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Friday, August 19, 2022

Negros Occidental Impact 2025: Providing disaster-resilient houses to vulnerable informal settler families

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It was a dream Rowena Bublo, 48, and her husband longed for: a house they can call their own. She couldn’t help but be nostalgic as she recalls how excited her husband was at the prospect of having their own house.

“My husband looked forward to this house, one that is concrete and has no leaking roof. While I’m sad that he didn’t get to live here, I know he is happy that we now have a house where we can sleep comfortably,” Rowena said. Her husband died in a car crash even before they could start with their sweat equity. Sweat equity requires potential unit owners to contribute to building their houses through various forms of labor that range from construction work to administrative work.

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Rowena’s family is just among the 322 who benefitted from Habitat for Humanity’s housing project in Silay City, Negros Occidental. Built using Cement Bamboo Frame (CBF) Technology, the house has proven to be disaster-resilient as it survived torrential rains and violent winds of Typhoon Odette last December 2021.

CBF Technology, developed by Hilti Foundation and Base Bahay Foundation Inc., is a prefabricated frame system accredited by the Accreditation of Innovative Technologies for Housing (AITECH). It uses load-bearing bamboo with metal connections and mortar cement plaster. This system has been tested for resistance to earthquakes, typhoons, fire, and insect infestation.

CBF is not only disaster-resilient and environmentally friendly but also offers shelter innovation.

The Negros Occidental Impact 2025 Project

In 2019, Habitat for Humanity and the Hilti Foundation forged a partnership to bring the use of disaster-resilient CBF Technology to scale and help address the housing gap in Negros Occidental. Dubbed as the Negros Occidental Impact 2025 (NOI25), the project aims to build 10,000 housing units in sustainable communities that are clean, green, safe, disaster-resilient, and progressive for the most vulnerable families.

Silay City is the pilot site of NOI25.

“The project is part of the Silay City government’s relocation program that aims to create a community for 534 families within the Bonbon Village Phase 3. The land is part of the property owned by the City of Silay. The Bonbon Village Phase 3 has a total area of 76,731.73 sq, meters, of which portions are allocated for open spaces, community facilities, and marketplace,” Mardi Mapa-Suplido, Habitat for Humanity Philippines chief executive officer explained.

Three more sites are identified as priority locations including San Carlos City with 230 units submitted for Department of Human Settlements and Urban Development (DHSUD) accreditation and another 280 units under project development. A 230-unit housing project in La Carlota is also under project development.

The project is timely, if not urgent. In August 2021, the House of Representatives adopted a resolution declaring a housing crisis in the country and urged the executive department to mobilize resources to accelerate housing production and provide adequate housing to underserved families. In House Resolution 1677, Congress asked DHSUD and other concerned agencies “to immediately undertake the inventory of idle government lands and fast track the development and disposition of these properties for socialized housing, in partnership with the private sector.” Negros Occidental District 3 Representative Jose Francisco “Kiko” Benitez said idle or empty government lands must be used to build houses for Filipinos.

The government estimated that the country’s current housing requirements is at 6.7 million units, which could balloon further to 22 million by 2040 if not addressed.

Of the many potential project sites, Habitat for Humanity selected the province of Negros Occidental as the pilot area because of three main reasons: there are about 166,000 informal settler families (ISFs) in the province; it is disaster-prone; and bamboos are predominant in the area.

“The success of this project is anchored on the public-private-people partnerships that ensure the implementation of the four project components: appropriate land and site development, adequate and timely financing, viable construction technology and design, and cohesive communities,” Mapa-Suplido added. Recipients of the housing project play a vital role in the NOI25 project by taking part in every step of building the houses.

NOI25 in San Carlos City

One of the partnership projects under NOI25, the San Carlos Milling Company, Inc (SCMCI) Socialized Housing Project in San Carlos City supports sustainable development and offers a hand-up not a hand-out approach – capacitating identified low-income vulnerable families to build their strength, stability, and self-reliance through shelter.

The project is part of the city government’s relocation program to support ISFs living in danger zones, privately owned lands, and areas with government development plans. The project aims to create a community composed of 230 houses within the three-hectare land owned by the city government. It is a relocation program for SCMCI homeowners’ association (HOA) members composed of employees and tenants displaced from the SCMCI land, which was foreclosed and is now owned by Metrobank.

The target recipients of the project are ISFs, mostly senior citizens, who lost their employment in 2000. They were those who were unable to find regular jobs with the same level of income as SCMCI or people who are dependent only on their SSS pension which is at P7,000/month, and those whose age and income level will not qualify them for a home mortgage.

One of the future homeowners in San Carlos is 66-year-old Wilma Barcoma.

“When my husband passed away in 2010 due to cancer of lymphoma, my children and I were at a loss how to survive. We lived with my sister-in-law and took on different jobs to earn a living. Two years ago, I’m fortunate to be one of the homeowners of Habitat’s housing project,” Wilma shared. Despite her old age, Wilma shares in sweat equity – not the hard labor like construction works, but something that people of her age can still do.

“I remove the weeds on the field. I joined the tree-planting activities. I also bring snacks to workers. This is my contribution and it gives me pride that even if I am already a senior citizen, I can still help and fulfill my ‘dagyaw’,” she said beaming with pride as she recalls the work that she does. Dagyaw is the local term for sweat equity.

Wilma’s house is still under construction but she already looks forward to living in a home she can call her own. “I look at those houses with high regards. I dream of living happily with my neighbors. Because we all participate in sweat equity, I already know my future neighbors and I am excited to start a business here,” she enthused.

Each socialized housing unit costs around P530,000. The cost covers direct construction cost, community capacity development, and HOA formation.

“We just don’t build houses. We make sure that our communities are organized and cohesive so we also support them in forming their homeowners’ association and helping build the capacity of the HOA to lead and manage the community towards development and sustainability,” Mapa-Suplido noted.

Habitat for Humanity International chief executive officer Jonathan Reckford on his week-long visit to the Philippines emphasized the importance of partnerships in his meetings with key stakeholders: the local government of Negros Occidental, donors, volunteers, and families.

“Crucial support from partners has helped move forward this Negros Occidental Impact 2025 project, which is designed to provide thousands of housing units. Using the Cement Bamboo Frame technology will enable families to build disaster-resilient eco-friendly homes, in a country visited by an average of 20 typhoons and storms in a year,” said Reckford during his visit to San Carlos, where he joined more than 200 volunteers and participants to build houses. “We need to be bold and courageous together to address the housing issues in a country, and to be fully committed to building homes, one community at a time.”

The NOI25 project complements San Carlos City’s housing program for low-income families making it more holistic to efficiently address poor housing conditions. “Decent homes help low-income families build a foundation to get on in life. What is more meaningful aside from the recognition of our efforts is that recipients can become more productive, upgrading their standards of living because of improved houses or dwellings,” added San Carlos City Mayor Renato Gustilo.

The construction of the SCMCI Socialized Housing Project is envisioned to be completed in two years.

This article has been initially published last

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