The House helping with homes

ROSES AND THORNS - Pia Roces Morato - The Philippine Star

Theodore Roosevelt once famously said, “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.” The truth behind this advice has rung loud and true, in the manner by which Congress has addressed the Philippines’ housing backlog.

Having assumed the helm of Speaker of the House just last year, Marinduque Congressman Lord Allan Velasco has been working tirelessly to ensure that the most marginalized sectors of society are protected. Despite his low-key and unassuming character, the public has taken note of his unique brand of palpable, boots-on-the-ground public service, which has invigorated the rest of the House of Representatives.

One of Speaker Velasco’s key advocacies was the passage of House Bill 8248, which seeks to institutionalize on-site, in-city or near-city resettlement programs that uphold the urban poor’s right to the city. This, according to the Speaker, is consistent with the spirit of “building housing in the context of a community.” I find this is a very important distinction to make, during these difficult times. It is therefore reassuring that Filipinos can count on their congressional representatives to reinforce President Duterte’s commitment to building affordable and inclusive housing programs, which will eventually result in decent and affordable housing for every Filipino.

Take for example the Purok 6, Lam-an, Ozamiz Housing Project funded by Congress through the 2021 General Appropriations Act. Not only is it aligned with the national agenda in decreasing Philippine housing backlog, it also is a collaborative effort with the Ozamiz City local government unit (LGU). The housing project in Lam-an aims to provide free, decent and suitable housing facilities to around 100 families, comprising around 500 residents from Barangay Lam-an.

Before the housing project was established, the living conditions of those residents in Lam-an were apparently downright deplorable. As in most poverty-stricken communities, the area was prone to fire due to the high density of families and structures packed in close proximity to each other. Needless to say, the place was likewise prone to flooding (since there was no drainage system) and the residents did not have proper access to potable water. Of course, there was an eventual – if not outright predictable – plot twist: When the residents of Lam-an were consulted about more appropriate housing, they were firm in their desires not to leave the location, because they considered it their home.

While stable and secure housing and access to potable water are basic human rights, it is really refreshing to see the wishes of the actual beneficiaries being taken into serious consideration before moving on any development. Eventually, the government opted to provide the residents a proper housing facility in the very place they call home, namely right there in Purok 6, Lam-an itself.

According to reports, each of the 100 beneficiary families are now entitled to a livable unit in the multi-building project, which will also include a basketball court, a daycare center and a market. Here we can all see very clearly what Speaker Velasco meant when he said the government wishes to provide housing in the context of a community. Indeed, Congress isn’t just building a soulless structure, displacing hundreds of people and leaving them there – they are rebuilding healthy, happy communities. Furthermore, having the housing project within the city of Ozamiz means that the beneficiaries will still have access to economic opportunities that urban centers provide.

Pardon the obvious pun, but it seems the goal is to make a home, and not simply a house. As far as this effort is concerned, the Lower House appears to have taken the higher ground, and I can’t wait to see what other community building efforts they have in store.

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