SITUATION BEFORE THE INITIATIVE BEGAN
The beneficiaries lived in makeshift shanties along a creek, oblivious to the conditions and dangers of living in such area, and facing eviction by government. These economically depressed families, more than 300 in all, made up four communities. Majority were unemployed and because most had attained merely high school level education, had little employment opportunities.
ESTABLISHMENT OF PRIORITIES
The religious priests of SHEC who had lived for several years among the depressed communities of Pasay City conducted a survey among the families and held consultation meetings particularly with those families living along the creek.
Among the identified major concerns that needed to be addressed were land security (there were threats of demolition while they lived in an identified danger zone), adequate housing (they lived in shanties), waste management (the creek was their dumping area) and congestion (fires regularly broke out within these communities). A consensus was reached by the participants that in-city relocation was the only way to improve their living conditions.
FORMULATION OF OBJECTIVES AND STRATEGIES
The objective was to relocate the homepartners and to provide decent, affordable housing while giving them access to livelihood training and opportunities. The strategies included acquiring a 6,000 sq.m. parcel of land through BPI that afforded a huge discount of 37% on the cost; construction of housing units by HFHP that could maximize space using two-storey walk-up apartment design and innovative technology that brought down the housing cost and by obtaining the services of SHFC to finance the project; and partnering with NUBCW to conduct construction skills training and job placement opportunities even for the women.
MOBILISATION OF RESOURCES
To bring down the housing cost and thereby the homepartners’ amortizations, HFHP undertook efficient construction through project management and utilized its volunteer-friendly and innovative Concrete Interlocking Block technology that required less use of mortar and steel reinforcements, while maintaining the structural soundness of the buildings. The blocks were machine-formed at the site by trained homepartners and became part of their livelihood.
To bring down labor cost, HFHP utilized homepartners’ “sweat equity” or their share of construction work on their and their neighbor’s houses, which was monitored by the members of the Community Association. HFHP was also able to mobilize 29 local volunteer groups and 5 foreign volunteer groups to work at the site.
The SHFC provided the loan to help finance the massive construction activities, covering part of both the land and the housing units. The funding shortfall was handled by both HFHP and SHEC which tapped other groups, both local and foreign, that could provide funding support. One of the largest groups that helped fundraise for the project was the De La Salle High School Batch 1953 which helped mobilize funds from among its batch of graduates and their families throughout the world.
During the project conceptualization phase, a series of coordination meetings were conducted among the project stakeholders, including the Pasay City government which was in charge of site development and the coordination with the government agency handling the eviction of the target beneficiaries. When political crisis caused the local government to put the project at low priority and left it without a site developer particularly for the drainage system, SHEC and Habitat eventually convinced one of its funding partners, the De La Salle High School Batch 1953 to provide funding for the drainage, which the partner provided.
Before the project actually started, SHEC and HFHP conducted seminars with the homepartners to orient them on their roles in the project and to help them with the documentary requirements for the loan being processed by SHFC. SHEC continued its weekly meetings and values formation sessions with the homepartners to prepare them for their eventual role as new homeowners.
Habitat and SHEC pursued its discussions with SHFC for the financing of the project, since its traditional policy allowed them to finance only the land acquisition and not the housing units. It was through a project presentation to the Philippine Vice President and head of the country’s lead housing agency that the Vice President was convinced to make policy changes for SHFC to undertake this kind of innovative transaction. Thus SHFC managed to adjust its processing time to release the payment for the land much quicker than it would have and to allow the construction to begin.
During the construction, Habitat deployed its project construction management team to include a Project Site Engineer, his foreman, warehouseman and logistics personnel in charge of procurement, and a number of skilled construction workers some of them from the community, in coordination with SHEC which handled the administrative/bookkeeping role for the project. The homepartner families then rendered the required sweat equity by participating in the various construction activities from the excavation stage to the building’s finishing stages, undertaking a total of at least 400 hours per family, which was closely monitored by the designated members of the Community Association.
The most utilized tools for performance measurement were the weekly management coordination meetings held by Habitat, SHEC and the Community Association to assess the progress of the project against the project targets set at the start, to include funding, detailed construction timetables, sweat equity requirements, and volunteers mobilized.
170 families, once living in squalid conditions along the banks of a creek, now live in a pleasant, cleaner environment, inside adequate 20 square meter loftable housing units that they now call home. Their homes now have clean water and sanitation, their surroundings with gardens and greens, making their new living space a place to behold. Homepartners have reported an increased sense of safety and peace of mind because of the durability of their new homes and clean surroundings.
The families are currently amortizing their loans at less than $24 a month, for many of them, less than what they used to pay for their rent of their old shanties. Construction is still ongoing for the remaining units of over a hundred more families that have been targeted for completion by year 2009.
The project has indeed brought landmark changes in housing finance policy as SHFC continues to implement its new policy on financing both land and the housing unit, with the Habitat-St. Hannibal Housing Project as its pilot case.
