Saturday, September 22, 2018
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A people’s plan to house the poor

Recently members of the Kalipunan ng Damayang Mahihirap (Kadamay) occupied thousands of housing units in various resettlement sites in Bulacan — and what they sounded in the province echoed throughout the country.

The intention was not as complicated as the results. The Kadamay members simply desired to own a house and had been applying to the National Housing Authority to be allowed to avail themselves of the units that for so long they had noticed vacant and battered by disuse. But the same housing units had already been “awarded” to the informal-settler families living in danger zones in Metro Manila and to the police and military rank and file. This was why they could not be awarded to interested others, rust, grass and grime notwithstanding.


But why had the awardees not moved in? Why had the units remained unoccupied for years? It is disturbing that despite a 5.7-million housing backlog, housing units numbering in the tens of thousands are unoccupied.

In a joint inquiry at the Senate, military and police officials said they had not been consulted on the house design or invited to take part in the planning. To think that, like the military and police, the NHA is an organization that at its core is bent on protocol, order, and solid planning. In venturing on the project without consulting its clients or even studying their resumé, the NHA has made a huge blunder and shows exactly how our national housing office works. After seeing the housing units for himself, no less than the NHA general manager, Marcelino Escalada Jr., said he would not want to live in any of them.

But the Kadamay members did, though well aware that the housing sites are lacking in many important things such as basic utilities (power and water) and that living there is fraught with difficulties. Necessity being the mother of invention, it forced the Kadamay members to mount the invasion of the resettlement sites. The intensity of their action was so strong that it reached every household, and the effect was felt in the national-policy discussion. Their story is cut out of the ordinary, and therefore extraordinary: a tale of an extraordinary need for housing and of the situation of our homeless, underprivileged and informal-settler urban poor.

We can only hope that what happened in Bulacan ends in Bulacan, not only because of the fear that what did happen would set a precedent, but also because of the fear that if it happens again, it would show that the lessons have not been learned and nothing has been done to change the practice.

What do the government and key shelter agencies implementing socialized housing need to do? They need to resort to a people’s plan and put it to practice as it is more fulfilling to see it in life than on paper.

A people’s plan or people’s proposal is an alternative shelter planning approach that demonstrates the consultative and participatory principle of development planning enshrined in the Urban Development and Housing Act of 1992. It is an option that seeks to address the need for in-city, near-city (or off-city) relocation depending on the preferred options of the urban poor, and to fill the gaps of affordability, sustainability and community building in carrying out any housing programs.

Through this approach, the affected community or people’s organization is properly consulted and involved meaningfully in the planning, organizing and project management, as they are the end-user of the project. Unlike the current supply-driven approach in housing production, it is demand-driven that includes the perspective of the community for modest housing. Besides, the houses are not free; they should be worth the price of the little income of the urban poor.

A people’s plan clings, not to imposition, but to collaboration, as the former has been one of the causes of the urban poor’s high resistance to relocation.

The traditional approach of indiscriminate relocation has not only been costly for the government, but also damaging to the socioeconomic stability of those being relocated. Imagine relocating families from the cities in the north of Metro Manila, such as Quezon City, to the province of Rizal and not to the nearest (Bulacan), and those in the south, such as Parañaque, to Bulacan and not to the nearest (Cavite). This manner of relocation delivers a hard blow on the families who have members working in the city (and almost all of them do). The city’s low-income-earner workforce is grossly affected.


Last year alone, due to the depressing situation of the relocated families in the new sites (18) in the provinces of Bulacan, Cavite and Rizal, the government allocated an initial P1.8 billion of the total P5.5 billion in an attempt to restore as well as to improve their socioeconomic wellbeing.

Relocating families involves altering not only their physical but also their socioeconomic location. This aspect is strangely noticed but mostly ignored in the course of relocation because the goal is always singular—to relocate families, and from there the work is deemed sufficiently served.

For as long as we look only at the numerical aspect of housing and physical development, and set aside the social and economic dimensions, any housing program is bound to fail. Units will remain vacant, the housing backlog will continue to grow, and the problem will remain unsolved.

Hopefully, the bill in the Senate amending the Urban Development and Housing Act of 1992 to allow for on-site, in-city relocation through a people’s plan approach will soon be passed. It is an opportune time and a wake-up call for the government to shift the housing paradigm from the traditional supply-driven to the demand-driven practice in the form of a people’s plan.

* * *

Kreeger Bonagua is a community organizer and deputy head of the Relocation and Resettlement Monitoring Division of the Presidential Commission for the Urban Poor, and teaches social work at Pamantasang Lungsod ng Maynila.

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TAGS: housing for the poor, Inquirer Commentary, Inquirer Opinion, Kadamay, Kreeger Bonagua, National Housing Authority, NHA
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