Pittance for housing
President Duterte did the right thing by signing in February this year the law creating the Department of Human Settlements and Urban Development (DHSUD). The department’s primary mandate is to ensure that Filipinos have access to affordable housing, which has become an acute need over the years as the population has swelled, urbanization has accelerated and the housing backlog has only gotten worse.
In 2015, the backlog stood at 6.7 million units (priced below P3 million, covering low-cost to socialized housing for the underprivileged and the homeless). The new housing need for 2016 to 2030 is 5.6 million, according to the September 2016 report “Impact of Housing Activities on the Philippine Economy” by Winston Padojinog, president of the University of Asia and the Pacific.
But, while the President did create a new housing department to address this problem, the required budget for the program, it seems, was left out. The country’s mass housing developers recently brought this to light when it deplored the massive cut in the national budget for housing from a peak of P37.7 billion in 2014 to a mere P2.8 billion in 2019.
The Organization of Socialized and Economic Housing Developers of the Philippines Inc. (OSHDP) and the Socialized Housing Alliance Roundtable Endeavor (SHARE) said the allocation for housing this year accounted for a miniscule 0.07 percent of the national budget—surely not enough to even begin hacking away at the housing backlog.
Then there’s the dire lack of funds to support the planned activities of the DHSUD, which is yet to formally begin operations as the implementing rules and regulations are still being finalized.
OSHDP and SHARE said in a joint statement that, as currently crafted, the proposed budget to bankroll the DHSUD will come from the combined 2019 budget of the Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council and the Housing and Land Use Regulatory Board. However, SHARE president Marcelino Mendoza lamented: “Overlooked is the fact that the new law mandates the performance of new and major functions to include the identification, conversion and management of idle government lands for housing, creation of one-stop processing centers, and planning for housing of disaster-prone areas, all of which require huge new appropriations.”
“The creation of DHSUD involves a paradigm shift in the approach to public housing as a solution to the housing backlog. It would place priority on construction of medium- and high-rise buildings using centrally located government lands, so beneficiaries in the inner city would be better served. Singapore is the best model for this, and the government must provide the necessary funding requirements,” Mendoza added.
Why the drastic budget cut despite the administration’s purported push for greater mass housing? Perhaps the President’s former right-hand man and now newly minted senator, Bong Go, can be asked to resolve the contradiction. Go, who is expected to chair the Senate’s urban planning, housing and resettlement committee, has committed to prioritize programs to address the housing needs of the homeless and informal settlers. He’s been quoted as saying that the number of homeless Filipinos in the nation’s capital alone—estimates say one of every five residents in Metro Manila is an informal settler—is “simply unacceptable.”
Indeed—so perhaps the new senator can begin his term by asking Malacañang to walk the talk by restoring adequate funding for the socialized housing program. The DHSUD also needs help not only in terms of budget, but in the leeway required to reboot the entire system—by revising pertinent laws, if necessary, on the part of Congress.
As OSHDP and SHARE pointed out, addressing the housing backlog will require a fresh approach to the budget process, given the labyrinthine permitting and implementing processes. “Housing projects should have multiyear continuing appropriations, as projects typically are of long gestation. Permits alone would have to go through 27 offices, 78 permits, 146 signatures, and a total of 373 documents.” This “excruciating gridlock” among the many government bodies involved in mass housing has to be broken if the new department is to stand a yeoman’s chance of success in extending housing to those who need it most.
On paper, the DHSUD is up—but money and political will are still needed for it to deliver decent housing to Filipinos, which, as the Constitution itself says, is a right, not a privilege.
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