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    Inclusive Communities: The Key To Our Housing Problems

    13 July 2016

    Speech at the 2016 International Conference On Urban Development: Accelerating Resilience and Inclusive Growth, Sofitel Philippine Plaza

    It is very interesting that I got this invitation the morning after I received news of my appointment as Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council (HUDCC) Chairperson. Talagang napakabilis n’yo po!

    I would like to congratulate the organizers of this conference for bringing together international and local experts, business leaders, policy makers from the national and local governments, representatives from donor agencies and professional organizations, as well as students of urban development in this event.

    I am sure that in the past two days, you were able to share innovative ideas and come up with practical solutions to pursue resilience and inclusive growth in our cities and our country as a whole.

    The conference theme: Accelerating Resilience and Inclusive Growth is very close to my heart, both as an advocate and a public servant.

    Like many other cities, my hometown Naga City also had to deal with the increasing pressures brought about by rapid urbanization. Land tenure and poor living conditions were the primary concerns of many of our constituents – the same concerns of our emerging urbanized areas and secondary cities.

    To address these issues, the City Government of Naga launched the “Kaantabay sa Kauswagan” (or Partners in Development Program), a social amelioration program primarily designed to empower informal settler families, which at the time, comprised some 25% of Naga City’s population.

    The program is anchored on the belief that the urban poor is a vital sector in Naga’s quest for total development. It addressed the sector’s two main problems by, first, engaging in land acquisition that provides a sense of permanence to the urban poor’s occupancy of the property; and, second, urban upgrading which provides decency, ease and comfort to daily life in the informal settlements and blighted areas. More importantly, these issues were achieved by adopting a “partner¬–beneficiary” perspective in dealing with clients.

    These strategies include accessing various modes of land acquisition—like direct purchase, land swapping, land sharing, community mortgage, and resettlement; institutionalizing a separate financing window catering specifically to urban-poor clients of the lending arm of the local government; and evolving a financing scheme anchored on internally generated resources of the beneficiaries.

    Beyond what we achieved in numbers and the recognition of local and international observers, Kaantabay sa Kauswagan’s single most important achievement to date is the institutionalization of such a mechanism that effectively addresses pressing problems of the urban poor sector.

    This mechanism brings together (1) government agencies, (2) urban poor associations and their allied NGOs, and (3) private landowners to solve standing tenurial problems with finality. Today, all land problems involving the urban poor in Naga are referred to and passes through this mechanism.

    As the new HUDCC Chairperson, I understand that the challenges we face, at the national level, in the housing and urban development sector are exponentially more complex. The country’s urbanization rate as of 2010 stands at 45.3%, and this is seen increase to 56% by 2050.

    Population in urban areas is projected to reach 83 million by 2030, and that is a great challenge if cities are not ready or equipped to address and manage the needs of its citizens, and mitigate the effects of climate change. But if urban growth is managed well, it can translate to higher incomes, wider distribution of wealth, more jobs and investment opportunities, lower carbon emissions, and a better quality of life.

    The theme of the conference is very timely as the country is on the path to becoming a key economy in the ASEAN region. The Philippines is expected to have the fastest gross domestic product (GDP) growth among the 5 biggest economies of ASEAN in 2016, based on the IMF’s latest Regional Economic Outlook for Asia and the Pacific.

    The Philippines’ economy grew by 6.9% in the first quarter of 2016, the highest pace in nearly three years. Seventy-five percent (75%) of the country’s economic output is attributed to urban areas, particularly the country’s 34 highly urbanized cities.

    But despite efforts to promote inclusive growth, Metro Manila dominates our economy by contributing 36% of total GDP. With a population of almost 12 million people, it is among the world’s top ten megacities.

    It is quite understandable that investments become concentrated in Metro Manila — it plays such a big role and we have to make sure it keeps running smoothly. However, this has caused a feeling of neglect among other regions, and that is why we must start paying more attention to other cities outside Metro Manila.

    Secondary cities are vital contributors to national wealth and productivity and are emerging as centers of accelerated local growth and economic opportunity. These cities, compared to urban cores of Metro Manila, Cebu and Davao, are still at the early stages of their urban growth.

    They have more room for improvisation and stronger influence in public administration, local commerce and industry, connectivity, and socio-cultural dynamism.

    Unlike Metro Manila’s situation, we still have the chance of guiding our secondary cities’ urban development and address challenges like traffic congestion, urban planning, and housing before they become unmanageable.

    We can transform them into engines of growth in the countryside, an alternative that can provide the same socio-economic opportunities so that families wouldn’t have to migrate to Metro Manila and its immediate surroundings.

