A call for spatial and cultural adequacy in housing
By Atty. Junefe G. Payot
At the launching of the joint housing and livelihood project of the Social Housing Finance Corporation (SHFC) and the United Nations-Habitat (UN-Habitat) for families displaced by the conflicts in the Islamic City of Marawi, Secretary Eduardo del Rosario of the Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council (HUDCC) urged that we construct bigger housing units because in a clan-oriented culture like that of the Maranaos — where multiple families may share one house — the usual 20 to 25 square-meter area of government housing units would not suffice. The concern was also echoed by SHFC President Arnolfo Ricardo Cabling, himself a long time advocate of the right to adequate housing.
Thus, UN-Habitat architects led by their Country Program Manager Christopher Rollo — together with representatives of the displaced families, traditional local leaders and the local government designed units with lofts, which resulted in a total floor area of more than 40 square meters per unit.
I fully agree that culture should always be considered in housing. And I would go even further to say it is about time we adopt a higher minimum floor area for all housing projects because such would be more attuned to the general Filipino culture, as will be illustrated later.
I would add too that housing for Muslim communities — like that for Maranaos — ought to strive for a housing finance that is consistent with Islamic principles. Aside from enhancing cultural adequacy, such effort would open the door to Islamic securitization (i.e. issuance of asset-back sukuk or shari’ah-compliant bonds), which could generate funds to build more communities.
Self-help efforts of Transformers to address inadequacy of government housing units
The inadequacy of public housing units in the Philippines is born by the study of architect Alonso Ayala, a development planner at the Institute for Housing and Urban Development Studies of Erasmus University in Rotterdam.
His study in government resettlement site in the province of Laguna showed that after resettlement, the families who received housing units went on to incrementally extend their 20-square meter houses to as much as 72 square meters, doubling habitable space per person from around 4 square meters to 8 square meters. This phenomenon illustrates powerfully that, in many cases, the current small-sized housing units provided by the government need to be enlarged.
Ayala found that the extesions were made not only for physical comfort but also for cultural reasons such as to provide separate rooms for boys and girls, to make room for visiting relatives, and to add a “dirty kitchen.” Before my non-filipino friends could start imagining cockroaches crawling everywhere, a “dirty kitchen” is an exterior kitchen where all the cooking – and the gossiping!- happens. Other reasons for the extensions were economic in nature such as to put up a carpentry shop or sari-sari store.
Amusingly, these families who make changes on their units are called “transformers” in academic parlance. But unlike the very quick transformation of robots we see in sci-fi movies, theirs are incremental changes that happen gradually over the years, depending on their changing needs and financial situation. It is no less fantastic though, seeing how these families manage to improve their lives after resettlement as manifested in the transformation of their dwelling.
As Ayala eloquently puts it, the extensions enable the low-income transformers to “find their own way to a better quality of life and therefore fulfill their housing needs and aspirations to a greater degree than compared to the original situation.”
This phenomenon clearly urges us to rethink the size and the design of the housing units that the government currently provides. It also makes the case for participatory approach to housing in order to ensure that what families actually need and aspire to are incorporated in the building of their homes.
PROMOTING THE RIGHT TO ADEQUATE HOUSING
The SHFC encourages families to design their own houses. Thus, those in highly urbanized cities, where residential land is scarce and expensive, are often inspired to include lofts in their design in order to increase habitable space in their small plots. In less urbanized areas, families may design their bungalow houses with larger floor areas and with sturdy foundations to allow for a second floor should they need to expand (“Nakaabang na” as hopeful community members like to put it). Consequently, SHFC has increased its load to enable families to build bigger housing units.
As for ensuring the cultural adequacy of our housing finance, we have sent staff abroad to learn about Islamic finance and have already procured the services of an Islamic housing finance expert. We also studied the opinion of respected Filipino banking law experts who say that it is already feasible to adopt Islamic finance even now because it does not contravene existing Philippines laws on contracts. Once we successfully roll out our Shari’ah-compliant housing projects, we can have the said accounts securitized and issue asset-backed sukuk bond, This can generate much-needed housing funds.
We must provide adequate housing. Doing so means safeguarding culture, aspirations and dignity —none of which you can put a price tag to.
(Atty. Junefe G. Payot is the Executive Vice President of the Social Housing Finance Corporation (SHFC), the key housing agency implementing the government’s social housing program. SHFC is headed by its President, Atty. Arnolfo Ricardo Cabling. HUDCC is now the Department of Human Settlements and Urban Development also chaired by Sec. del Rosario)