Housing is one basic necessity, whose significance had been vastly magnified and highlighted amid the deadly COVID-19 pandemic.

For many Filipinos held under varying degrees of lockdown for almost six months now, their homes became their safe sanctuary, haven for leisure and entertainment, workspace, study area, home gym and more. Unfortunately, not everyone can claim to have such enclaves that allowed them to thrive despite this health crisis, as quality housing remains an elusive dream for many.

In fact, the country’s housing gap is estimated to reach 6.57 million units by 2022, said Department of Human Settlements and Urban Development (DHSUD) Secretary Eduardo del Rosario.

“The pandemic highlighted the need to enhance the quality of living conditions among vulnerable households, especially those in highly dense communities. It likewise emphasized the necessity to improve housing affordability on the back of the increased unemployment and loss of livelihood as well as rising production cost brought about by strict health protocols and housing redesign that consider public health goals amid the contagion,” Del Rosario said in an e-mail interview with Inquirer.

Balancing efforts

Fortunately, the DHSUD remains highly pro-active in balancing the efforts to address the housing gap and help the national government pump prime the economy through sustained real estate activities during these challenging times.

According to Del Rosario, they continue to actively partner with the private sector in crafting measures that will help counter the adverse effects of COVID-19. The agency recently signed a memorandum of agreement with the Subdivision and Housing Developers Association for the implementation of Local Shelter Plan-initiated projects together with local government units.

As part of his efforts to help shore up funding for housing, del Rosario had also expressed full support for Senate Bill No. 203 and SB No. 1774, which both seek to fasttrack the finalization of a concrete national housing financing strategy. SB 203 also proposes an annual budget of P135 billion for the DHSUD or a total of P2.7 trillion for a 20-year period to carry out its housing programs. Funds will also be allocated for NHA, SHFC and NHMFC. SB 1774 meanwhile proposes an annual appropriation of P50 billion, or a total of P1 trillion over a 20-year period for DHSUD and its KSAs.

At the height of the pandemic, the DHSUD’s four key shelter agencies, namely the National Housing Authority, Pag-IBIG Fund, Social Housing Financing Corp. (SHFC) and National Home Mortgage Finance Corp. (NHMFC) imposed moratorium on loan payments of member-beneficiaries. The Pag-IBIG Fund rolled out several other measures as the COVID-19 pandemic and the lockdown slowed down its home loan releases.

In a separate e-mail interview, Pag-IBIG CEO Acmad Rizaldy P. Moti disclosed that as of end June, their total home loan releases reached P20.80 billion down 44 percent compared to the same period last year. This amount financed the acquisition of 20,631 homes, reflecting a 51 percent decline in the number of homes financed a year ago.

“To get back on track, we offered a promo rate on our regular housing loan, setting it at the lowest-ever rate of 4.985 percent per annum for a one-year repricing period and 5.375 percent per annum for a three-year repricing period. These promo rates are available to members for the rest of the year,” Moti said.

“With the support of the 11-member Pag-IBIG Fund board of trustees, we also increased the home construction fund allocation of Pag-IBIG Fund this year to P10 billion, from its previous P2 billion allocation to provide accredited developers additional funds to produce socialized and low-cost housing units for Pag-IBIG members. These initiatives are our answer to the challenge of helping boost the economy by spurring activity in the housing industry,” Moti added.

Crucial role

Now more than ever, the housing czar knows all too well the crucial role that the DHSUD and its agencies will play over the next two decades in helping resolve the country’s massive backlog—pandemic or not.

“As the primary government agency in-charge of housing and urban development, the DHSUD plays a vital role in ensuring sustained efforts toward addressing the housing gap even at times of pandemic. Crucial in the sense that we need to continue the production of housing units with strict compliance to health protocols. But closer ties with our partner-developers help ensure that all public and private efforts are synchronized. We are also institutionalizing strategies by incorporating them in the revised Philippine Development Plan to respond against the growing challenges of providing sustainable and affordable housing communities to Filipinos, most especially the informal settlers’ families (ISFs) who are the most vulnerable during these challenging times,” del Rosario said.

“Pag-IBIG Fund has always been one of the leading agencies in the government’s efforts to address the nation’s housing backlog. The agency has long been the single largest source of home financing in the country, and accounts for more than a third or 36 percent of the home mortgage market in the Philippines. The agency has (already) made great strides in the recent years in terms of providing homes to more of its members… I would like to reiterate that COVID-19 will not deter Pag-IBIG Fund from fulfilling its mandates and in helping the Filipino worker achieve their dream of homeownership,” Moti concluded.

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