    Promoting secondary cities is becoming an urgent need every day, because more and more of our men and women head to the cities looking for jobs and better services. Our cities are not ready to receive them, so they end up unemployed and oftentimes homeless.

    There is not enough affordable housing for thousands of families who have ended up living in shanties along our cities’ waterways and danger zones. The proliferation of informal settlements is one of the most visible negative consequences of unmanaged urban development.

    The numbers are staggering: 1.4 to 1.5 million families are informal settlers.

    Just as I believed then, I continue to believe today that we can we can make our cities more prosperous by starting with housing. Resettling families living along waterways will keep them safe from climate-induced natural disasters, while allowing us to clean our rivers and build flood control projects.

    Building multi-storey in-city housing will keep workers close to their jobs, lessening their suffering from long commutes, and even help reduce traffic. If we can transform our informal settlements into vibrant, resilient, connected and inclusive communities, then the poor will be able to benefit from, and contribute to, a city’s economic growth and development.

    We want to address the 1.4-million housing backlog within our term. We will disrupt and innovate. We will enjoin the private sector to be our partners in providing not just houses, but decent and affordable communities where our people will find jobs, where their children can safely go to school, attend church, run around and play safely. We are not asking for your charity.

    Companies like Phinma Properties have proven that these developments can be commercially viable, as shown by their on-site resettlement investments in Quezon City. In the past, informal settler families (ISFs) would pay anywhere from 1,500 – 3500 pesos a month to dwell in a 10-sqm space with no proper sewerage and drainage system.

    Through Phinma’s partnership with the Quezon City government, Pag-ibig Fund and several partner NGOs, ISFs today shell out only a little bit more than P2,000 as monthly amortization through Pag-Ibig for decent 26 sqm homes with loft provisions that have proper sewerage and drainage and security of tenure.

    Donors like the United States Government, which has partnered with our government to support secondary cities, also address the most binding constraints that we currently face.

    I understand that through the Cities Development Initiative and the Strengthening Urban Resilience for Growth with Equity (SURGE) Project, inclusivity has become front and center of all our efforts.

    NEDA recently launched the outputs of Ambisyon Natin 2040, a study which is designed to give policy-makers an insight to the Filipino’s dreams and aspirations, and it tells us that owning their home is still a primary aspiration for many Filipino families.

    Likewise, almost 80% of Filipinos say that they want to live in the same city where they work in. These are signs that we cannot take for granted. It reinforces our belief that the struggle of the urban poor for decent, affordable homes, and for informal settlers to stay in the city instead of being relocated very far away from their jobs is our collective struggle to turn urbanization from problem into an opportunity.

    Let me also mention the recently concluded National Housing and Urban Development Summit, spearheaded by Congress, which put to fore the promotion of in-city, on-site housing.

    This was Jesse’s advocacy, and people’s participation in housing provision was one of his legacies when he became DILG Secretary. He laid the groundwork for DILG’s Oplan Likas Program, a resettlement program for Informal Settler Families living along the waterways and danger zones of Metro Manila. P50 billion was allocated to support “People’s Plans”, or community-initiated housing proposals, some of which are in-city medium-rise buildings.

    These projects have shown that not only is in-city housing a viable option, but that much can be achieved when urban poor groups are given a stake in urban development. It is my intention to pursue this program with renewed vigor and expand its coverage, taking full advantage of lessons learned and building on the gains of Oplan Likas.

    In the coming months, the administration’s roadmap for poverty reduction will become more concrete as policies become programs, and programs become activities.

    Rest assured that I intend to make housing a very important component of addressing poverty and improving the lives of ordinary Filipinos.

    I am truly thankful for the opportunity to work towards providing safe and decent housing especially for the poor.

    As I take on the challenge of leading the HUDCC and its Key Shelter Agencies, I commit that it will embody and promote efficiency, competence and people’s participation in performing its mandate of delivering shelter and urban development services.

    Streamlining government processes in the shelter sector, will be one of my administration’s first priorities. We will facilitate the issuance of licenses and permits to expedite socialized housing construction, as well as streamline housing finance processes, in order to address the country’s accumulated housing needs.

    Let me conclude by sharing a quote from Ms. Helen Keller, it reads: “Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.”

    Let me thank everyone who participated in this Conference – government, academe, business, the civil sector, and people’s organizations – I look forward to working with you and achieving our goal of creating truly inclusive and resilient cities.

    Congratulations for a successful conference. Thank you for having me today.

    Mabuhay po tayong lahat!

    Posted in Speeches on Jul 13, 2016