‘Let’s talk about affordable housing’ 

Development planners talked about building low-cost housing facilities for Iloilo City’s urban poor during the Metro Iloilo-Guimaras Leaders Summit at Sarabia Manor Hotel and Convention Center on Dec. 14, 2007.

This was one of the themes of the break-out session on “Showcasing Good Governance through Harmonized Service Delivery Organized by Metro Iloilo-Guimaras Economic and Development Council (MIGEDC) Committee on Land Use Planning, Basic Services.”

The speakers included Vickie Antonio, project coordinator of Cities Development Strategies (CDS) who discussed about “Iloilo City Development Strategy;” Eden Garde, acting program manager of UN Habitat tackled “Housing in Iloilo City-Region;” and Sonia Cadornigara of Iloilo City Urban Poor Council talk about “Urban Poor Housing Provision: Working for Total Effects.”

Former Mayor (now Congressman) Jerry Treñas said the number of landless residents in the metropolis has been decreasing as these squatters are starting to own their land.

“The number of informal settlers in the city has decreased,” Treñas stressed, adding that more than 2,000 households have been relocated during his 6-year stint.

Noting records of Iloilo City Urban Poor Affairs Office (Icupao), the mayor said the 15,000-16,000 households squatting all over the city have been reduced to 13,000 households since he assumed office in 2001.

Global groups helping city’s urban poor

The informal settlers may not be unfortunate at all. Why?

Foreign organizations have looked into the plight of the city poor.

City Planning and Development Office (CPDO) chief Butch Peñalosa said the city’s tie-ups with several foreign institutions were fruits of Treñas’ trip to Vancouver, Canada to speak before the World Urban Forum in June 2006.

So what attracted other global agencies to support the city’s priorities for the poor?

Peñalosa explained that “the mayor presented the successes of the city’s housing initiatives during the international forum while several groups soon responded to the call.”

“The mayor highlighted the best practices such as engaging a multi-sectoral participation in the planning and implementation of relocation program, site-upgrading similarly in partnership with the grassroots and an initiated Presidential Proclamation whereby an existing area already with informal settlers is declared a resettlement site,” Peñalosa stressed.

“The mayor also shared there are ongoing efforts in partnership with private firms on micro-finance and even construction of houses for the poor. With that sharing, several institutions in the audience took interests and are now linking up and networking with the homeless federations for possible assistance,” he added.

Peñalosa clarified: “Slum-upgrading means that you don’t relocate the squatters but start off the development from where they are and improve their living condition by providing access to basic facilities like water and electricity.”

Cities Alliance ‘coming home’

A 10-man Cities Alliance Policy Advisory Board visited the city November 2007 to assess the situation of the urban poor and how to uplift their living condition.

Treñas explained the Cities Alliance has identified projects through partner non-government organization Philippines Homeless People’s Federation (PHPF).

Initially, they pledged 120 houses but might be expanded, he added.
Treñas said they expect 1,000 households to benefit from the house donations to be put up in the city-run 16-hectare relocation site in Barangay San Isidro in Jaro district.

The City Hall also hopes to accommodate more informal settlers because of the Presidential Declaration turning Barangays Concepcion, Gen. Hughes, Veterans and Duran in City Proper and Quintin Salas in Jaro district – which have been occupied by squatters – into relocation sites.

The Cities Alliance visited several relocation sites to see the initiatives of the city government for the poor and assess how they could be able to give support with the giant funding agency World Bank as partner.

The Cities Alliance (Cities without Slums) – is said to be the biggest network of cities in the world – a global coalition of cities and their development partners committed to scaling up successful approaches to poverty reduction.

The CDS Approach

In Iloilo City, the Cities Alliance is implementing the CDS which involves a participatory decision-making for poverty alleviation and sustainable urban development.

The main resolve is to adopt the CDS approach by crafting and realizing a new city vision, participatory planning and project prioritization; prepare strategies for investments in poverty alleviation, health, education housing, infrastructure and environmental management; and harmonize all development plans and activities.

Treñas also attended the 8th Cities Alliance Public Policy Forum in Manila last Nov. 6, 2007 which engaged city practitioners, national government representatives, development partners and research community to discuss challenges and opportunities of an urbanizing world.

UN Habitat ‘at home’ 

Earlier, the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat) pledged P40-million for slum-upgrading project in 15-hectare relocation site in Barangay San Isidro in Jaro district.

The relocation site is intended for some 3,000 families living along the creeks and Iloilo River to be displaced by the multi-billion Iloilo Flood Control Project (IFCP).

