Thursday, January 29, 2009

Addressing the housing problem in the Philippines

In the Philippines, less than 1/3 can afford proper shelter. In Metro Manila alone, there are 3.1 informal settlers; 23% stay in government land, 22% in private properties, 15% in danger zones (which include the streets, bridges, riversides, and along train tracks), and 40% on infrastructure sites. ( There still exists a huge problem on housing in the Philippines. Various factors affect this such as financing, government policies and interventions, institutional subsidies, and the values and culture the Filipino people illustrate.

The concern for housing should grow because of the fact that the Philippines is considered to be part of the ‘typhoon belt.’ More and more people would suffer in such disasters if proper housing is not addressed. Furthermore, half a billion pesos is being spent yearly on disaster and calamity damages. Just imagine where else we could allocate that cost if only we can do a better job in preventing such damages through a better housing program.

So how do we actually solve this housing problem? There are countless of reasons on how to, but the main factors would hugely depend on the government (both national and local), people, and non-governmental organizations willing to help in the housing program of the Philippines. First of all, the government has the biggest role amongst all. It is the role of the government to create policies that will suit well the country’s needs. It is also the government’s role to properly manage and regulate the Filipino people in following such policies. Laws have to be examined and cleared especially with regards land use. This is specifically addressed to illegal squatting issues. People have to be given notice about these rules, then they can strictly implement the policies and violators should be apprehended justly. We all know that ignorance to the law is not an excuse, but of course, being a poor country, not all people have access to basic information. It is still, I believe, the task of government to convey these important information to public.

Another issue that can be touched here is taxation. There is a need for systematic information on land and real estate properties in the Philippines; this would enhance a better taxation. Better taxation can lead to more budget for programs in helping the housing problem in the Philippines. Of course, corruption is another issue that surfaces from here. This is where the values of the Filipino people have to be fixed. The Filipino people should start valuing other people’s lives. We are sacrificing here lives of millions of people while the few get rich and filthy through corruption. It’s basic, try to lessen corruption; not necessarily eradicate totally, but minimize it to the lowest level that we can. Everywhere else in the world exists corruption, but our corruption level is just way up high. This should be corrected because we are a poor nation. The worse corruption gets, the deeper we get into the poverty trap. People’s money should go to the right places, and these are projects and programs to uplift human existence.

The next solution is fixing the financial side of housing. The government still has a role here; and that is to create the right regulatory policies in financing for housing projects or programs. This is specifically in line with middle-cost housing. It shouldn’t be too tight or too relaxed. Making it too tight would limit the opportunity for citizens to actually take part of such programs. Making it to lenient on the other hand could be cumbersome as well; just like what the recent financial crisis in America demonstrates. When people see opportunities such as relaxed rates, they obviously would take it, even though a lot of them actually take more than what they can afford, it’s a common reflex of human nature. Banks on one hand will tend to take advantage of the relaxed policies because more people would sure want to borrow money from them for financing. But as we see, the market does fail also at times. By the end of the day, the policy that triggered such events to happen is still the one to get most of the blame. And it does deserve the blame. So government has the biggest responsibility to play and weigh things right.

Subsidies and other sources of funding is also a solution to this problem. International organizations and non-governmental organizations do play a huge role in addressing such problems. It is a fact that government cannot do everything effectively and efficiently. This is where the role of these organizations comes in. These organizations do not exist to compete with government or to make government look bad. They do exist to complement the government in areas where it lacks in providing its services. Subsidies and funding are good; it’s just that these organizations need to communicate and work with the right people. I still believe in the effectiveness of such organizations working with the government especially the local government units (LGUs). They should integrate planning with one another to make sure that things don’t overlap; as this would waste resources. I would also want to stress out that such grants should be directed at the right projects. Middle-cost housing should be more focused on financial funding from banks; and these banks should always a have a reliable basis in lending credit. Direct subsidies on the other hand should be more directed at low-cost housing where more people do need grants.

Lastly, I would just want to point out alternative housing. Alternative housing which costs 40-60% less are now being done such as the ‘earthen home’. These have been fully tested to resist bad weather and other disasters. Some of these have been pilot tested in the Philippines and have done great. ( I think it is time for our people to open their eyes to opportunities being given to them. Some people stick to the olden traditional way of doing things that can hinder development because of problems such as costs. We have to move forward and be open to innovations and other technological breakthroughs. These small things are sometimes the solution to big problems. Help is around the corner, sometimes it’s our slow movements and resistance that make us lag behind.

Ballesteros, M. 2002. Philippine Institute for Development Studies: Policy Notes. “A
Second Look at Institutional Reforms in the Housing Sector.”