Pabahay & 7 Things I Learned from the #APHousingForum

Can you afford to get your own home now?

That's one of the questions that personally struck me the most when I attended the 5th Asia-Pacific Housing Forum at The Manila Hotel last September 3-4. Let me answer why the question unsettled me:

I can safely say that I'm relatively financially-capable. I'm single. I don't have to support anyone (aside from the occasional treats that I give my parents and siblings). I'm pretty sure my income is at a good level. And yet, when someone asked that question, "Can you afford to get your own home now," I was unsure how to answer. the cheapest housing options within Metro Manila is more than 1.2 million pesos. I don't have the cash stashed to pay for that, and financing options are scarce and/or have prohibitive interest rates.

If someone who is relatively financially capable, like me, find it hard to reply with 'yes,' how much more the average Filipinos? And how much harder would it be for the subsistence earners, the poor? No wonder there are urban poor areas and slum dwellers in Manila--having a decent house seems like a big miracle.

[UPDATE: See the related Citiscope article here.] 

Fortunately, the Asia-Pacific Housing Forum--organized by Habitat for Humanity Philippines--seems to offer some solutions. Here are seven things that I learned about housing at the event:

7. There is a housing problem over Asia-Pacific. 

Surprise, surprise! There are housing problems even in wealthy countries such as Hong Kong or Japan.

I heard that there was a peaceful rally at the Housing Forum that happened in Hong Kong the same time the forum was held in Manila, and it was because people are worried over soaring prices of real estate, particularly housing units, there.

In Japan, they have housing problems because earthquakes, tsunamis, and typhoons destroy or damage Japanese homes and they always have to rebuild.

6. There is a housing industry bubble in the Philippines.

I've already heard rumors about this, that there is a surplus of condominium and housing units in the Philippines. I even heard that we should wait for 2016 before buying any real estate units because that's when the housing bubble is expected to burst and the rates of condominium units are expected to rise.

I didn't know if that last bit is true. But the Subdivision and Housing Developers Association presented a study which showed that there is, in fact, more housing units being build than is needed in the high-cost and medium-cost housing sector.

5. But we also need 3M housing units more.

Ironically, there is also a housing gap of more than 3 million housing units for the low-cost, economized, and socialized housing sector. The developers currently don't have the capacity to build as many houses, condominiums, etc. to meet the demands of that sector.

If nothing changes, the developers expect for the housing gap to grow to 10M housing units by 2030. That's a huge housing need that must be solved. It's also good to know that the developers are trying to build capacity so that they can fill that huge gap in the market and trying to find ways to keep their cost low enough to be attractive to people like us.

But the scary thing is, those numbers don't yet match the ability of people to pay for a house.

4. 'We want to live in the city.'

That brings me to one other presentation. This happened at the latter portion of the forum, so the exchange that happened still stands fresh in my mind.

There was a presentation of a representative of the urban poor, Mr. Murphy I think was his name. He said that the urban poor people have banded together to state what their needs are. On top of their list is housing, which is understandable considering that a house has positive implications on safety, peace of mind, education, health, and livelihood.

This is the exact statement: "We want to live in the city. We want to have a hand in our own housing."

Seems pretty straightforward and simple. But the issue is muddled by politics and political will, bureaucracy, affordability, economic stability, urban planning and urbanization.

3. Housing for the poor is profitable.

Having said that, there is money to be made for developers who want to invest in housing for the poor. There's such a huge demand that--if only the government can provide better subsidy and stabler economic environment--it will be possible to both provide decent, adequate housing for Filipinos and ensure profit for private developers.

Other than that, the government can expect that the investments made towards housing will have great economic impact for the country, too. Some of those benefits: 2.3 new jobs for every Php1 million peso invested, economic multiplier effect, and tax multiplier effect.

Houwing projects--even those targeted for the poor--should not be considered a dole out, but a profitable endeavor.

3. It's not just about pabahay; it's also about planning.

Housing is so intimately connected to our lives that discussing it also means discussing a lot of other things.

One of the things, though, that has been mentioned to solve poverty housing and the housing gap is urban planning, in which quality of life for all will be achieved through a comprehensive plan for integrating housing, business, transportation and other public spaces.

This is a pretty, if a bit heavy, subject because apparently this is connected to the United Nation's Sustainable Development Goals and its New Urban Agenda.

2. Government is doing something.

The good news is that the Philippine national and local governments are doing something.

The issue is big, but it seems that the government is slowly getting its act together to try and solve this challenge. There is a budget of about Php50 billion allotted for housing projects in Metro Manila alone, and some government units in the Philippines are also looking at creating policies and programs to support housing for their constituents.

Most importantly, a committee in the Philippine Senate and the Philippine Congress will be spearheading a National Housing Summit next year. This is in cooperation with the World Bank and Habitat Philippines, so i'm hopeful that something good, something concrete will come out of the forum.

1. We can all champion this cause.

Housing impacts us all. It is a universal right. We need to ensure that we all enjoy it.

You can champion it by following and sharing the posts of @Habitat_org or @BuildLouder. You can also sign the online petition for housing recommendations here.


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