Empowering urban poor key to solving NCR’s housing woes

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As the economy grows, Metro Manila’s rapid urbanization is no surprise. This has brought about lucrative employment opportunities and a highly-developed infrastructure compared to other areas of the nation.

According to the Philippine Statistics Authority, Metro Manila contributed over 36.5% to the nation’s gross domestic product (GDP) in 2015. To put this in perspective, this share is more than double Region IV-A’s, the second highest contributor at 17.2%. This has been a trend since 2012.

Metro Manila also received a lion’s share of the 2017 national budget. Figures from the Department of Budget and Management show that the National Capital Region (NCR) was allocated Php 519 billion, more than thrice Region IV-A’s which has the second highest budget at Php 164.6 B.

Despite this, the unchanging development approach of the national government and the private sector has placed a strain on the infrastructure of NCR. Signs of this strain are the exacerbated flooding problems and a worsening traffic situation which may cost the national government over Php 6 B daily by 2030.

Yet one of Metro Manila’s biggest problems is the lack of adequate housing for the poor. As of 2006, around four million people are estimated to be living in slums. This is expected to rise to 9 M by 2050. The capital is also believed to be the city with the highest homeless population in the world.

Grassroots housing initiatives

In a 2014 study, the Asian Development Bank proposes a system of social housing initiatives and a national shelter program as possible solutions. The plan also emphasizes the role of local government units (LGUs) in implementing these initiatives as well as existing legislation related to the national housing problem. Recently, the national government and certain LGUs have taken on socialized housing initiatives that aim to put informal settlers in the driver’s seat in making decisions about their housing situation. These initiatives allow for informal settlers to obtain proper housing despite their financial capabilities.

Anna Marie Karaos, PhD, associate director of the John J. Carroll Institute, explains that through these initiatives, an organized association of informal settlers can come together to take a loan from the Social Housing Finance Corporation. This loan enables them to acquire land of their choosing. Though they may still live in poor conditions, they are at least afforded the security of living on their own land.

If they have more funds, the association will be able to make a bigger loan to build their own houses. This type of housing, called incremental housing, allows the association to introduce improvements to the extent that they can. Loans are paid back through a tailored amortization scheme, which takes into account their finances.

Programs such as the People’s Plan, which was first implemented during the Aquino administration and is headed by the Department of the Interior and Local Government, embraces a bottom-up approach where associations are afforded on-site and in-city relocation instead of moving them to areas outside Metro Manila.

Karaos emphasizes the importance of giving informal settlers the option of either staying in the city where loans for housing are greater or moving to areas outside the city where it is cheaper to live. Assuring that informal settlers get their say in their housing options makes it more likely for them to move into the houses being built for them.

A more proactive government

Unfortunately, a bottom-up approach to the housing problem is not available to all communities.

“Not all families belong to a community that is willing to be organized. That relies also on how much people trust each other in their community because they will be incurring a group loan,” says Karaos.

Karaos also emphasizes that local governments, especially of cities that are not yet as congested as Metro Manila, should have a more proactive response to the lack of urban planning and housing in the Philippines.

Rather than just treat the urban poor as informal settlers who add to the congestion of urban space, Karaos stresses the importance of the urban poor to the life of the city.

“Services are being performed by the urban poor at a very cheap cost. My argument has always been that these laborers are actually subsidizing the better off in our society, because they are able to provide these services at a cheap cost,” says Karaos.

In the end, Karaos says that it is up to the government to give a redistributive form of justice for the urban poor.

“In other market societies, [the urban poor] would be paid higher, but because our society is not able to pay them as much, that’s where the state should come in, that’s the redistributive role of government. What the people don’t receive by way of wages, they can receive by way of public services,” says Karaos.

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