SENATOR Joseph Victor Ejercito and Negros Occidental Third District Representative Alfredo Abelardo Benitez, initiators of the proposed in-city housing and urban development initiative, said their proposal is geared towards addressing the housing backlog in the country and its scope of coverage is nationwide.

“The problem on illegal squatting increases and this exist in big cities and provinces in the country,” they said.

Ejercito heads the Senate committee on urban planning, housing and resettlement while Benitez heads the House committee on housing and urban development.

They organized the culmination of the National Housing Summit and Urban Development at Flying V Fil-Oil Arena in San Juan City on April 4.

Delegates from the urban poor groups, key shelter agencies, developers, and other housing related organizations attended the culminating event wherein the initiators presented the results of the nine-month long series of studies and consultations by various housing stakeholders for program and policy development and finding solutions towards making in-city housing possible in the years ahead.

Ejercito and Benitez, along with the officials of the Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council (HUDCC), National Housing Authority, Pag-Ibig Fund, Social Housing Finance Corp., 111 representatives from the national government agencies and local government units, and 398 private individuals aimed to craft policies and recommendations that would make in-city housing a reality.

The number of informal settlers in Metro Manila alone has ballooned to 584,524 families, the group noted.

“We have seen the impracticality of the government’s usual off-city relocation policy where relocates from Metro Manila are brought to Rizal, Bulacan and Cavite,” the lawmakers said.

The proposed solutions of the Housing Summit would enable a wide range of options for decent and affordable housing and should be a priority agenda in the state’s goal to achieve inclusive growth, they added.

They also proposed the development of vertical-style, high-density housing to accommodate more families despite in smaller urban areas.

Speaking of professional squatters, Ejercito and Benitez asked the HUDCC to come up with safety nets to prevent or regulate the number of so-called “professional squatters.”

Professional squatters are those who illegally take up residence in private or government lots, sometimes even in danger zones. They are ejected by way of a court order or sometimes by accident, but usually not before they strike a deal with local governments to be given property. They then sell the property and relocate elsewhere.

The HUDCC has a department that runs after professional squatters

In-city urban development

Benitez said they have engaged in the first step of the planning, which is the identification of available government-owned idle lots that are conducive for the development of socialized housing.

Memorandum Circular 86-87 was signed last December 2015 specifically to do an inventory of all the idle lands owned by the government.

After the lands have been identified, the next process is to find the best use for it. Then go to the master planning and detail the financial requirement on how to build these housing units.

In this case, it is the government that is spearheading the development. They are the developer and they can have mandate on the socialized housing component.

Metro Manila is the pilot area of this proposed initiative, which could then be expanded in other areas, especially in major cities in the country.

“We want to start it in Metro Manila and it will be replicated in other cities. Informal settlers are considered a problem in most big cities and provinces in the country,” Benitez said.

He further said that the concept of in-city housing was cost-effective and therefore something that local governments can easily do.

“Access to decent and affordable housing is a Constitutional mandate of the government. It is time that the right to the city and the right to decent shelter is upheld by the government through the adoption of the in-city housing policy,” Benitez said.