BAHAY: Why Juan and Maria de la Cruz are homeless in the Philippines

A special report on urban housing problems in the Philippines

By: Noel Sales Barcelona, Diocesan Correspondent, CBCPNews.com

ANTIPOLO CITY, PHILIPPINES—A widow, Aling Virgie, 62 had been always dreaming a house of her own.

“Mahirap ang walang bahay (It’s hard not to have a house of your own),” she quips when IMPACT Magazine visited her in one of the low-cost subdivisions in Antipolo City. She had been living with her son and her daughter-in-law, whose house is also rented.

Aling Virgie said that they are renting the house for P2,500 (US$43.163 based on the prevailing exchange rate last June 29, 2010), less the payment for electricity and the water supply.

“Napakahirap ng nangungupahan, sa totoo lamang. Kung ako ang tatanungin mo, kahit sa iskuwater, papayag akong tumira. Basta akin ‘yong bahay (Renting a house is difficult. If you will ask me, I rather live in a shanty or in a squatter’s area. What is important is you own the house),” the 62-year old widow quips.

If Aling Virgie finds it difficult, not having a place that she can call her own, what about the rest of our kababayans?

Not even a bahay-kubo (nipa hut)

Based on the United Nations’ Human Settlements Programme (UN Habitat) report (2003), there had been more than 923 million people in the world, or 31.6 percent of the world’s population does not have roofs on their heads. Most of them, according to the UN Habitat, are living in Asia, Africa and Latin America.

Despite the Philippine government’s efforts, there are still around 4.5 million Filipinos who are homeless, as reported by the Philippine Human Rights Reporting Project (rightsreporting.net).

Most of them are living in makeshift homes under the bridges, over the esteros or big canals, and occupying private- and public-owned lands.

John Torres, public information officer of the Urban Poor Associates (UPA), a non-governmental institution that is working closely with the Metro Manila poor, one-third of the Filipino populace could not afford to own a house.

“In Metro-Manila alone, there are about 3.1 million informal settlers or commonly known as squatters. About 23 percent of them stay in government-owned land; some 22 percent are living in private lands; 15 percent are in danger zones like in esteros (big canals), beside the railroad tracks, under the bridges, and similar areas; and the 40 percent are living in infrastructure sites,” he said in a statement.

In Quezon City, considered as one of the largest urban cities in Metro Manila (National Capital Region), there are about 200,000 (an estimated one million or less peoples) are considered informal settlers.

Of this number, read the rightsreporting.net’s report, 47.6 percent or 95,188 families are reportedly occupying private lands.

The rightreporting.net also said that the leading areas which the homeless, in Quezon City, are occupying are the sidewalks and open spaces, with 7,852 families as occupants; the Pasig River Rehabilitation program areas, with 4,117; and the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System properties in different places in QC, with 2,342 families as occupants.

Poverty + wrong State housing policies + “legal syndicates” = homelessness

Poverty remains the number one reason why Filipinos cannot afford to buy a house.

Independent policy think-tank IBON Foundation, Inc. in its latest report, published last June 11th, it says that poverty has continued to rise even by the government’s low official poverty line.

“The number of poor families had increased by 530,642 or 13% since 2000 to reach 4.7 million in 2006. The number of poor Filipinos increased by 2.1 million over that same period to reach 27.6 million. But the official poverty line is only P42 ($0.90) per person per day in 2006 which buys just a kilo of rice and a chicken egg; a higher threshold of P86 ($1.84) more than doubles the number of Filipinos classified as poor,” says Jose Enrique “Sonny” Africa, IBON’s research head in a statement.

‘As it is, household real incomes fell by an average of 20% across all surveyed homes between 2000 and 2006– the recorded 19% increase in nominal income over the period was easily offset by the 38% rise in prices. The latest available poverty data is for 2006 so these trends occurred long before the global turmoil and natural calamities since 2008 which can only swell the numbers even more,” furthered Africa.

The UPA, meanwhile, reported that out of 11.3 million people living in the municipalities and cities in Metro Manila, more than 50 percent or around 600,000 are living below the poverty line, while five million do not have decent housing.

It is lucky for Aling Virgie for the combined income of her son, who is working in a research firm in Makati and her daughter-in-law, is reaching at least P15,000 a month ($322.65). At least, they can rent a decent house in the Antipolo suburb. However, if you will compute their combined income against the daily cost of living of P917 ($19.78), they are still short of around P12,510.00.

“The enactment in the 90s, of the Urban Development and Housing Act (UDHA) of 1992 and the Comprehensive Shelter Finance Act (CISFA) of 1994, two pro-poor housing legislations, greatly changed the Philippines’ policy on housing the poor. From a highly centralized and heavily subsidized policy, the government moved to a market-oriented and participatory approach to housing. Despite these reforms, the problems with UDHA and CISFA [they] have not delivered housing on the scale or of the quality that is required,” says Marife Ballesteros, an associate of the Philippine Institute for Development Studies (PIDS), in her briefer on the latest study of PIDS about the government’s housing projects in the Philippines.

