DAVAO City Mayor Sara Z. Duterte announced her plan to allocate P50-billion for tenement housing for informal settlers.

Finally, a voice of reason...

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Yes, Davao City is among the world's largest city in terms of land area but that doesn't mean that government can just buy up lands everywhere for relocation.

We have seen it before, and we keep seeing it over and over again when informal settlers are relocated to some faraway plot of land: They give up their space and move back to where they used to live. The reason? Household economics.

Just as we cannot expect fishermen to become farmers just because we moved them up to the boondocks for resettlement, and carpenters to become fishermen because the available plot for them is near the sea and nothing else, we cannot expect the urban poor to thrive where there are no livelihood opportunities, where schools will require more than the usual transportation fare, and work will eat up more than the minimum fare they can afford or take up a longer time to reach by bike.

Yes, we have lots of land. But we do not have livelihood opportunities of the same scale. And the very reason an informal settlement has sprouted is because livelihood opportunities are within reach.

Usually, however, these are the same places where there is not enough land to spare -- the industrial sites, the ports, the commercial centers. These are where the poor can sell, run a carenderia, find day jobs, have contractual engagements, find work. But even middle-class income earners cannot afford lots in these places because these are prime properties. Much less the poor. And buying lots for individual plots for the poor will be at a great expense to government.

Ergo, build up. It may cost millions to buy a hectare of lot that can fit in 350 housing units for the poor, but a 1,000 square meter lot built up to ten stories can fit in the same number.

This has been a tried and tested model in urban planning from the rich United States to the poor Mumbai in India. Even former President Ferdinand E. Marcos started on this through his Bagong Lipunan Improvement of Sites and Services (Bliss) housing where Bliss tenements were built in Metro Manila for the poor. The Bliss units came with a 25-year lease for the beneficiary-family on the premise that a family should have improved its situation by then and can move to a better place.

But that was the last time government tried tenement housing and continued on the historically losing proposition of relocating to far-away undeveloped lands where the poor families either waste away or troop back to the area they were driven away from.