Everyone dreams of getting their own house. Who doesn’t? After all, it is natural for future homeowners to think of their “dream house,” whether alone or with a family. However, for many Filipinos, this dream only remains what it is: a dream. In a developing country like the Philippines, while it is believed that every family “has the right to live with dignity” in the comfort of one’s ideal home, it’s unfortunately still far from reality. This is just one of some housing problems in the Philippines. To fully grasp what it is that makes getting permanent residency more complicated than it should be, it’s essential to understand the housing situation and problems in the country, along with potential solutions that can address this issue.
The Housing Situation in the Philippines
As mentioned, the country currently deals with problems surrounding homelessness. Data from the statistics office showed that about 4.5 million Filipinos are homeless. Additionally, in 2017, it was reported that more than 1.5 million families are considered informal settlers by the National Housing Authority (NHA) and the National Economic Development (NEDA).
These informal settlers face many issues regarding sanitation and safety, especially as most of them live in dangerous areas or “danger zones.” For example, most of these informal settler families reside near waterways and are at risk of experiencing flooding and the effects of natural disasters. They also face health risks due to lack of clean water and poor or lack of sanitation facilities. Additionally, the density of houses increases the risk of everyone getting affected by disasters like fires. Besides these living conditions, they also face problems with forced eviction and having their homes demolished without a practical plan for relocation.
Housing deficit and backlog
While there have been different government efforts to address the issue of homelessness in the country, there has been an issue surrounding a housing deficit and backlog for several years now. This means that the target number of housing units for government housing projects had (and still hasn’t) not been met until now. This creates a further problem as deficits in a year, along with a growing population (and thus, additional need for more housing units), lead to backlogs that carry over the next year and so on.
For example, in a previous interview on ANC’s Rundown, Negros Occidental Representative Francis Benitez mentioned that while the housing production under the Duterte administration was the highest recorded in the country, the annual target to get housing assistance is still short by a little over 300,000. The longer it would take for an administration to address deficits, the more the next administration needs to work on. Along with a steady increase in population growth, this housing problem will go on longer for more administrations to come.
Reasons behind the housing problem
Rural to urban migration
Ever notice how a considerable number of the homeless population lives in cities? There’s a notion some Filipinos have that living in urban areas means having a better life instead of living in rural areas, mainly because of concerns surrounding finding jobs or leaving disaster-prone regions. For this reason, many migrate to urban areas, usually traveling hundreds of kilometers/crossing seas just to reach their destination. This increase in housing demand, in turn, leads to a rise in land value and higher housing prices.
This affects everyone, especially those considered to live below the poverty line and the middle-income families. With the rising prices of goods and the lack of growth in income wages, the housing problem occurs and worsens. For other professionals who find jobs in the cities, finding the high prices of houses push them to settle for renting places instead of buying their own properties. The demand for inaccessible housing and income problems then lead to more informal settlers. While the government does have socialized housing programs for relocated Filipino families, the lack of focus on sustainability, new job opportunities, and poor location choices for these houses push families to leave these homes and return to the cities.
Another issue that worsens the housing problem in the country is red tape, which is excessive bureaucracy in public offices, in this case, the government. The difficulties and delays in getting permits prevent housing projects from easily pushing through. The same goes for land developers; if the process can be shortened by eliminating bureaucracy, developing costs can decrease, and projects can be completed faster.
Lastly, natural disasters also affect a lot of Filipinos. For example, the Philippines is hit by an average of 20 annual typhoons. In addition, seismic and volcanic activities also hit the country every once in a while, which is one factor in destroying lives, disrupting livelihood, and losing houses.
This prevalence of disasters is yet another factor for having people displaced and left homeless. For some, it would take many months or even years before they can rebuild their lost houses and livelihood.
What can be done?
Given the Philippines’ housing problems, what can be done to fix this? It’s definitely not going to be an easy feat as so many factors lead to these problems and have been a problem for a long time. Still, some potential solutions could help fix this issue.
Address government policies and red tape
As mentioned, the problem with red tape prevents housing projects from pushing through and adds housing costs. Omitting this barrier can potentially improve the rate of creating housing projects and decrease the costs of purchasing houses. The government can also lower the interest rates for socialized housing to help address the housing deficit and decrease backlogs.
Require or encourage responsibility for developers
Another action the government can do is to require or encourage real estate developers to create affordable houses or do housing projects for the underprivileged and marginalized. They can develop a policy allowing developers to do housing projects to meet social responsibility goals. Another action they can do is encourage developers to venture into providing affordable housing options. For example, they can offer benefits or incentives for a property developer to encourage having a lower cost of homes.
Improve socialized housing and housing for the poor projects
Aside from lowering the interest rates for socialized housing, focusing more on the sustainability of these housing and relocation projects can prevent further issues with rural to urban migration. As mentioned, some families that have been relocated decide to go back to the cities as the houses do not provide them livelihood, job opportunities, other necessities, and easy access to specific infrastructures (groceries, hospitals/clinics, churches, etc.). The government can create a government unit or agency that would look into these projects in different parts of the Philippines and ensure that those who would relocate would be provided with houses that allow them to have a decent lifestyle.
Address other poverty-related concerns
Lastly, possibly the most significant solution is to address the issues surrounding the poverty rate in the country. Ultimately, helping the homeless population is not all just about building houses. It’s undeniable that poverty and homelessness are linked to each other, so addressing one entails the need to address the other. For one, efforts should be made to ensure that development does not just occur in urban areas but is equally done in rural areas. Providing enough job opportunities, having equal wages regardless of location, and having well-built and maintained housing in rural areas can help encourage people to stay or move into other regions in the Philippines to avoid overcrowding the cities.
Understanding the housing problems and their causes is significant for anyone who wants to look into buying their place. The difficulties of buying one house aren’t just something a person struggles with individually but are inherent to the country’s problems. Hopefully, however, by implementing new policies and creating projects that focus on addressing the Filipino people’s needs first, the issue surrounding housing poverty can eventually be eliminated.