One step toward inclusive growth, the highly elusive factor that is missing in our newly-found status as having the fastest economic growth rate in the region, is to fulfill the housing need of this country. There is obviously a huge backlog in providing housing, particularly low-cost housing which is expected from the government. While there are developers from the private sector that do low-cost housing, very few do it on their own resources. Usually, there has to be some government incentive in the form of credit or tax breaks to induce developers to dedicate themselves to doing low-cost housing projects. And even with these incentives, there has not been a dent in the ever-increasing magnitude of housing needs. Moreover, the little that has been delivered is not up to par in practicality, decency or comfort. Higher standards must be demanded for low cost housing.
I am not going to give any figures about how far behind we are in providing decent housing for low income families or even marginalized sectors of our society. But a look at the shanty towns in our cities, the use of public and private space, even perilous areas near rivers or on mountain slopes, cemeteries even, by informal settlers should demonstrate the obvious.
The Vice President is now the housing czar and has the unenviable task of trying to make a big difference from past failures. I wonder if the office has the necessary budget to acquire the expertise needed, as well as the cooperation of both the public and private sector including the ability to provide land for housing projects to deliver better than in the past.
The way I see it is that there must be a more dynamic, pro-active government policy to be put in place, with all the necessities like funding, local government cooperation, private sector incentives, as well as assistance of government agencies in implementation. This must be a matter of making a big decision to tackle a basic need that has too long been given token if not indifferent attention. Providing the means to do so and accomplishing the task well will definitely be in the category of inclusive growth. Tax money, the profits of the growth rate, whatever resources, must be given.
There would have to be an economy of scale for the amount of housing to be delivered which requires the inclusion of experts, experienced community workers, contractors, financing institutions and all other implementing and assisting personnel in the task of providing decent, attractive and workable housing. Good planning and reliable delivery will be mandatory.
It is also time to think of putting these housing projects within urban areas, near places of work where transportation from long distances will not be obligatory. If government provides enough funds, private lands should be acquired in urban areas for public housing. It is time to think big and put housing next to jobs, amenities, a quality lifestyle and provide the funds to pay for it.
One way to accomplish more would be to insist that employment benefits include opportunity to acquire houses by way of requiring employers (with incentives like tax breaks, etc.) to do their part. There are many creative ways to manage the private business sector to be willing to share in the delivery of housing.
While the policy of providing housing, if serious, will be to achieve massive results, the implementation need not mean one huge area in one place, but pockets of public housing as the availability of land (acquired or already in public domain) becomes available, specially in cities. Certainly our inner cities with misused land resources can be transformed into decent housing for low-income citizens.
Shelter is a basic service that every government is obligated to provide. We are in a better economic position than in the past. Let us use the fruits of that better economy to include those who need its blessings most. That would be a huge step towards inclusive growth, which until now has been missing.