She lamented that the State’s efforts in curbing the housing problem in country remains inadequate, thus making it impossible for millions and millions of Filipinos, especially the poor, to have a place to call their home.

This has been evidenced by the Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council’s (HUDCC) own data that in the entire country, there are still 3.75 million housing units that are needed to be built (See Table 1).

There are about more than 3,000,000 housing backlog that the State must finish. (Source: HUDCC Report 2010)

Ballesteros had enumerated the reasons behind the acute housing shortage in the country:

First, following the Philippines’ general decentralization trend, the UDHA makes local government units (LGUs) responsible for being the UDHA’s main implementer. But most LGUs lack the capacity and resources for shelter and urban management. Moreover, LGUs are not often keen to accept low-income migrants for relocation, due to limited social services and economic opportunities, and housing maintenance costs.

Second, resettlement costs are increasing, increasing LGUs’ dependence on national subsidies. Lack of coordination between the lead national agency on resettlement – the National Housing Authority (NHA), LGUs and other national agencies further hinders the success of resettlement projects. Another problem is beneficiaries abandoning or transferring the home-lots they are awarded, due to a lack of opportunities and services.

Third, identifying suitable beneficiaries of government housing programs is difficult. LGUs lack incentives to develop databases for beneficiary registration, so the awarding of home-lots is often ad hoc and politically dependent. Tracking down the awardees of housing units has also proven difficult, due to lack of a monitoring system.

Fourth, under the UDHA, both the government and the community must eradicate professional squatters and squatting syndicates. But actual enforcement – arrests and prosecutions, has been sloppy, partly because of weak coordination between authorities and communities.

Fifth, the awarding of home-lots is often delayed by bureaucratic legalism and valuation issues. The establishment of eviction guidelines for urban poor settlements has been one of the highlights of the UDHA, providing informal settlers with some legal rights to the land they occupy. But these rights are sometimes disregarded, specifically in private lands, and monitoring has been weak, because no central agency or quasi-judicial body exists to ensure compliance.

Sixth, housing finance programs have limited outreach. For example, the Social Housing Finance Corporation‘s ‘Community Mortgage Program’ has been helpful, but lacks sufficient funding to expand operations. On the other hand, the Home Development Mutual Fund’s ‘Socialized Loan Program’, geared towards salaried workers, has not greatly benefited the poor.

On the other hand, militant urban poor group, Kalipunan ng Damayang Mahihirap (Kadamay) said that what makes housing provision for the poor far more difficult is the proliferation of what they call “legal syndicates,” or housing conglomerates that are benefiting more on the State’s housing projects.

“The government housing agencies and the private sector collude, to extract as much profits and kickbacks as possible from what is supposed to be a social service especially to the poor. How is this different from any criminal syndicate?” says Kadamay’s Vice-chairperson Carlito Badion in a statement.

Badion criticized the existing policies in connection with the State’s socialized housing projects for being “profit-driven.”

They also accused the outgoing Vice President and housing czar, Noli De Castro, of conniving with these “legal” syndicates, adding that he must be investigated and held accountable for the Philippines’ housing woes for the past six years.

Nevertheless, says Ballesteros, for the housing sector to be more responsive to the needs of the poor, several key reforms are required:

First, a reliable and sustainable poverty database system is needed at the local level. with clear and measurable parameters to identify suitable beneficiaries. The Department Of Interior and Local Government is currently working on a monitoring system to generate baseline information on poverty; this system could also be adopted for shelter programs.

In relation to this, says Ballesteros, there is a need to establish a national resettlement policy will ensure a common framework for resettlement approaches, housing packages, and entitlement.

“Thus, NHA’s role as lead agency should be strengthened, with funds from the various resettlement agencies integrated into a common fund,” she said.

Second, a system of incentives should encourage and capacitate LGUs to perform their roles in shelter as identified in the UDHA. LGUs and the national police should also be empowered to more effectively curtail squatting syndicates.

Third, the Philippine government should develop a public-private partnership as a key strategy to resettlement projects. The tax incentive scheme for shelter needs to rationalised and made more responsive. At the same time, the government must increase public expenditure on housing, ensuring that the subsidy scheme is transparent and well-targeted.

And finally, NSP success requires a favorable environment for housing finance. Thus, the government must ensure the financial health of state-owned housing finance institutions, and encourage the entry of housing microfinance institutions, including foreign-based microfinance. Scale and sustainability will only come through developed capital markets, not continuously using government funds. On the demand side, government should try to improve the bankability of the poor through community and livelihood development programs (Published in IMPACT Asian Magazine for Human Transformation, Vol. 44, No. 47, pp. 13 – 15).