Unfinished condos into hospitals
CTALK - Cito Beltran (The Philippine Star) - March 27, 2020 - 12:00am

During the early days of the community lockdown, there was one evening when I stood on our roof deck observing all the condominiums that have sprouted and surrounded us in Barrio Kapitolyo. The first thing I noticed was that in spite of the lockdown, only 50 percent of the units seemed to be lit up. I suppose half of those finished units are either for investment purposes and are used by owners sparingly while living out of town or are “unsold.” Because of the lockdown there is an unusual quietness in the air as many of the construction sites, big or small, have also been locked down. Even townhouse developments have been shut down by LGUs and most of the workers sent away.

Anyone who knows a thing or two about real estate development will tell you that a 30-day lockdown will seriously hurt the profitability of a project, especially because most of them are done based on bank loans where there is “cost of money.” Add to that, the Metro Manila lockdown has had a psychological impact on would be buyers who are currently undergoing the painful experience of what its like to be “in-city,” and competing with 15 million people for food, water, and medicines and be restricted to one person doing the hunter-gatherer duties while the rest of the family are caged in a 30 to 100 square meter concrete pod. Many potential buyers who once thought of buying condominium units are now seriously thinking of investing on residential farm lots, going back to the province or finally starting their farming adventure outside Metro Manila. To top it off, you don’t have to be an economist to know that businesses will take a hit or a dive, the economic projections are shrinking in percentage each week and all of this means that the market for condominium units that was once there will probably be elsewhere when the dust settles.

On the opposite side of this, a number of hospitals are already shutting their doors because they no longer have beds, rooms or facilities. The problem is the government can’t possibly build them as fast as we need them. Local governments are trying to help by doing a cooperative takeover of business hotels and motels while companies like DMCI have offered to construct-convert wards 1 and 3 of PGH into a “Negative Pressure Area,” thanks to DMCI CEO Jorge Consunji and his team. But these are all “remedial measures” when what we need to do is take over the unsold/unfinished condominium projects because they are more than half finished and can easily be converted into hospitals with as many Negative Pressure Rooms as needed.  I am not suggesting confiscation but a mutually beneficial transfer for the public good. The government can negotiate, barter, or simply buy up at least one big condominium development in each of the 16 cities in Metro Manila and the lone municipality of Pateros. The government can even skip Quezon City because they have the biggest share of hospitals in Metro Manila.

What I am suggesting is for the government to institute a selective freeze on on-going high rise condominium projects based on location, accessibility and viability for conversion into public hospitals. Many townhouse and condominium developers have told me that the mark up per unit on townhouses and condos is somewhere at “plus 40 percent”. That’s quite a huge mark-up that developers might be willing to shave down because of “their good looks and the goodness of their hearts” rather than spend years trying to find buyers or being forced to go on “sale” for lack of buyers or investors in light of the economic disaster that COVID-19 will surely cause. There are enough experts who can determine fair value, and the instant “sale” for developers could mean less stress or worries given the new uncertainties brought about by COVID-19.

Just for the sake of giving an example, I often pass down Pasig Boulevard on my way to C5 and I’ve noticed that just behind the cramped property of the Rizal Medical Center is a sprawling property that DMCI has started to develop. This property would have been more useful if it had been bought by or for the Rizal Medical Center, which is categorized as a “National Hospital” that services Rizal, Pasig, and parts of Laguna and region 4. Unfortunately property acquisition and hospital expansion was never the priority of so many administrations. But all that will surely change now once the streets overflow with sick people. The Executive department and Congress needs to recognize the urgent need for hospital expansion and try to buy out the DMCI condo project and convert it into a hospital building that can accommodate as many as 1000 to 2000 patient beds.

Years back I remember visiting a 75-unit condo building in Baguio City that belonged to the PNB/Tan group. It was left unfinished and if it’s still there could easily be retrofitted into a hospital that Baguio seriously needs. There are many potential half finished condominiums that developers might opt to sell and retrofit for government and all we have to do is to retool our minds and our system by using the “State of National Emergency” so we can increase the number of hospitals by at least 30 percent in half the time. Developers in turn can get their money and immediately reinvest their capital to develop residential-farm lots outside Metro Manila. This in turn will help decongest Metro Manila, which is what we need to start doing. I hope that our good Senators especially those who have been victimized by COVID-19 or social media can get together and work at investing in more hospitals, quick and easy.

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E-mail: utalk2ctalk@gmail.com

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