Fifty-four percent of the world’s population—about 3.8 billion—are now living in urban areas. And with almost 200,000 people being added to the world’s cities every day, the United Nations estimates that by 2050 the world’s urban population will stand at over 6.3 billion—nearly double of what it is today.

According to global environmental research organization Worldwatch Institute, such rapid urban population growth will be specially burdensome for developing countries where 82 percent of the world’s population currently lives.
It gets more alarming here in Southeast Asia wherein some of the world’s most densely populated cities are located—approximately 16,500 people per square kilometer are squeezed into the region’s urban areas. Imagine this same number of people occupying an area less than half the size of Rizal Park in Manila.

Forward-looking policies

“And in light of the rapid urban population growth and the fact that most urban sites are critical parcels of land, there is now the need for careful and forward-looking policies with regard to efficient and effective use of city land,” said Subdivision and Housing Developers Association (SHDA) national president Ricky Celis.

The country’s largest association of real estate developers, hopes to tackle this issue in the upcoming SHDA 23rd National Developers Convention, happening on Sept. 25 to 26 at the Radisson Blu Hotel, Cebu City.

The annual gathering of SHDA members as well as allied industry partners and concerned government agencies will try to find ways to help solve the proliferation of informal settlers, which according to United Nations Habitat, are a clear manifestation of a poorly planned and managed urban sector and, in particular, a malfunctioning housing sector.

Celis said: “Major urban centers like Metro Manila must find a way to provide essential services to their ever-increasing populations. When urban centers fail to provide adequate land, housing and services, they create informal settlements where households typically lack a durable living space, security of a lease aside from safe drinking water and safe sanitation.” Celis believes that helping informal settlers get decent homes may play a key role to significantly shrink the country’s housing backlog now pegged at 3.9 million housing units.

Not helping

He said past experiences made it clear that ignoring informal settlements or harassing the people who live in them—through mass, forced evictions and demolition as well as resettlement—creates more problems than they solve.

“Most informal settlers pushed out of their homes soon have little option but to return to the same or near the area, because they need the work that drew them to the city in the first place (failing crops, natural disasters and conflicts in their hometowns have forced them to flood into the cities),” noted SHDA first vice president Armenia Ballesteros.

According to United Kingdom-based nongovernment organization Homeless International, approximately 22.8 million—or almost one in four Filipinos live in informal settlements. There are around 4 million now living in Metro Manila alone.

Giving them homes

SHDA believes that giving informal settlers a chance to possess legal proof that they own the house as well as the land beneath their home, however humble, should give them enough motivation to raise their standard of living.

Ballesteros said: “Improving informal settlements, rather than relocating their residence, is a much better approach. To do this, developers need to draw up possible solutions for “in-city” or “near-city” resettlement for gainfully employed informal settlers in Metro Manila and other key cities. As developers, we are proposing the use of socialized medium-rise buildings or MRBs.”

Sadly, the government has not decided on this issue yet.
According to SHDA, while the Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council’s (HUDCC) approval to increase the socialized housing price ceiling from P400,000 to P450,000 in October of 2013 was a welcome decision, developers still need more from the agency.

Proposals

In this regard, SHDA has proposed to come up with a new definition for socialized housing, one that should also include vertical developments, like five-story walk-up buildings located in urban centers and with price from P750,000 to P840,000. “This proposal aims to be consistent with the Aquino administration’s policy of relocating informal settlements to on-site, in-city, or near-city projects,” Ballesteros said.

The need for such revision stemmed from the fact that Section 3 of Republic Act No. 7279 or the Urban Development and Housing Act of 1992 defines socialized housing as being limited only to “house and lots” or “lots only.” Condominium units do not fall within the definition.

Ballesteros also said that SHDA is also coordinating with the Board of Investments regarding the incentives granted to its members’ socialized housing projects under the 2014 Investment Priorities Plan. SHDA members’ vertical and horizontal mass housing projects continue to be listed under the Investment Priorities Plan and those that qualified are entitled to as much as four years of income tax holiday incentives and zero duty on the importation of their capital equipment.

Affordability

Another issue that SHDA hopes to resolve involves affordability. According to the law, target beneficiaries must belong to the bottom 30 percent of the income percentile of the population who are considered “underprivileged” and “homeless.”

SHDA chair Paul Tanchi said: “The costs to produce these vertical housing projects based on minimum design standards as mandated by law—Batas Pambansa 220—are just too expensive for the target beneficiaries. Thus, there must be some form of help that must be devised by the government.”

He added that SHDA would also appreciate if the national or the local government could offer subsidy in the form of buildable land. Tanchi said: “These lands (should no longer require pile driving nor backfilling) must not only be located within the city but their location must be near water and electricity supply, (have) access to proper drainage as well as paved road or near public transportation. This way we could further bring down the cost of development, which in the end will benefit the intended families or individuals.”

Read more: http://business.inquirer.net/178173/helping-the-poor-own-their-homes

Taken from The Philippine Daily Inquirer (September 6, 2014)