No more eviction but problems remain

The government has reconsidered its plan to forcefully evict the homeless people who took over vacant housing units in relocation projects in Pandi, Bulacan. The occupation of the thousands of vacant houses may have been illegal – President Duterte’s initial reaction was to call it an act of anarchy – but, after due consideration, the National Housing Authority (NHA) said it will look for ways to accommodate the 6,000 families who moved into the unoccupied houses early this month.

The Pandi affair has exposed some problems in the government’s housing program that need to be studied and acted upon. The Kadamay, whose members had taken over the unoccupied houses in Bulacan, said these had long been vacant and unused, while they had no roofs over their heads.

It turned out that the finished homes had been built for military and police personnel who, it appears, would not move in as the sites were far from their places of work. This is an old problem that some officials have sought to solve with “in-site, in-city, or near-city resettlement ” programs.

There are now eight bills filed in Congress waiting to be consolidated into a proposed Urban Development and Housing Act, said Rep. Manuel Luis Lopez of Tondo, Manila, author of one of the bills. He offered his district as site for model projects that would enable resettled people to continue with their present work.

There is also need to speed up the processing of applications for homes in socialized housing projects. Vice President Leni Robredo said in one interview that during her short-lived stint as head of the Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council (HUDCC), she was able to reduce from 27 to nine the number of documents needed for processing socialized housing projects.

The Kadamay, at one point during its occupancy of the vacant houses in Bulacan, deplored that the low-cost homes being built by the government were beyond the means of most urban poor folk. They called for free mass housing for this sector, as the present socialized housing program of the government does not benefit them.

For weeks, there was fear that forcible eviction of the thousands of families who moved into the unoccupied houses in Bulacan would lead to violence between government men enforcing the law and poor folk fighting to keep the homes they occupied, even if illegally.

Fortunately, this has now been averted, but the basic problem of homelessness for millions of Filipinos remains. The new administration, which was elected into office by a nation hoping for change, should look into this problem of homelessness and, perhaps with the members of Congress who have already filed housing bills, come up with a new program that is realistic budget-wise but is closer to the ideal of a program that helps those of our people who need help the most.

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