Public housing program should reverse rural-to-urban migration
The more frequent occurrence of climate change assaults here and in other countries requires rethinking the way we provide housing for the homeless. Real estate developers, engineers, and architects must be more creative, especially in designing buildings for mass occupancy using public funds. Safety, affordability, and healthier surroundings must now be the prime considerations.
The plan of the Marcos administration to construct six million housing units in six years needs to be revisited in light of climate change realities. If located in urban centers where jobs and people are concentrated, the present backlog of six million units would double by 2028. This will worsen congestion in the cities and result in a serious demographic imbalance and multiply urban problems like horrendous traffic and shortage of basic utilities.
One possible option to avoid such a situation is to build new communities in our vast countryside. Instead of spending billions on vertical housing systems, this alternative will open new windows of opportunity for more diversified investments and encourage the expansion of public facilities like roads, schools, water and power supply, malls, and telecommunication facilities.
While high-rises and skyscrapers have a practical value to developers because they save the land and maximize profits, they are not affordable to the working class, which is the target of government housing. The 24-27 square meter units may be enough for singles or a couple with one child, but it is too cramped for an average family of five.
If the housing projects are situated in safer and more spacious areas where land is cheaper, better and more comfortable houses can be constructed. It may even be possible to build detached units with space for backyard gardens. Of course, this is easier said than done and will not happen overnight. But its rationale and long-term advantages to the country are immeasurable. It will spread out development and, if located in places away from disaster-prone areas like typhoon belts, earthquake faults, and volcanoes, the new communities will also serve as more humane relocation sites. This will minimize repetitious rescue and repair work after every environmental disaster. Best of all, it will reverse the rural-to-urban migration.
By bringing infrastructure works to the countryside, jobs will follow because the two are inseparable. Basic human needs like access roads, water, and power lines are the real builders of communities. These can be done with the participation of the private sector and the local governments under the Mandanas-Garcia provisions. All that the national government has to do is to orchestrate and act as an enabler. With the entry of population, the other growth components of community life like markets, transport, entertainment houses, restaurants, etc. will follow.
To address the needs of those who have regular jobs in the cities, the Department of Human Settlements and Urban Development housing program must be continued, but certain limits must be imposed to avoid the scale of deaths and destruction like what happened in Turkey and Syria.
In light of climate change constraints, we must find ways to adapt and prepare by building safer and more resilient communities. But the government must lead the way.
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