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The stink at the NHA

The Kadamay takeover of long unoccupied NHA housing units in Pandi, Bulacan is an eye opener. In the midst of the outcry about the anarchy of the takeover, let us not forget the problem at the bottom of it all: corruption and ineptness at the NHA.

Our government has spent billions upon billons of our money on mass housing programs. Yet all these have so far been failures in terms of resolving the housing problem.

 I have traveled to many places in the developing world and it seems to me that many countries on our same level of development have been able to handle their housing challenge better. Ours has only gone from bad to worse through the years.

It is obvious the government, through several administrations, has neglected to seriously attend to our housing problem. NHA officials simply do not have the planning ability and the honesty to run the agency.

 There has never been a question of land availability because the NHA and its predecessor agencies always had plenty of land. It had even reallocated land meant for mass housing to mall and high-end land development as what happened in Quezon City.

The corruption at the NHA has been legendary. And I am not just mouthing so called common knowledge. When my father-in-law died many years ago, there was a problem with his housing development in Bicol that needed to be addressed. The first thing an NHA official asked my wife was “what’s in it for him.”

My wife was appalled and said to just forget it. She is a born again Christian and was in no mood to compromise. Some other relatives indicated a willingness to come across and they probably did. But that’s NHA for you.

What happened in Pandi was a blessing. National attention was focused on long completed, but unoccupied units. That is so much waste of public money while an obvious need is going unattended. Why?

The unoccupied units were meant for police officers and their families. But they have refused to accept substandard units. We heard the same story in Tacloban for housing intended for the Yolanda victims.

Indeed, even the Kadamay occupiers later complained the units did not have the minimum requirement for decent human habitation. The units were extremely bare inside and would require a lot of time and money to make livable.

That’s why President Duterte announced he was allowing the Kadamay folks to stay in the units. He was solving what could have been a serious problem with the police officers. He knew he would win no brownie points with the police officers unless he gave them better built units.

Apparently, the substandard units are found not just in Pandi, but also in other places in the country. Rappler reports that a 1,350-unit NHA project in Pagadian City looks like a ghost town. Costing nearly P500 million, the Kagitingan Heights  housing project in Barangay Bogo is a good example of NHA incompetence and corruption.

Says Rappler: “Only a few habal-habal (public motorcycles) pass by during the day, and by night the massive cluster of row houses become the favorite illicit short-time haven of lovers and den of drug addicts…

“Kagitingan Heights is one of the housing projects built through then-president Benigno Aquino III’s Administrative Order 9 (AO 9), which directed the NHA to ‘formulate, implement and manage housing program for the military and police personnel…’”

NHA general manager Marcelino Escalada Jr. told Rappler the construction of Kagitingan Heights commenced in October 2012 and was “physically completed” in May 2014. After three years, Escalada claims the units had not yet been turned over to NHA by the contractor because retrofitting works are still being done.

But Reynante Caparuso, son-in-law of the former owner of the land used for Kagitingan Heights, told Rappler he is not aware of ongoing retrofitting works and he has not seen construction workers at the project site in the past two years.

Caparuso, who lives next to Kagitingan Heights, said that would-be beneficiaries who visited were reluctant to get houses which they described to be unlivable. Caparuso told Rappler that a lot of visiting police and military personnel told him the housing project was good only in the video presentation.

It is time for an honest and thorough audit of the government’s housing program. Perhaps, NHA should be abolished. Whatever funds set aside for housing should be given to Pag-Ibig Funds for allocation to private sector entities with proven track record in building low cost housing.

Government has miserably failed implementing the housing program on its own. The charitable Tzu Chi Foundation and other NGOs like Habitat for Humanity have done better and more cost effective housing. 

It isn’t also as if there is no private sector business interest in low cost housing. I had written before about Resty Perez, a former journalist, who has started building good quality low cost housing in Cavite. The first few units have been released to former estero dwellers.

I remember talking to JJ Atencio of 8990 Holdings, supposedly the largest property developer working at the lower end of the property market. My first question to him was whether it was worthwhile to target this end of the market. His response was a strong yes.

JJ said his projects are for the poor who do not have a house. The units cost an average of about P1 million each. They are looking at those who are currently working and who are only renting a small space.

JJ is also adamant that it is wrong to say quality issues are a given in low cost housing. He said he has introduced a pre-cast-construction process which enables them to construct townhouses and single-story attached units in just eight to 10 days, with an additional five days for single-story houses with lofts.

Well, okay. So maybe JJ won’t be able to build houses for Kadamay members who are mostly jobless. But the point is made that private entrepreneurs can do better than NHA in building mass housing.

With government providing the land and with volume discounts arising from economies of scale in using pre-cast construction, even JJ should be able to compete with current NHA costs (presumably overpriced given the low quality).

We need two drastic solutions to address this problem: abolish the entire NHA, fire everyone and start fresh with a new agency that will only plan and regulate.

Then allow the private sector to build the low cost housing we need. This promises to be better than the current system that is expensive, wasteful and does not work.

UP basketball

Speaking of JJ Atencio, I heard he has agreed in principle to finance the intensive training of the UP Varsity basketball team in Las Vegas. JJ is not even a UP alumnus, nor is any member of his family. But he loves underdogs with potential and he saw all that in the UP team.

This should put to shame all UP graduates who have attained the same economic advantage of JJ or even better. I can name a few of them, but hindi na lang. They know who they are.

Thank you JJ. You are the best!

Boo Chanco’s e-mail address is bchanco@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @boochanco

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