Why P600-a-month housing is still a burden to the poor
MANILA, Philippines – Mother Gemma Atacador and her family used to live in an improvised home made of scraps until they moved to a resettlement site that the government developed in their area in Caloocan.
The settlement, Camarin Residences 3, is one of the housing projects of the National Housing Authority (NHA). The residential compound has 10 buildings with 120 units each.
Compared to their old shanty, Gemma's 24-square-meter unit in the condo-type building is a vast improvement. The compound offers spaces where families can walk and play.
It would have been perfect, she said, if only they could afford the monthly dues that come with their new home.
Depending on the floor level each unit is located, occupants must pay P600 to P1,200 monthly to eventually own the space. Gemma's family on the second floor must pay P900 a month – an obligation they often fail to meet.
MONTHLY AMORTIZATION: FIRST 5 YEARS
- Ground floor dwellers – P1,200
- Second floor dwellers – P900
- 3rd floor dwellers – P800
- 4th floor dwellers – P700
- 5th floor dwellers – P600
P900 is a huge amount for Gemma who relies only on her husband, a taxi driver, for their daily needs.
"Ito hindi naman namin kaya eh. Pinatira kami dito pero akala namin [g]aganda ang buhay namin. Hindi rin pala. Marami ring bayarin," said the 49-year-old mother.
(We can't afford this. We settled here with the idea that our lives will be better. But, no, there are a lot of dues to pay.)
She said they are lucky to have a total income of P8,000 a month because sometimes, when odds are not completely in their favor, her husband brings home only P120 after a day's hard work.
"Taxi driver siya. Pagka wala siya sa taxi, tricycle. Hindi siya pirmihan. Boundary lang siya… Sa isang linggo, tatlo o apat lang ang biyahe niya," she said of her husband, the sole breadwinner in their family.
(He's a taxi driver. If he's not driving a taxi, he's driving a tricycle. But that's not permanent. He only works on a boundary scheme. In one week, he's only able to drive for 3 to 4 times.)
"Ito hindi naman namin kaya eh. Pinatira kami dito pero akala namin gaganda ang buhay namin. Hindi rin pala. Marami ring bayarin."
"Dalawang beses ako binigyan niyan ng P150-P200. Iiyak nga ako, paano ko iba-budget iyon?" she asked.
(Twice, he gave me P150 to P200. I was about to cry, how could I budget that?)
What they earn is barely enough for their subsistence. And they have two priorities: the tuition of their daughter (P10,000 for one year, already government-subsidized), who is enrolled in a private school, and medicines for their asthmatic toddler.
Paying for the house naturally takes a backseat. And in the meantime, interest for non-payment piles up.
GEMMA'S HOUSEHOLD BUDGET
- Food – P4,000
- Water bill – P300
- Electricity – P450
- Vitamins, medication – P800
- Toiletries and other kitchen needs – P800
- Tuition (senior high school) – P1,000
- Transportation – P800
Gemma shares this problem with thousands of families in NHA resettlements. Families in both in-city and off-city sites are unable to pay their monthly amortization, which is set to increase as time goes by.
Others end up opening their units for lease or eventually selling them. They just go back to areas in Metro Manila nearer business centers, where there are better chances of finding jobs.
The NHA has put in place a graduated amortization scheme to allow occupants to pay for their subsidized housing.
Due to the lack of land, in-city relocations are usually low-rise buildings that have a subsidized cost of P400,000 to P500,000 per unit. Awardees are given 30 years to pay for it, based on this schedule:
NHA Resettlement and Development chief Elsie Trinidad said the difference in the price is due to the higher cost of constructing buildings compared to houses. Meanwhile, in off-city relocation sites such as in Bulacan, a province near Metro Manila, row houses are built because there are bigger lands available. This costs as much as P429,000 per unit.
The graduated amortization for row houses is paid based on this scheme:
Free public housing
While these amounts appear reasonable to a middle-income earner, they are a burden to poor families who have no regular source of income. Government, these families say, must offer free public housing to the poorest of the poor.
It is these issues that triggered an ongoing protest in Bulacan.
Around 4,000 urban poor residents have taken over vacant housing units in resettlement sites in Pandi, Bulacan since March 8. The units have been unoccupied for 5 years.
The NHA and even President Rodrigo Duterte have threatened to evict the protesters from the houses they occupied.
Urban poor group Kadamay, which organized the movement, has continued to resist as it reiterated its call for free mass housing.
But can government completely provide free housing?
Trinidad said government also needs to recover expenses from its housing projects to fund future developments.
"NHA is a corporation, we get subsidies for resettlement [from the national government]," explained Trinidad. "There is a continuing subsidy [for housing projects] but as much as possible collection should be regular."
She said the failure of families to pay their amortization affects the fulfillment of government targets.
The NHA is currently struggling with a 1.5 million housing backlog. It aims to eliminate half of it by providing 500,000 socialized housing units. (READ: Robredo: Gov't must build over 2,600 homes a day to beat backlog)
Budget-wise, housing has not been a top concern of government.
Vice President Leni Robredo, who used to chair the Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council (HUDCC), has said that the housing budget rarely crossed the 1% mark.
If budget has always been a problem for the NHA, how can it even promise free mass housing?
The budget of the NHA for this year is only P12.68 billion – P17.8 billion less than its budget last year, or a measly 0.38% of the 2017 national budget.
Key is livelihood
Presidential Commission for the Urban Poor Chairperson Terry Ridon has proposed that government allocate a P236.5-billion housing fund for the construction of in-city relocation for the "extremely poor".
But so far, the Duterte administration has not committed to providing free housing, except for victims of strong typhoons such as Yolanda and Pablo. Those who would be granted homes will still have to pay for the subsidized amount.
Livelihood near the housing projects would then be the key for the poor to be able to pay for these subsidized houses.
The NHA said government will now prioritize in-city relocation and build "new townships" complete with a livelihood component.
But while the NHA has sponsored programs such as technical-vocational training, schemes for saving up and assistance to job hunting, livelihood facilities in relocation sites have been wanting.
"We used to do that in the 70s, 80s, but through the years, it has not been given focus," admitted Trinidad.
The direction the government is taking now is to prioritize in-city relocation so that the poor would not be uprooted from work opportunities. The NHA is also setting up "new townships" that are complete with public utilities and within commercial and industrial areas.
Indeed, the poor's failure to pay for housing is tied to other problems, such as lack of livelihood or employment opportunities, below standard minimum wage, and poor infrastructure.
Until these are addressed, families like Gemma's can only pin their hopes on either free public housing or opportunities where they can earn extra cash so they could keep their homes. – Rappler.com