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Decent housing is a human right

Among the many horrifying sights in our modern world is the sight of homelessness. Families and children living on the streets or under bridges; families squeezing into what passes for a house made of plywood and cartons near a canal or river, or even in the middle of a pile of garbage.

I know this first hand when 11 of us in our family were cramped into a small house in Tondo, Manila. And I know many of our countrymen continue to dream of having decent housing for their family.

The lack of decent housing is a serious human rights issue we cannot just ignore. In one of his speeches, Pope Francis said that “the Son of God came into this world a homeless person.” Emphasizing his point on homelessness, the Pontiff asked: “How is it that the Son of God has no home? Why are we homeless, why don’t we have housing? And those of us who do have a home, a roof over our heads, would also do well to ask: Why do these, our brothers and sisters, have no place to live?”

We need to confront these questions no matter how uncomfortable they are. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNCHR) there are “well over a billion people are not adequately housed. It added that “millions around the world live in life- or health threatening conditions, in overcrowded slums and informal settlements, or in other conditions which do not uphold their human rights and their dignity.

In the Philippines, government data estimates a housing backlog amounting to anywhere between 5.5 to 5.8 million. The National Urban Development and Housing Framework 2009-2016 study, for instance, estimates the backlog to “reach 5.8M housing units in 2016”. According to Dr. Winston Padojinog the total housing need is estimated to reach 12.3 million by 2030!

The Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council of the Philippines also reported that 1.4 million families are considered informal settlers with 40% residing in Metro Manila.

Just to give you a human perspective on this, with the average household size of 4.6 person, 1.4 million families translate to 6,440,000 persons. That’s right, 6.4 million human beings whose fundamental right to housing is violated.

Addressing this formidable problem requires the partnership between government and the private sector. It also requires a broader policy perspective on the part of government which would ensure that any policy response will be for the benefit of all.

On my part, I would like to believe that I have done what I can to help our people put roof over their heads. Over the years, I have built about 300,000 quality houses in 95 cities and municipalities across 36 provinces around the Philippines. But there is a lot more to be done.

The rest of the housing industry has also responded to the call of government to address the housing backlog. For instance, the Urban Development and Housing Act of 1992 or RA 7279 mandated property developers to “allot 20% of either the total area or total cost of their housing projects for socialized and mass housing.”

The lack of decent housing is a poverty issue because when a family does not have access to decent, affordable, habitable and secure home, it also affects their ability to secure a decent standard of living.

The Center for Housing Policy based in Washington DC, for instance, have cited studies showing the ability of families to access decent housing has “profound effects on childhood development and school performance and can improve health outcomes for families and individuals”.

How will a two-year moratorium on the “processing and approval of pending or new applications for the conversion of the use of agricultural lands from agricultural uses to non-agricultural uses” affect the ability of housing industry to become an effective partner of government in addressing the housing backlog?

I imagine this is the same question that prompted Vice President Leni Robredo, Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno, Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III, Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez and Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Ernesto Pernia to express concerns over the proposal.

Addressing the housing backlog is dependent on both government and the private sector meeting their annual targets in order to close the housing gap. We need a holistic approach to address the housing backlog. It has to be an approach that is pro-poor because the housing issue hits the poor the most.

(For comments/feedback email to:mbv.secretariat@gmail or visit www.mannyvillar.com.ph.) (Senator Manny Villar)

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