Part of the Philippine Development Plan 2017-2022 is a push for developing alternative and innovative solutions to bridge the housing gap pegged at 6.57 million by 2022. Among the proposed innovations is public rental housing for the benefit of the homeless and the underprivileged.

As the primary government agency in charge of the housing industry, the Department of Human Settlements and Urban Development (DHSUD) issued Memorandum Circular No. 2020-003 that created a technical working committee (TWC) to craft a policy framework and program implementation for the Balai Rental Housing Program (BRHP).

The BRHP is envisioned to address homelessness; free informal settler families (ISFs) from danger zones and dense settlements; and clear waterways and railways of obstructions, thus minimizing flooding. It’s also seen to help keep less fortunate Filipinos safe and allow them to live in a more humane and decent environment while promoting in-city relocation.

It’s common knowledge that in most ISF areas, particularly in Metro Manila, squatting syndicates run the show—collecting as much as P2,000 “monthly rental” per unit. Yet, these dwellings are located in danger zones, such as under bridges or along waterways and railways. Settlers are forced to take the bait because they have nowhere to go and their livelihoods are nearby in these areas.

Latest data showed that ISFs account for 27 percent of the total housing need in the country. This indicates that a large number of low-income earners are unable to acquire their own lots and homes, hence, they are forced to “squat.”

With BRHP, the DHSUD aims to free the ISFs from this horrible set-up. We will take the lead in overseeing and coordinating the implementation, monitoring and evaluation of the program.

To ensure a whole-of-government approach, the DHSUD invited representatives from other national government agencies, local government units (LGUs), state universities and colleges (SUCs), and non-government organizations to be part of the TWC, which is tasked to integrate inputs to aid the formulation of an effective and sustainable rental program.

In pursuit of my advocacy of close engagement with our stakeholders, we have also included the developer groups like Chamber of Real Estate and Builders’ Associations Inc. (Creba), National Real Estate Association (NREA), Subdivision and Housing Developers Association Inc. (SHDA), and Organization of Socialized and Economic Housing Developers of the Philippines (OSHDP) to ensure that government efforts are in-sync with the private sector.

Under the BRHP, LGUs, SUCs, NGOs and other people’s organizations serve as key proponents. They are tasked to identify and/or provide suitable land for the project; formulate policies and rules and regulations, including the identification of beneficiaries; secure necessary permits for development projects and take responsibility for the estate management, among other functions.

On the other hand, the DHSUD, along with key shelter agencies (KSAs), is in-charge of site assessment, development planning, preparation of the terms of reference for the hiring of developers, and tapping of subsidy funds for the project. The KSAs are also tasked to extend technical and financial assistance for the development of the project and to review and assess its viability.

We can also tap the escrow funds intended for socialized housing for these projects to lower the costs of the project. Hence, low rental rate will be charged by the principal proponents such as the LGUs and SUCs.

The principal proponents play a key role to ensure the sustainability of the BRHP as estate managers responsible for the maintenance of the facilities, collection of monthly dues from the beneficiaries and for the provision of security, health and other social services.

The Disiplina Villages (DVs) of Valenzuela City are very good models of an LGU-initiated rental housing program. These are “township” projects complete with community-driven livelihood programs and amenities like police precincts to maintain peace and order, fire stations, health care centers, schools and sports facilities to keep the youth away from vices. A total of 16,189 ISFs, who formerly lived along waterways in the city, were the targeted beneficiaries of these DVs. Most of them are now living as productive citizens in decent and functioning communities.

The DVs’ template incorporates the inherent government powers of eminent domain and master planning while amplifying citizen responsibility through actual representation.

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