Will Shelter Code solve Davao’s homelessness?

Dec. 15, 2007

By Cheryll D. Fiel
Davao Today

After nine months of grueling deliberations, the City Council has prided itself again of passing another landmark law, known as the Comprehensive Urban Shelter and Services Development Code, or the Shelter Code.

Finally signed by Mayor Rodrigo Duterte on November 15 this year, the Shelter Code is supposed to address the growing homelessness in the city. Non-government organizations like the Mindanao Land Foundation (Minland), consider the new ordinance a triumph.

But what does this new law promise a city, where an estimated half a million people are homeless?

A 1997 study, which registered 40,000 homeless households in the city, projected the city’s housing backlog to reach 109,000 households, or about half-a million people, by 2006.

Minland used this figure to push for the passing of the Shelter Code although the city government continuously denied that the city’s housing backlog has reached that number.

Informal Settlers. One of the houses dotting Bankerohan River, beneath one of the city’s main thoroughfares. (davaotoday.com photo by Barry Ohaylan)

Former City Housing Chief Ceasar Dataya said that the city’s housing backlog hardly reached 10,000 at the end of December last year, based on the census tagging that his office conducted for the period, where social housing beneficiaries were identified and tagged, as priorities for social housing projects.

Dataya said there are households in areas tagged as “informal settlers” who could not be considered part of the list because their household members earn a salary of P6,400 and above, the amount deemed by the National Economic Development Authority (NEDA) to be the income of families who are already capable of accessing formal housing, said Dataya, who used to head of the city’s housing and homesite division under the City Planning and Development Office (CPDO) at the time the Code was still being deliberated.

But he admitted that there are still a lot more families of such income range who could not afford housing. “A lot of the middle-class do not pay the housing loan through Pag-ibig,” he said.

A collaborative research project between the city of Davao and the Davao Association of Colleges and Universities (DACUN) last year showed that 30 per cent of the city’s population could not afford housing. They fall under the category of “informal settlers,” or those living in makeshift houses made of sacks, cartons and scrap woods perched along road easements, river and creek sides, under the bridge, oftentimes turning open spaces into slums.

But often regarded as “eyesores,” these slums house the growing labor force in Davao; which include construction workers, salesladies, small store owners, jeepney and tricycle drivers, laborers, cooks, waitresses, mechanics and factory workers, and other migrants from the rural areas coming in the city for work. Will the Shelter Code answer their housing needs? Dolly Pascua, Minland’s urban program director, said the new law could be very helpful.

It gives the city government more to access loans from the Social Housing Financing Corporation (SHFC), which has some P400 million funds for socialized housing.

The SHFC is the agency, composed of government and private sector representatives, that administers the Community Mortgage Program (CMP) under the Urban Housing Development Act (UDHA) of 1992. CMP allows associations of the homeless to purchase the land and own lots under the concept of community ownership.

The Shelter Code also features a provision that requires developers of proposed subdivision projects to allot 20 per cent of their subdivision area–or subdivision project cost–into socialized housing.

With the new law in place, the city will be “more responsive” in dealing with the city’s housing problem through a body called the Local Housing Board, which acts as a government think-tank that will come up with strategies in dealing with the city’s housing problem, according to Pascua.

“The board may introduce schemes to enable the city government to acquire resources for housing relocation with options ranging from cash payment or through partnership with investors and developers,” she said.

The body may also come up with schemes that will enhance the beneficiaries’ capacity to pay and to install a mechanism to effectively collect loan payment from beneficiaries.

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