What shelter should provide


Ma. Isabel Ongpin

WE have heard of the National Housing Authority, the agency in charge of the national shelter program. In the public’s perception, by government mandate this is the agency that should be delivering shelter to those who need it most, usually the lower middle class, and further down to the poor and homeless. There is in particular a large and growing backlog of low-cost housing in this country and we do wonder if the National Housing Authority is making a dent.

Furthermore, seeing the low-cost housing projects around the country, at least from the outside, many of them seem to be unoccupied. It cannot be said that they are abandoned as they seem never to have been occupied at all. There has to be an explanation and there is no information on the matter forthcoming from the agency.

Now that some of the unoccupied housing has been forcibly taken over by poor and shelter-less people, the mystery deepens when what the inside of these so-called houses turns out to be rudimentary and downright shoddy and virtually unlivable. What would one call a so-called house that has badly put together galvanized iron sheets for a roof, no attempt to have a ceiling, impossibly small space for any size of family, with no bathroom fixtures in a tiny cubicle designated as a bathroom, and doors and windows that are not up to standard use? Moreover, this kind of housing has no water and no electricity connection. The whole picture is a travesty of a housing facility and since taxpayers’ money is involved, must be explained.

Is the National Housing Authority trying to stretch its budget to accommodate more shelters and therefore it is cutting corners on the very basics of shelter? If this is the rationale for the shoddy mess of housing that is being delivered, it is unacceptable and irrational.

Every homeless person dreams of having decent housing. Shelter is a basic service that governments are committed to deliver to their society. But it must be decent, adequate and dignified shelter, not what is being foisted on us–taxpayers, those in need of homes, the general public.

It has been reported in the news that the NHA is far behind in the shelters it has been mandated to provide for Yolanda victims. Something is not working well in the National Housing Authority.

Low-cost housing should mean economy of scale not economizing on basic needs or simply ignoring them. A housing agency should be able to cut costs when it embarks on large-scale housing by standardizing the materials, the design, and the overall community plan where it is located. Meaning that it saves money by buying the materials in large quantities, hiring the contractors that can deliver adequate design at the lowest costs to provide shelter of a quality that meets basic human needs. Aside from space for privacy from the immediate neighbors, water and power, adequate space for the usual human activities conducted within a shelter, the agency should have an overall community design that will fit the housing within it as an integral whole as well as relate to the surroundings. There should be open space for parks and playgrounds, roads to commercial areas, and landscaping. The everyday needs of the young, the elderly, the working citizens should be considered.

Unfortunately, low-cost housing or mass housing usually is not given its due for the required humane qualities that are necessary in any kind of shelter. Low-cost should not translate to cheap and shoddy, minimal and inadequate delivery.

Perhaps what are needed in the National Housing Authority are not just engineers and accountants but community and social workers, representatives of people who need homes, modern and streamlined ideas from non- traditional architects and contractors. And competent managers.

These professionals may come up with better ideas on how to deliver. Maybe they should also look into non-government organizations who are into providing low-cost housing and could be tapped to help out. Non-government organizations like Gawad Kalinga and Habitat not only provide better shelters than the government- issued ones but work with the community before, during and after to turn what they construct into real shelters for those who need them. And all at a much lower cost.

Lately, well-known private sector developers have through government contracts and financing provided by government agencies entered into low-cost housing and delivered serviceable and attractive shelters that are acceptable to the users.

Perhaps this is the way for the National Housing Authority to go instead of re-inventing the wheel. They should provide the standards, use the bidding system, facilitate the financing on both sides and get dignified, adequate, humane housing.

The President has promised better housing in the very near future for those who need it through government agencies. Let us hope agencies like the National Housing Authority step up to deliver on the President’s promise.


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  1. We cant blame the poor for occupying those empty houses. I mean think about it, reality is that there is no electricity and water in those area and the structure is poor. Its only natural that policemen and soldiers are not going to live on those houses.

  2. dating magna-nakaw on

    The unoccupied housing forcibly taken by the poor were not built on any civilized standards and I was told that these housing projects were built during the reign of former Vice-President, which also the former Mayor of Makati Jojo Binay. When the name “Binay” is mentioned, it should be a common knowledge about rampant corruption in the Philippines. Let’s wait and see if PDU30 can deliver his promise to build bigger and better housing with water and electricity for soldiers and policemen.