Urban planning for urban poor housing PDF Print E-mail
Thursday, 08 October 2015 15:34

Table Talk

BY Mike S Apostol

Housing development in urban centers is one of the greatest burden of highly urbanized cities. Usually, urban poor housing projects are in slum areas of vacant lots owned privately and a colony of squatters appropriated for themselves  the vacant lot and after a few years of occupying the lot, they hold on to it, defying the Law and the lot owner.

What is lamenting in this unfortunate scenario, is that government agencies many times come to the rescue of the squatters and invoke the Bill of Rights in our Constitution backed up by the protection of the squatters human rights. The lot owner in frustration to recover their property, often times, offers the property for sale to the squatters. Because of the huge cost of the prime lot, squatter colony organized themselves into a cooperative to avail of assistance from the government or other financing entities that bankroll the transaction. It might be either a grant from the government or foreign organization or a lenient and easy term of payment from the financier who bought the property for the squatter family. Like any squatter colony, their houses are constructed without any plan. Road access to the colony is so narrow and always those tiny roads inside the colony are pathways and trails, just enough for a squatter to pass and impossible for vehicles. Worst, all available lot vacancy inside the colony are occupied without taking into consideration the size and form of the lot. Many times, small houses block pathways and like an anthill, the colony built their tiny pathways anywhere. Privacy to them is unknown, makeshift comfort rooms, bathrooms and dirty kitchens can be seen anywhere inside the colony. Commonly, the bedroom, dining room and living room arre rolled into one and in a little corner of a squatter’s house and covered by a curtain or cardboard or a piece of plywood is the toilet and the bathroom. But, when they organized themselves into an urban poor organization, the government allows them to develop a housing subdivision within the city proper. Politicians usually act as their protector and facilitator because a squatter colony is a powerful and vote-rich bailiwick.

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The government’s Housing Land Use Regulatory Board (HLURB) is primarily the cause of this urban poor housing burden of the city. Their office approves application for housing subdivision to squatters colonies without strictly requiring urban planning that jives with the City Development Master Plan. There is no problem if the application for urban poor housing subdivision is in a raw vacant lot, where subdivision planning can be implemented, but most of those urban poor housing subdivision applications are found right at the heart of the city or barangays where urban housing planning is impossible to implement. It is impossible to demolish those makeshift and implement housing planning, aside from the fact, that you have to face their protector in government. The result of this approved housing subdivision inside the city proper is dangerous to life, limb and property and a hazard to the city.

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The latest fatal incident on this urban poor housing subdivision is the Caridad Subdivision in Barangay Tumaga. The conflagration spread rapidly almost to the entire subdivision, because the city’s firetrucks cannot pass the very small pathways going to the subdivision at the early stage of the fire. To think that the subdivision happens to be beside a river,the fire trucks cannot utilize the water from the river, because it cannot go inside the subdivision as the pathways are too narrow, where only residents can pass. Had the fire trucks able to penetrate the subdivision, the damage to life and property could not have been higher. After over an hour of the inferno, some 300  houses were razed leaving over 800  residents homeless and now under the care of the city government and DSWD, and one senior citizen perished. The damages to personal and real properties will reach million of pesos and other couple of million pesos shall be allocated by the city government for the homeless. If there was urban planning before they were allowed to build their subdivision, this fatal incident could have been avoided. This is not only the first case of fatal conflagration in the city on urban poor housing subdivision. It happened many times and the other existing urban poor housing subdivisions in the city proper are potential danger zones for conflagration. Indeed, the city does not learn from past fatal incidents.

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Urban poor housing projects in the city handled and facilitated by moneyed private individuals are allegedly big business. They allegedly make money from three sides. They collect their share from the lot owner who sell his land to the urban poor, they collect also a share from the innocent urban poor beneficiaries counterpart and a share from the government’s financial urban poor loan grant as “brokers” or “go-between”. This is an anomalous transaction by a crook individual who disguises himself as lending a helping hand to the poor. These crooks should be apprehended before they “fleece to the skin”  the government, the urban poor beneficiaries and the lot owners. Or are they in cahoots with some employees of government agencies involved in the urban poor housing program?

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Scoop: Many years ago, former DENR Secretary and Congressman now Governor of Zamboanga Del Sur Antonio Herrera Cerilles, in a casual conversation in his residence in Quezon City, talked of a case study in urban planning, while studying the matter in Europe and America. He also said that he will legislate in Congress a comprehensive law on Urban Planning in the country. Why don’t the city and some agencies adopt this Urban Planning from the governor? Perhaps the city will learn some new ideas on how to go about this social menace of urban poor housing projects in the city. Forget about “amor propio”, Zamboanga Del Sur is a neighbor. Agree or disagree and take it or leave it.