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Not in the President’s Sona

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When in his State of the Nation Address President Aquino paid tribute to acts of citizenship by ordinary civil servants and citizens by telling them “Sona mo ito (This is your Sona),” I wished he had cited one program of his administration which for me epitomizes the idea of the government building its policies and programs on the vision and efforts of ordinary citizens.

I am talking of the administration’s in-city housing program for informal settlers. Founded on a multistakeholder partnership model and spearheaded by the Department of Interior and Local Government, the in-city informal settler housing program is by far the most innovative, and by this token extremely challenging and ambitious, of the government’s antipoverty programs.

Metro Manila has an estimated half a million informal-settler families. Of this number, roughly a fifth, or 100,000 families, resides in what are considered hazardous places, officially called danger zones. These include the easements of bodies of water, railroad tracks and areas around dumpsites. In 2011, the P-Noy administration announced that it would allocate P50 billion for the housing and resettlement of these 100,000.

The amount of P10 billion is to be released for this program each year until 2016 through two key agencies—the National Housing Authority, which builds resettlement projects mostly in off-city locations, and the Social Housing Finance Corp. (SHFC), which lends money to housing associations for land purchase and house construction mostly in on-site or in-city locations. The P-Noy administration will set a record in public spending on housing for the poor if it is able to move the P50-billion fund as intended.

Recently the government announced a plan to resettle within the year 20,000 families living along eight priority waterways in Metro Manila to make way for the construction of flood-control infrastructure and achieve a “zero-casualty” record for Metro Manila when the typhoons come. The  eight include Pasig River, Tullahan River, San Juan River, Manggahan Floodway, Maricaban Creek, Estero de Tripa de Gallina, Estero de Maypajo, and Estero de Sunog Apog.

Of the estimated 60,000 families residing within the easements of waterways, a few thousands live in communities that have devised what came to be called “people’s plans.” Some of them live along the priority waterways targeted for clearing in 2013; others have a little more time before they would need to move out.

The “people’s plans” are the result of a process by which the communities produce viable housing proposals which the government can fund and implement as an alternative to distant or off-city resettlement. The communities themselves identify the sites for their new low- and medium-rise residential buildings. To acquire the land, they talk to the landowner who is either a government entity or a private individual. They then engage architects and engineers to help them formulate site and building plans. They discuss among themselves the establishment of a savings fund and agree on the building cost and amortization scheme. They also talk to their local governments to undertake the site development, and apply for loans with the SHFC to pay for the land and/or the building construction. They engage building contractors to construct the housing based on their “people’s plan.” All these processes entail hard work on the part of the communities, a price they are willing to pay for in-city housing.

Five projects following the “people’s plan” model have been inaugurated so far: two in Quezon City, and one each in Malabon, Caloocan and Manila. The 2-4-story walkup buildings in these five projects will house close to 3,000 families.  In the next three years, with the growing interest from Metro Manila local governments, more such projects are expected to rise.

The “people’s plan” model has been accepted by the government’s housing agencies as one approach to providing in-city housing for informal settlers, but achieving scale is the current challenge. With the financial resources that the P-Noy administration has made available for this program, funds are not the problem now. The “people’s plan” model will be able to achieve scale only if other sectors of society will actively support it by providing the needed land, people, and technical and project management skills.

Individuals, corporations or government agencies owning idle in-city lands can share these to enable the urban poor to reside where they can find work. Local governments should be able to facilitate the search for land, the issuance of zoning and building permits, and site development as part of their public works programs. Architects and engineers can assist communities design their housing projects using appropriate and cost-efficient building materials. Low-cost housing developers and builders can construct the planned multistory buildings while making modest profits.

If the P-Noy administration believes in the “people’s plan” process, it must rally all sectors of society to make this innovation succeed. This is what I had wanted the Sona to do: Make us citizens believe not only that the Sona is ours but also that our visions for greatness are achievable, and then challenge us to work harder to achieve them.

Anna Marie A. Karaos is associate director of the John J. Carroll Institute on Church and Social Issues.

Read more: http://opinion.inquirer.net/58265/not-in-the-presidents-sona#ixzz3Nj18Foks