SOME 21.6 percent of the Philippine population is poor or experiencing poverty incidence. But this also means that more than 21 million Filipinos have the potential to work and to contribute to both consumption and tax collection.
Right now, it is a sad reality that 8.1 percent, or 8 million Filipinos, are living at subsistence levels. But I insist that we should call them human potential, economic potential, even critical contributors to nation-building, than considering them as burdens of society.
As an architect and urban planner, I want to emphasize the importance of resettlement housing and communities and its significant role in delivering millions of Filipinos out of poverty. It is also a critical driver for economic growth and human development.
In theory, the idea of a resettlement community is to help families to rise from subsistence level to lower-middle-income status. By providing decent shelter, education, and opportunity to work, the family can aspire for a better financial income. On a macro-economic scale, giving the poor the opportunity to work translates into having more contributors to both local consumption and tax collection.
However, despite numerous resettlement efforts, many families which have been relocated in these communities continue to be dependent on donations for subsistence living. Some resettlement areas have become dens for crime and drugs.
These things happen because I believe the design of many resettlement communities are problematic.
1. People are forcefully moved into areas that are far from where they originally stayed.
2. The size of shelters is not decent for a family of 4 to 6.
3. There is no adequate sense of ownership and responsibility of the home.
4. There is no effort for community building.
5. The community is not well-planned, lacking availability of jobs, training, school, worship, and health care. Some lack proper street lighting, decent sidewalks, water and power supply.
Houses to homes
A home is not simply a house or a shelter. It is a space where children are nurtured by the family to have decent upbringing, and are trained into becoming responsible citizens of the country. A complete home, aside from decent shelter, includes an inner circle of family, friends, schools, church, and health care. It also includes an outer circle composed of work, industry, social services, politics, mass media, and ideology and attitudes of the prevailing culture. Using a more technical term, UrieBronfenbrenner called community development human ecological systems.
Resettlement communities are no different in developing townships. It should be sustainable, livable, and resilient. It cannot be forever dependent on government funding or donations. A proper community development plan should be in place once families are relocated. A good case study to learn from is Singapore.
The poverty in Singapore in the early 1960s was severe. Singapore having been cast out of the Federation of Malaya, the Cambridge-educated political leader Lee Kuan Yew had very little resources to work with, no source of water and food, and the geography is generally a swamp. The first duty that he fulfilled was to give everyone a home and have a sense of responsibility and ownership of it. He did not give the homes completely for free. People were made to pay in long-term payment terms of between 30 to 90 years.
Lee Kuan Yew adopted the concept of vertical communities, and made sure access to basic services were given. In his book Third World to First, he said that one of the prevalent issues that the resettlement housing faced was sanitation. Relocated farmers brought their pigs and poultry inside their apartment units. To confront the problem, he realized that the solution was not simply to ban and confiscate the animals, but to holistically educate the families, most especially about hygiene and proper health care. As it is often said “Character begins at home”.
Another model to study is GawadKalinga’s community development program, which does not simply provide a relocation site or a shelter, but livelihood opportunities as well. Skills training is essential for community building as it gives opportunities for both the mother and father of a family to have decent work. Donations are also not limited to financial matters, but also to helping train the people in farming technology and entrepreneurship.
In the designs of Palafox Associates and Palafox Architecture for socialized housing, we recommend adapting vertical farming or growing vegetables from the rooftop and walls of the resettlement communities. In urban areas, this can significantly help provide food for the community. We recommend that the ground floor should become an open area, adopting a stilt design since flooding is a reality that the Philippines needs to confront. We also recommend ample amount of light, religious centers, community vocational centers and libraries, as well as imposing a strict no-smoking and no-drinking policies for minors. Drugs and crimes penetrate resettlement communities when the people have nothing to do, or are in a hopeless state.
After Typhoon Yolanda, I have observed from my trips to Tacloban that mausoleums survived the devastation, while the houses of the poor were destroyed. This led me to think that we seem to be capable of creating monuments for the dead, but cannot even provide decent housing for the living, especially the poor.