Property development

DEMAND AND SUPPLY - Boo Chanco - The Philippine Star

The proposal to sell NAIA for redevelopment to help pay Duterte’s debts raised interesting comments in one of my Viber groups.

The consensus was the need to do it right. Fat chance that is going to happen.

Redeveloping NAIA is not a new idea. The JICA  “dream plan” for Metro Manila urban redevelopment suggested converting NAIA into a park. It is appalling that less than two percent of NCR is green space.

NAIA is the last remaining large open space left in the metro area. We desperately need it to provide us breathing space.

Says our resident transport expert: “selling NAIA as a real estate property play is bad for traffic. With severe shortages of housing for the poor and the lack of parks, it should be converted to serve as the green lung for NCR, interspersed with medium rise affordable housing.”

Chimed another, a property developer: “An HDB development, like in Singapore, for the working class would be better than another BGC.”

The only one in the group with a doctorate in urban regional planning and is with one of our largest property developers shared his thoughts:

“Putting a large park in NAIA is a good idea. But a park the size of NY Central Park still leaves about 300 hectares for redevelopment – which will likely lead to more congestion if developed following current CBD densities and given lack of metro/region wide infra (i.e. not just within redevelopment area).

“So even with a central park, the government needs to forego revenue maximization and plan for lower density uses (including affordable housing) if it wants to reduce further congestion. It should be firm with this plan and not allow amendments that allow higher densities.”

I was the resident cynic. I told them to face reality. Property developers just want to sell and make big money quickly. They don’t care about traffic or quality of life. They are focused on their “fiduciary responsibility” to their shareholders.

Even now, I sense that there are influential people salivating and making backroom approaches to the new administration to sell NAIA now.

Everyone agreed a master plan is needed, even if just an update of the JICA “dream plan”. Any buyer should be  obligated to abide by it.

Here is the other reality: the government has abandoned its planning responsibility and most private developers only have bottom line concerns.

An Ayala executive once told The Business Times of Singapore that “there is nobody in the Philippines who regulates urban planning. It has been great for Ayala Land, because we are probably the only company there that has the scale financially to take on large plots of land…

“By developing big tracts of land, we become the government; we control and manage everything. We are the mayors and the governors of the communities that we develop and we do not relinquish this responsibility to the government.

“But because we develop all the roads, water and sewer systems, and provide infrastructure for power, we manage security, we do garbage collection, we paint every pedestrian crossing and change every light bulb in the streets – the effect of that is how property prices have moved.”

Hooray for Ayala. Indeed, not having to deal with city hall to fix a broken street light has always been a good reason to buy property from Ayala.

And if it were not for the foresight of the late Col. Joseph McMicking, we probably wouldn’t have the modern financial center in Makati. Ayala Avenue had been this patch of sanity and modernity in an otherwise chaotic and ugly Metro Manila.

But now, even Ayala can’t be depended on.  The patches of green are slowly giving way to more buildings in the Makati CBD. An overcrowded BGC, with its traffic jams… what happened to good urban planning?

The guys in my Viber group believe we should  develop our cities with the convenience and comfort of people in mind. To borrow a concept from Imelda Marcos, we should think in terms of human settlements.

The township concept, if properly implemented, is the  way to go. People must be able to walk to work, buy food and groceries, and be entertained in movie houses in the same area.

But the only successful township I know of in NCR is Eastwood City. It hosts call centers and the call center workers live in small units in surrounding condominium high rises with commercial establishments to serve their daily needs.

Our property developers cater mostly to the upper crust who buy units to speculate rather than to use. Indeed, most developers violate the spirit of the law that requires them to allocate 30 percent of all units in a project to socialized housing. If at all, they build these units away from where people actually work. That doesn’t help.

One of our members, Gerry Choa, objected to my generalization about the failure of developers to make lives easy for people. Gerry is developing the 2,000 hectare Lancaster City in Cavite.

Gerry made sure the development is affordable (between P1.7 to P7.5 million per housing unit). They have a K-12 school within the development, a commercial center, access to health services, and a bus service to take residents to and from NCR for work every day.

It is now a community of 125,000 people and the master plan includes an IT-business park that will enable residents to work near where they live. It has a church, community center, and recreation areas.

That’s not all. In cooperation with Imus, one of its LGUs, they have conceptualized the development of affordable rental housing for the urban poor. It is designed to reduce their cost of living, as well as reduce the LGU’s cost of delivering social services, public health, education, etc.

Gerry thinks the high cost of home ownership produces a mismatch in a poor person’s income earning capability and his living expenses. Rental housing near where jobs are available allows better income generating activities while reducing cost of living.

More about Gerry’s development after I visit it. Offhand, it looks like it is the right way to do property development.



Boo Chanco’s email address is [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @boochanco.


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