Why is housing not government priority?

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    EVEN without natural and man-made calamities that come our way, Filipinos have been grappling with the problem of lack of decent and affordable housing. But when disasters strike, such as the Taal Volcano eruption, typhoon “Yolanda” and similar strong weather disturbances, and the Marawi City “siege,” the housing problem becomes exponentially devastating.

    The massive housing problem stares our senators in the face, for any quick tour of the city will reveal the squalor and hopelessness of the denizens in Manila’s squatter enclaves not far from the Senate. But at the budget hearing of the new housing and settlement department, the numbers revealed were both shocking and pathetic.

    Despite the expected increase of 6.57 million units in housing backlog by 2022, the Department of Budget and Management allocated only P3.683 billion to Department of Human Settlements and Urban Development (DHSUD), or just 4.7 percent of DHSUD’s original proposed budget of P77.060-billion for 2021. This is about 0.02 percent of the country’s GDP.

    ‘DHSUD’s P3.683-billion budget represents just 0.8 percent of the national budget for next year…’

    DHSUD’s P3.683-billion budget represents just 0.8 percent of the national budget for next year, the senators pointed out. The housing deficiency is at 6.5 million, which could surge to 12 million by 2030 considering the rate of population increment, or 22 million by 2040 if the government does not act at once.

    Sen. Francis “Tol” Tolentino, chairman of the Senate committee on housing and human settlements, pointed out the inevitable relationship between the housing problem and the still-raging COVID-19 pandemic. Tolentino said: “It has been stressed over and over that the first line of defense against COVID-19 is your house. How can you shelter in place during a lockdown if you don’t have a house of your own?”

    Tolentino underscored the felt need to allot more funds to DHSUD. The senator advised DHSUD Secretary Eduardo del Rosario to be more proactive and to ask other government agencies to voluntarily consent to the transfer of their respective housing and resettlement appropriations to DHSUD before the Senate proceeds with its plenary deliberations on the 2021 national budget next month.

    According to Tolentino, Section 7 (G) of Republic Act No. 11201 empowers the DHSUD to coordinate with other government agencies to ensure the effective and efficient implementation of the government’s housing and urban
    development programs.

    This is a good, practical suggestion worth trying, since various departments in the Executive branch have housing components in their respective budgets, such as the Department of Interior and Local Government, Office of Civil Defense, the Department of Agrarian Reform, and the Department of Social Welfare and Development. Why not fuse all these funds and funnel them all to the DHSUD for a comprehensive housing and development program that will benefit the poor and the middle class, including these department’s personnel?