The “Build, build, build” program has opened a great opportunity to reduce the massive lack of affordable housing that previous administrations failed to solve.
One major project under the program is the North-South Commuter Railway (NSCR), a mass transit system with 35 stations stretched over four provinces from Clark International Airport in the north to Los Baños in the south.
The NSCR is expected to attract further urban development, especially around its stations, similar to the commercial facilities and condominiums that sprouted around the stations of the LRT and MRT lines in Metro Manila. The 35 NSCR station areas offer a significant opportunity for the construction of affordable housing units within a short commute via the commuter railway to centers of livelihoods and employment. For example, a resident in a condo unit near the Malolos City NSCR station can get to Tutuban in 30 minutes.
The Japan International Cooperation Agency has projected Metro Manila’s population of around 13 million to reach over 16 million in 2035, thus making it even more congested. Last year, the Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council estimated the housing backlog in the Greater Capital Region to be over 800,000 units, with 2.4 million people living in danger zones. In 2013, the Department of Public Works and Highways reported that there were 19,440 informal-settler families living in eight priority waterways that needed to be cleared and improved to prevent future widespread flooding.
Attempts by previous administrations to relocate these informal settlers to disaster-free areas have failed miserably. The main problem is that most of the relocation sites are in places too remote from centers of livelihood and jobs. The families find the travel time too long and expensive, and most of the resettlement sites do not have schools, health centers and other community facilities.
The NSCR presents a possible solution to this problem through transit-oriented development that includes sites for affordable housing around the stations. But this will require collaboration between the government and the private sector, particularly landowners and developers, local government units, and relevant national government agencies.
There are laws and standards that can be used to implement the solution. One, Republic Act No. 7279 (the Urban Development and Housing Act, as amended), mandates “balanced housing.” This requires private developers to allocate 15 percent of the total area or total project cost of a subdivision and 5 percent of saleable area or total project cost of a condominium for socialized housing.
The Local Government Code also empowers LGUs to formulate and enforce zoning laws and implement local housing programs.
The guidelines and standards of the Housing and Land Use Regulatory Board can also be applied to support the provision of affordable housing in the NSCR station areas. Pag-Ibig housing loans can be prioritized for such projects. The Board of Investments also can grant incentives to private companies who develop such housing units for their employees.
The LGUs where these stations are located can also benefit from the initiative. With the expected large number of people using the railway, commercial establishments will multiply around the stations, generating additional livelihood and job opportunities for the local population, and increasing LGU revenues.
Because of the NSCR’s national significance and the critical support needed from national agencies, the government has to take the lead role in planning and orchestrating this initiative. The large number of stakeholders involved requires a clear definition of their respective roles, duties and responsibilities as well as their working interrelationships. The LGUs have a critical role to play since the station areas are within their territorial jurisdiction.
If the project is implemented effectively, the NSCR station areas can accommodate at least 95,000 housing units, benefiting some 473,000 people. It is an opportunity that the government should not miss.