IT was bound to happen – organized homeless groups invading and taking over low-cost housing projects of the National Housing Authority. All those new empty units with nice roads though the houses are still quite inadequate for habitation due to lack of bathrooms, running water and electricity, but still better than living under a bridge or precariously next to a dirty river or clogged estero.
For years now when flying by a helicopter over areas of Bulacan, Cavite and Laguna, and the environs of Metro Manila, one can see quite a number of these vast uniform housing units like Monopoly house symbols spread over the landscape. If one looks closely enough, very few of these complexes (and there are many) are fully occupied. Some are startlingly empty and seemingly abandoned or just standing there. And there are many such.
On the way to Baguio at the beginning of the Palispis Highway in La Union, there is one housing project that seems to have been finished (don’t know about water, electricity, etc.) for at least five years now and is still unoccupied. There it stands bereft of people. An explanation is needed. Or, maybe home invaders will come?
So, if the National Housing Authority is in charge, maybe it should explain these unfinished or unoccupied low-cost housing developments in a country where more than a million and a half people are squatters (got this number from the television news and it sounds understated) and a majority live in substandard housing. In Metro Manila alone, there are said to be more than half a million squatters. The group that has invaded the Bulacan (San Jose del Monte, Pandi) low-cost housing projects is an urban poor group, Kadamay (Kalipunan ng Damayang Mahihirap) which says they are tired of government neglect of their housing needs.
There is one mystery here, though – urban groups needing shelter usually resist being transported outside their urban areas of comfort, even for subsidized or outright grants of houses. How come Kadamay is not of the same mind but trekking out of the city to take over distant housing projects? There must be an explanation here too.
Meanwhile, the National Housing Authority states that the houses in question are programmed for the military and others who are already the beneficiaries. In other words, these houses are spoken for. So, where are the beneficiaries?
If we take this statement to be true, the next question is why are the units lacking the basic services of running water, electricity and bathrooms? Why are housing projects like these low-cost houses generally unfinished? Is it that funds have run out or planning was faulty? Or, did the contractors run away with the money and left vital parts undone? Or, is it that the beneficiaries are supposed to finish them off? I think we need answers to the taxpayer, the homeless and government authorities supervising the National Housing Authority or whatever agency is responsible.
It may certainly be true that there are not enough funds to house every homeless family in this country at the same time, but whatever is built with the limited funds should be value for what was spent. A house needs running water, electricity, bathrooms and community services around. Why are these not in place? Why is it incomplete?
One begins to wonder if it is red tape or something like one agency unable to do a task because another agency did not do its own task. Has coordination failed catastrophically that we have unfinished houses lacking basic services or amenities? We need answers to these questions.
Under the present situation, more funds and work will have to be invested just to evict the home invaders. And where will they go? Their actions cannot be condoned for the sake of law and order. But if efficiency, organization and successful implementation of low-cost housing projects had been in place, the problem would not have reared up and taken the government agencies by surprise.
Shelter is a basic service. In our Third World economy, the government has to lead in providing it. It has to encourage private developers to do so too by giving them incentives. Who knows maybe these factors are all there, it just was not accomplished as it should have been.
Time to take a serious look at the housing problem and go back to the drawing board. But don’t take too long. Housing is needed since yesterday.