‘No justification for lack of housing’
At a meeting with homeless men in Washington, DC, Pope Francis said something quite remarkable about housing and the poor: “We can find no social or moral justification whatsoever, no justification whatsoever, for lack of housing. There are many unjust situations, but we know that God is suffering with us, experiencing them at our side. He does not abandon us.”
The National Housing Summit, initiated by Congress and the World Bank last May, is two-thirds over, yet it is still not clear if it will end with a bang or a whimper for the poor, and be seen as a turning point in the Philippines’ housing history or simply another talk fest that achieved scarcely anything. Some critics call the summit tedious and unfocused. That is not the poor people’s complaint; they are very familiar with the tedious and unfocused in life. Their complaint is that after six months, they know what changes they want to make, but they can’t judge what their partners in the summit—namely, Congress, government agencies and the private housing sector—think of their, the poor’s, recommendations. Will the partners support or reject them?
The poor will soon issue a statement on their recommendations. They want the larger group to discuss each recommendation one by one. The poor welcome criticism and suggestions for compromise and alternatives. Once they know what is likely to happen to their recommendations, they can take action in a way they deem appropriate. Until then they are restless.
Here are the bare bones of the poor people’s conclusions and recommendations:
The poor want their right to live in the city recognized. This recognition is given in House Bill No. 5144 that is now with the Senate. The basis of the right is this: Jobs, schools, clinics, cultural centers and the various groups that foster integral human development (“Be kind to animals” groups, for example, and groups caring for the country’s natural resources) are all in the city and most assuredly not in the relocation centers strung around Metro Manila like the Gulag of Soviet Russia was spread around Moscow in the Siberian wastes.
There must be no more evictions from the city. If a family must be evicted, it must be relocated in the same city.
All government agencies must include people’s planning in their manner of operation, and a special office or bureau must be set up that will specialize in helping poor people’s organizations attain housing. These beneficiaries most likely do not have the income to take advantage of other government housing programs.
The government seems intent on not offering any subsidies or grants in its housing work. All money spent is to be recovered from the people benefiting. This position will result in the government not being able to help the average poor family.
In Baseco, for example, 200 families are to receive one-story row houses with provisions for lofts. The average family income is P7,500 a month. The land is free, proclaimed by the government. The house costs P180,000. The people will pay half by paying P300 a month to amortize a P90,000-loan from the Social Housing Finance Corp. That leaves P90,000 short. The government provides this amount as a grant or there is no housing.
A family of five needs P6,000 a month for a minimum healthy diet, according to government food agencies. Family members also have travel, health, education and other expenses. They cannot pay more than P300 with an income of P7,500. Grants must be given.
There must be no more evictions of families from our cities. Also, current plans to evict thousands more of poor families from the banks of waterways must be reexamined.
The government must acquire land for the houses of the poor.
The urban poor have many recommendations for acquiring land, but space doesn’t allow us to list them here. We wish to note the need to think outside the box. For example, the government has five golf courses in Metro Manila, each with an area of about 50 hectares. It should commit to hand over one of these areas each year for the next several years for the housing of the poor. The golf courses can be relocated; golfers all have cars and can still play with little discomfort. Also, poor people must be given 10 percent of the 700 hectares that will be reclaimed from Laguna Lake in the public-private partnership projects that will take place in the cities of Taguig and Muntinlupa.
All amendments offered for the Urban Development and Housing Act by the urban poor groups must be passed. Proclaim Isla Puting Bato and Slip Zero. Reproclaim Manggahan Floodway and Lupang Arenda.
The grant of land and housing must be accompanied by jobs for all poor families. These jobs must pay a fair and decent wage that brings dignity and confidence to the poor. They ask why none of the PPP projects deal with manufacturing plants that might employ them. Why do these all serve the needs and investment portfolios of the well-off? There has not been a single government initiative in the direction of Pope Francis’ “inclusive, just economy.” All the major parties are guilty in this matter.
We all need thoughtful criticism.
Denis Murphy works with the Urban Poor Associates ([email protected]).
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