Treñas said the UN Habitat grant is the fruit of his speaking engagements before the World Urban Forum in Vancouver, Canada in June 2006 which discussed the plight of informal settlers around the world, from England to Africa.

A UN Habitat representative visited the city late 2006 to assess the living condition of squatters all over the metropolis.

“Because of presentation of programs for squatters by presidents of city’s urban poor associations, the UN Habitat based in Nairobi, Kenya pledged the multi-million fund to Homeless People Federation of the Philippines, an international organization to work on slum-upgrading,” Treñas told reporters.

According to its website, the UN Habitat is mandated by the UN General Assembly to promote socially and environmentally sustainable towns and cities with the goal of providing adequate shelter for all.

Treñas said that UN Habitat will initiate the crafting of a development framework to address the housing backlogs in the city.

He added the UN Habitat will likewise conduct capability-building strategies for existing urban poor communities to make them self-reliant.

Squatters trying to save occupied lots

(Former) Councilor (now City Hall executive assistant for infrastructure) Eduardo Peñaredondo, (former) vice-chair of the committee on appropriations of the city council, noted the City Hall allocated P10million fund intended for land acquisitions in 2007.

But even the city informal settlers can buy their own piece of land, too.

For instance, after a four-year of threat of eviction, around 42 squatter-families have managed to save the lots they occupied by buying the bank-owned property.

The informal settlers belonging to West Habog-habog Neighborhood Association (WHNA) in Molo who are squatting in 7,924 sq.m. owned by the Bank of Philippine Islands (BPI) was told to evacuate the area Oct. 23, 2002.

The bank-foreclosed property which is located near the riverbank is even considered to be a high-risk area because the river overflows during high tides and rainy season.

The BPI management brought the squatters’ condition to HPFP-Iloilo chapter because the bank did not want the property to remain as a non-performing asset.

BPI had asked Kabalaka, the HPFP’s local organization to assist on organizing the community through a savings scheme for them to be avail to purchase the land themselves.

The urban poor group has established a financial management system while mechanisms are being sustained since 2003.

Negotiations between the two parties likewise toned down the lot price to P600,000 from P840,000.

Thus, the WHNA with its three-year saving was ready to acquire the property through direct purchase as BPI required them to come up with a spot cash by Oct. 31, 2006 as deadline.

The community savings have reached P364,118 as of Aug. 17, 2006 and to cover up for the remaining balance, WHNA secured P300,000 loan from Urban Poor Development Federation (UPDF) which is payable in three years with six percent annual interest.

Meanwhile, individual monthly repayment has been computed by the local leaders with the assistance of HPFP-area resource center’s book-keeper and internal auditor.

Likewise, WHNA has started to re-survey the land so as to determine the exact area of individual lots and subsequently calculate the amount of loan for each member-family.

Migration, high cost housing breed squatters

The CPDO has assessed that squatters have been sprouting in the metropolis in search for “easy money” but they still can’t afford to buy their own house and lot because of expensive housing facilities.

Peñalosa presented the concern as one of the key issues before a 10-man Cities Alliance Policy Advisory Board that visited the city to assess the situation of the urban poor and how to uplift their living condition.

Peñalosa said poverty resulted to related problems on unemployment, underemployment, low productivity and impacts on the urban poor’s health, nutrition, housing and education.

“There is growth of informal settlements mainly due to in-migration and high cost of housing,” he explained.

People in neighboring localities tend to migrate to urban centers in the hope to find livelihood opportunities but they still fall short of their income to sustain their families as well as build better homes.

Peñalosa added the bustling metropolis has its share of environmental stress and its associated problems on flooding, garbage and pollution.

Traffic congestion has been also considered a perennial problem in the crowding city.

Why Iloilo City is a ‘nice home’?

It is teeming with main economic activities including commerce and trade, professional and skilled human resource services, tourism, agro-fishery, education and other human resource development, small and medium scale production and manufacturing, and information technology services.

The city competitive advantages are strategic location (near to capital city of Manila, Cebu and Mindanao); comprehensive land use plan with defined growth opportunities and directions; tourism gateway to Panay, Guimaras and Boracay; good political climate; low land values and development costs; regional center for education and governance; low crime rate; inter-modal transport hub; basic infrastructure and utilities; center for regional commerce and trade; skilled and managerial manpower; lower labor cost; accessibility to raw materials and production inputs; active business and civil society support and participation; numerous banks and other financial institutions; and booming real estate development.

This modified story first appeared in The Guardian August 12, 2007