The Pasay City Government has started prioritizing housing for its needy constituents and is currently studying the relocation of another community to a lot near the Philippine Airlines gate at the far edge of the airport.
At least 29 local groups and 5 foreign groups volunteered for the project, not only bringing down the house cost but also becoming advocates for awareness and change in society towards the plight of the urban poor and the problem of poverty housing in the Philippines.
Upon project completion, and as the homepartners move into their new homes, the ownership of the land will have been secured through the transfer of the title in the name of the Community Association. With the concept on housing rights tackled in seminars with the homepartners, the families were made aware of their responsibility of maintaining their good standing towards owning their houses by repaying their loans with SHFC. Ownership of the housing units is granted through individual Condominium Titles, and continued ownership of the land by the association and the units by the homepartners depends on continuous repayment of monthly mortgages by every homepartner on both land and housing unit. The Community Association through its leaders will mobilize small groups to monitor repayments and to help enforce collection policies.
Other project sustainability aspects were incorporated into the project’s activities such as the provision of livelihood training through certified construction skills training for better chances of employment, as well as job placement for those who have already been certified. This will help the homepartners deal financially with their repayment obligations.
To ensure long-term transformation of the homepartners from the “squatter mindset” that had in the past mostly led to crime and violence to that of dignified, responsible homeownership, values formation and training of leaders became an integral part of the orientation programs and will continue to be part of ongoing activities. This will inculcate values of caring not only for one’s self or family but also of being better neighbors in a new community lay-out.
With their training on basic construction skills, the male members of the families are expected to maintain and to take better care of their homes. With women being trained on house painting, they are expected to play a more active role in the maintenance of their homes.
Implementing the project showed the importance of a multi-sectoral discussion, in this case among the project proponents, the Community Association, the local government unit, national government (SHFC), private sector (BPI) and other NGO’s (NUBCW) and organizations (various funders including De La Salle HS Batch 1953).
It also showed that in dealing with multi-sectoral initiatives such as this, it was important to consider that the usual implementation methods can sometimes be adjusted to give way to other parties’ agendas, in consideration of the common goal being pursued by all parties. In this case, the granting of individual Certificates of Condominium Titles had to be pursued to achieve the objective.
Because housing is a major thrust of government, it was also important in this case to attune the agenda of the project to match the agenda of the LGU heads to get their buy-in on the project. The Pasay City government was more concerned for the creation of jobs for its constituents rather than housing. By showing that a housing project will help create jobs, Habitat and SHEC were able to convince the City of the value of housing which has indicated an interest in other housing projects for the City. The LGU will continue to provide site development for the Habitat-St. Hannibal Housing Project (road, basic services).
A lesson learned in the past that was relevant in this project was that if projects are done well, one need not look for partners because partners will seek you. In this case, because of Habitat’s track record in housing, funding and other partners were attracted to the project.
Something that could be done differently for this project and other projects as well is ensuring availability of funds before beginning the project in full blast. Some delays were experienced because of funding shortfalls, which hampered efficiency.
The project benefited largely from the technical expertise of Habitat for Humanity in building the housing structures for the project. Habitat for Humanity has been in the forefront of building decent, affordable houses in the Philippines for more than twenty years, with over 20,000 families helped nationwide. Among its key objectives is to bring down the cost of housing to enable more economically disadvantaged homeless families avail of decent, affordable housing. In 2004, Habitat successfully built its first nine three-storey medium-rise buildings within Metro Manila using its concrete interlocking block technology, allowing vertical construction on expensive lots. This model and technology then became the basis for the design of the structures for the Habitat-St. Hannibal Housing Project, this time using a two-storey design instead of three-stories in order to adjust towards the lower cost budgeted for the project’s target beneficiaries who have less financial capacity. This two-storey design appears to be appropriate for other urban mass-housing projects.
A major aspect of the project that is of much value and should be replicated in the area of urban housing is the granting of Individual Condominium Titles to the homepartners. This also highlights how the mindset of the beneficiaries can be influenced from a cultural bias towards owning land to that of owning a condominium unit. Because of the scarcity of affordable land especially in urban centers, such practice seems more practical.
This also signifies in a relevant way a change in policy for the SHFC which, in the past, handled only land acquisition in implementing government’s community mortgage programs. When the Vice President of the Republic of the Philippines and head of the lead housing agency of the country understood from the Habitat-St. Hannibal Housing Project the new concept of ownership and gave his seal of approval for an innovative way of providing more families with access to affordable housing, this marked a new standard that could be replicated for other projects nationwide. Habitat will continue to tap SHFC for its future medium-rise building projects where the beneficiaries are members of the informal sector who are qualified to avail of loans through the community mortgage program, and through its services, SHFC can pave the way for government to help more families in other areas in the country in need of affordable homes.