent to cater to the housing needs of 50 urban poor associations, the city was able to collect only 20-25 per cent of the total investment. Davao Today / Posted by Bulatlat

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