A new stab at solving the housing backlog?

By Satur C. Ocampo
At Ground Level | The Philippine Star

After 23 years of the Urban Development and Housing Act of 1992 (RA 7279), the backlog in providing housing units for those needing them has burgeoned to at least 5.5 million today; the number is projected to rise to 12.5 million in 2030.

About half of the 5.5-million urban housing needs are in Central Luzon, Southern Tagalog, and the National Capital Region, which all have high urban populations and account for 54 percent of registered voters. Other regions with high urban populations are Region 7 (Central Visayas), Region 10 (Northern Mindanao), and Region 11 (Southern Mindanao).

RA 7279 specifically provides for socialized housing, meaning “housing programs and projects, covering either houses and lots or home lots only, undertaken by the government or the private sector for the underprivileged and homeless citizens.” It also mandates the government and private sector to undertake “sites and services development, long-term financing, liberalized terms of interest payments, and such other benefits.”

One inherent flaw of RA 7279 is the low limit set for socialized housing, whereas it is the underprivileged and homeless who constitute a large, if not the largest, section of the population. Under its “balanced housing provision,” developers are obligated to devote for socialized housing only 20 percent of either the total area or total cost of their housing projects.

(Is 20 percent share for the marginalized sectors of society a fetish for lawmakers? Even the framers of the 1967 Constitution’s provision for representation under the party-list system have limited the reserved seats for the “marginalized and underrepresented” to 20 percent of the total number of seats in the House of Representatives.)

Other statistics, from various studies, show how critical the housing situation has become:

• Around 22.8 million people live in slums in the Philippines, say the United Nations Commission on Human Rights and Homeless International, of which 1.2 million are children (70,000 of them in Metro Manila) who peddle goods or beg in the streets to live.

• The international website List25.com ranks the Philippines (Metro Manila?) as No. 1 among “25 Cities with Extremely High Homeless Populations.” Among the cities in the list are New York, Los Angeles, Seattle, Moscow, Jakarta, Mumbai, São Paolo, Athens, Rome, Tokyo.

• In July 2014 the Philippines became the 12th most populous country in the world, having reached the 100-million mark, according to the Commission on Population.

• Per the Philippine Human Rights Information Center, four of 10 Filipino families do not have their own houses and lots. It points to the “proliferation of informal settlers in urban and peri-urban areas throughout the country (and) by the increasing number of families sharing dwelling units.”

• The National Urban Development and Housing Framework for 2009-2016 estimates that by 2050 some 117 million Filipinos (60 percent of our total population) will be living in urban areas. As of today, almost half of the country’s population already live in urban areas, according to the Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council.

Last May 27, the joint committees on housing and urban development of the Senate and House of Representatives, along with the HUDCC, the National Economic Development Authority, and the World Bank, launched what they call the National Housing Summit. The aim: to address the worsening housing crisis. It will be a movable conference, hopping from one city to another in the next six to eight months.

(The Business Mirror has run a four-part special report on the summit plans, the varied views of the organizers, and the overall state of the housing crisis. The statistics above were among those cited in the report).

Senate housing committee chair Joseph Victor Ejercito said the summit will seek to produce a national housing plan that will respond to the backlog. He urged prospective participants from the academe, civic organizations, private stakeholders, and financial institutions to unite with the government in seeking solutions to the growing informal-settler communities (“squatters”) and strengthening the state’s current housing programs.

His counterpart in the House, Rep. Alfredo Benitez, points to three problems: housing backlog, affordable rental, and decent housing for informal settlers. He agrees with Ejercito that the backlog can be remedied through a long-term national housing program, and recommends a long-term housing rental scheme for the homeless.

Besides these key problems, Ejercito proposes other topics for the summit: land-use conversion, financing schemes particularly for in-city housing projects, government involvement in socialized housing, urban development, and disaster mitigation.

Both legislators back the creation of the Department of Housing, Planning and Urban Development, proposed in a bill pending in the House which (again!) seeks to ensure affordable and decent housing for the poor and homeless. Unlike the HUDCC, which is merely a coordinating body, the proposed DHPUP would be the “sole planning and policy-making, regulatory program-coordinating and performance-monitoring entity for all housing and urban development concerns.”

Meantime, the Chamber of Real Estate and Builders Association, the private developers’ group, gripes that the housing backlog will persist if the government continues to pass on the brunt of providing the 20 percent socialized housing component to the private sector while it tightens regulations for developers.

For its part, Creba is bucking the 20 percent limit, complaining that while the law requires joint-venture partnership for this with either a housing agency or local government unit, the developer assumes the greater burden. Creba wants it lowered to 15 percent for subdivisions.

Given these proposals, can the summit produce an apt and just solution to the housing crisis?

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E-mail: satur.ocampo@gmail.com
Published in The Philippine Star
June 6, 2015

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