Crossroads (Toward Philippine economic and social progress)
Philippine Star, 18 April 2018

 

In the course of decades of our economic development, two contrasting visual images of the nation compete with each other.

The first vision is hopeful. It gives a glittering view of new, rising buildings and facilities, growing institutions and expanding factories, and establishments for commerce.

The other vision is depressing. It is a view of the hopelessness of poor communities that have grown around the areas of economic progress.

To lift the conditions of the places where the country’s income-earners live is a responsibility of the government. It is the government’s responsibility to raise the level of economic growth, to improve jobs, and to make workers more productive through an improvement in their working and living conditions.

Early success. The most successful time when the nation had a promising and hopeful mass housing program was when the PHHC (Philippine Homesite and Housing Corporation, the forerunner of the NHA) undertook housing production and sale to the country’s workers. This happened during the period 1950s toward the 1960s.

Initial projects on housing provision led to numerous construction of houses and their sale to the country’s main workers. The first projects were truly designed to meet the needs of workers, mainly civil servants working with the government and those qualified.

The early housing projects were in Quezon City. In those days, the government, through the PHHC, was flush with landholdings intended for mass housing projects. PHHC built large communities with mass designs of small houses with lots in the city where the capital of the National Capital Region was located.

Then PHHC sold most of its landholdings to individuals to encourage private housing construction. The transfers of the land were made mainly to government employees, the bulk of which were in low income and middle income brackets.

Energy crisis years. The energy crisis and the onslaught of inflation brought by that large event in the 1970s caused the government to put price controls in place, including those on rentals affecting the poor.

Though such measures were meant to be temporary, those on house rentals became much more difficult to remove politically. Some rent control is still in place today, although less stringent and more flexible now.

That period of crisis impacted highly on housing supply. Rent control for housing for the poor discouraged new housing construction for rental housing, especially in the private sector.

During the early 1980s the government conceived a massive housing construction program called BLISS. However, the project fell prey to political and economic convulsions of the period, climaxed by People Power in 1986.

Deepening supply gap. The political change of that period also encouraged the overwhelming occupation by urban dwellers of government land properties. This is why Quezon City, the country’s intended seat of the National Capital Region, became a haven for many squatted communities.

Further to this fact, politicians yielded to encouragement of squatting by requiring that the eviction of squatters be accompanied by financial compensation (the Lina law).

The result of all these was that new housing for rentals almost disappeared, but new forms of supply became available. A most common of arrangement is “bed-spacing”. Rented apartments were subdivided and rented as bed-space. Within squatted communities, the sale of squatting rights had become a common transaction of sale, further encouraging squatting. Aggravated growing housing needs and new waves of urban migration to the cities continued unabated to worsen the tightness of housing supply.

The housing supply for workers became tighter for those who lived in the center of the metropolis, although some housing could be secured in the peripheral areas where land was cheap and the government, or private developers, could amass land areas for inexpensive housing. With the presence of transport routes toward Manila or where the factories were located, housing supply was responding.

This phenomenon has led, of course, to the expansion of the populations of outlying towns on the edge of the center of jobs. Hence, the poor workers who could afford to amortize housing could secure houses, if located in outlying areas.

As a result, housing in, for example, Dasmariñas, Cavite or in towns in Rizal and Bulacan, along the highways and transport routes, were providing dwellings for workers who have jobs in factories, offices, and establishments in Metro-Manila.

It is also important to note that different government administrations have been mindful to provide some institutional support toward improving housing policy. The various institutions needed to create a viable market for private housing have been pursued. Government programs to support housing projects by private developers have not been wanting.

However, to create a large impact on the supply of housing for those with steady jobs requires that the government also participate in the construction of housing supply for the country’s income earners. Letting only the private sector do this provision of housing has tilted housing supply in favor of the rich and well-do-do.

Government role in low-income housing supply. In order to increase the capacity to meet the need for housing of the poorest workers, an essential component of the program is for the government to influence the consolidation of land-banking for housing settlements.

Leaving that entirely to the private sector has tilted housing supply away from poor income earners. The imbalance in the nation’s housing supply for the moment is greatly to the disadvantage of the working common man, who suffers from want for decent and safe housing.

Workers in search of housing are either forced to live in outlying, far away towns and cities that cost them a lot of time to reach their work-places. Those who live within the bounds of the big metropolis are forced to live in degraded neighborhoods, in squatted communities, or in bed-spacing arrangements.

To succeed at a scale that helps to meet the housing needs of the bulk of the country’s income-earning and working population, it is imperative the government finds a way to consolidate land-banking within major cities for mass housing communities that it can help to provide and support. Private developers can still continue their current home building programs, only they will now have competition in land consolidations with the government.