Tackling urban housing insecurity in Cebu

BAR NONE - Ian Manticajon - The Freeman

The headline in yesterday's paper featured news about a directive from Cebu Governor Gwen Garcia to members of homeowner associations occupying lots owned by the Cebu Provincial Government in Cebu City. The governor has given these occupants of the province-owned lots a 90-day deadline to process their housing loan applications with the Pag-IBIG Fund.

There is no mention in the report about the terms of the Pag-IBIG loan that the residents were urged to avail themselves of. However, based on what I heard and Pag-IBIG’s own reputation for affordable housing loan options, it seems this might be an opportunity for occupants of province-owned lots to finally secure their residences and eventually call them their own.

Housing security and land ownership for residents of Metro Cebu have always been issues that seem to be placed on the back burner, overshadowed by broad rhetoric such as the so-called 'Singapore-like' vision. It's like a festering problem that nobody wants to discuss, with many of our politicians secretly hoping that things will just resolve themselves.

That is why I welcome yesterday's announcement which offers city residents the opportunity to purchase the lots they currently occupy. However, I have yet to hear how the occupants feel about the terms and costs associated with formally acquiring the land they've been living on. Nonetheless, it's encouraging to see this issue gaining attention once again.

I find it tragic that many of our city residents lack housing security. This is especially true for the working sector, who, despite having jobs in the city, can barely afford properties for ownership or rent near their workplaces. As a result --and this is a prevalent issue-- many of our BPO workers, for example, are forced to settle in informal settlements or substandard living conditions in affordable boarding houses. I find this situation deeply appalling.

We have come to accept slums and informal settlements as an inevitable part of urban development. This is a mindset that any self-respecting city should challenge. The cornerstone of urban well-being is a good housing policy, as the security of a home directly influences one's quality of life. When a person is insecure in his dwelling, it affects various dimensions of his life, including health, education, employment, and social interactions.

Urban blight, characterized by the proliferation of slums, deteriorated and abandoned buildings, and neglected areas, also significantly impacts the overall well-being of a city and its residents. The ‘broken windows theory’ tells us that the physical and social decay characteristic of blighted areas in the city can exacerbate feelings of disenfranchisement among residents, perpetuating a sense of neglect.

If there is one thing we should learn from Singapore, it is in the area of public housing. Singapore's formula for public housing includes strong commitment by the government to provide high-quality, affordable housing for all its citizens, effective planning, substantial investment, and a focus on community development and engagement.

Unless we first address the housing issue, we cannot effectively tackle other urban problems. Everything starts at home. Regrettably, many of our people feel insecure in their own homes, threatened by high property prices and increasing real estate valuations. It's as though they are unwelcome in the very city where they work and contribute to its development.

In the same news item yesterday, it was mentioned that a private sector developer has been tapped as a partner by the local government to provide housing development for informal settlers. Perhaps that's a promising start. However, the success of this initiative ultimately hinges on the sincerity of all parties involved toward achieving a common goal.

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