City mayors should focus on decent housing

WHAT MATTERS MOST - Atty. Josephus B. Jimenez - The Freeman

How does it profit the city mayors who are able to build the business centers in their burgeoning metropolis, dotted by skyscrapers towering in their skylines, with giant malls, exclusive clubs for the rich and glamorous, and golf courses for powerful politicians and taipans, if the exclusive enclaves of rich tycoons and foreign executives' condos are surrounded by colonies of thousands of squatter families and urban settlers with filthy and unclean dwellings around mountains of garbage and junk?

Mayors should focus on housing and should have a vision of a decent, clean, and dignified community with green plants and flowers, complete with access to clean water and away from the dirt, danger, and desecration of human dignity. City officials should go out of their comfort zones, away from their well-decorated, air-conditioned offices and see for themselves how their own constituencies are staying inside shanties, crowding each other in makeshift rooms made of cardboard and discarded tarpaulins.

The members of the city council should go out of their world-class session halls and hold their sessions inside some foul smelling, pest-infested environment inside the urban poor settlements. They should feel the pulse of the people and see for themselves the sad realities on the ground.

The problem of lack of decent housing is a global phenomenon but it is not beyond solution and hope. City mayors should do what is within their means and whatever the city can afford. We understand their predicament in terms of lack of adequate funding and lack of space, but these are huge challenges that can be broken down into manageable chunks. We understand that no local government can solve the problem alone but with the support of national agencies and the Office of the President itself.

No one can solve this gargantuan problem without tackling the closely intertwined problems of property rights, rates of urban migration, the social dimensions of urban planning, policies and priorities in national land use, and above all, funding.

The global figures indicate that in the next 30 years, urban migration shall reach six billion people. In the Philippines, out of today's population of 112 million, more than 70 million are all in the urban centers. There is a constant and large-scale movement from the rural areas to the urban centers because all the emerging changes in the economy driven by technology are concentrated in cities.

All the facilities are dumped into small spaces and all the jobseekers all migrate to the centers of commerce, industry, and entertainment. Even the education centers, the top health institutions and all the social and economic institutions are located in cities with limited spaces and facilities.

Given all these constraints, there are still some initiatives that mayors and city councils can do to address the situation. If it is in the hearts and minds of socially-sensitive local executives, nothing is impossible. The local governments should partner with the business sector, especially big companies that employ thousands of employees.

The city council should establish a link with industrial leaders and make housing a priority agenda for a long-term partnership. Business and industry should partner with the city government and make sure that people have dignified, decent, safe, clean, and healthy housing and communities. Local governments should link with global NGOs and seek funding from international institutions with social conscience.

We just need to hear city mayors declare to one and all that urban housing and settlement is one of the cities' priorities. The problem of a pandemic can also be traced to dirty, filthy, and decaying surroundings. We cannot be spending billions for a cure when we can spend much less for prevention. I do not know about you, but I am not impressed with big cities with all the amenities of luxury and sophistication when around the peripheries are hundreds of thousand human beings crowded and huddled on top of garbage, sleeping with rodents and cockroaches.


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