The Marcos Jr. administration’s housing czar, Jose Rizalino Acuzar, has a rather ambitious goal for his agency, the newly created Department of Human Settlements and Urban Development (DHSUD). At the closing ceremony of National Shelter Month on Thursday last week, he reaffirmed the Marcos Jr. administration’s commitment to build a million homes annually over the next six years and promised that minimum wage earners and even informal workers such as fishball vendors in the street can soon afford to have their own houses. The DHSUD was created through Republic Act No. 11201, which was enacted in 2019 during the Duterte administration.
Acuzar is an experienced property developer. He started his real estate career in the 1970s, became a contractor in the 1980s, and later founded New San Jose Builders Inc. (NSJBI). Acuzar hails from Bataan and owns the heritage project Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar in the province’s Bagac municipality. NSJBI, meanwhile, has been involved in several housing deals with the government, including a number of socialized housing contracts with the National Housing Authority, the Katarungan Village carved out of the New Bilibid Prisons in Muntinlupa for employees of the Department of Justice, and the resettlement housing for people affected by Mt. Pinatubo’s eruption, among others.
The undertaking of a million homes a year will be through the Pambansang Pabahay para sa Pilipino Program, which Acuzar says “is for all Filipino wage earners because the housing price fits their monthly income.” He notes that the monthly payment of those who will avail themselves of the housing program will amount to only P3,000 to P5,000, which is around the estimated monthly cost of renting private properties.
But first things first. Does the DHSUD have the money for this grand plan? “When we talk about housing, what we need is money. That’s the major factor in [our planning] for housing,” Acuzar points out during the Senate budget hearing last week, warning that “if we do business as usual, the 6.5 million housing need [at present] will balloon to almost 10.9 million by 2028.” As Acuzar admits, the budget for housing will not be enough to address the low-cost housing backlog, although he remains optimistic that the commitment to build a million homes annually is possible with the help of the private sector. Of the proposed P96-billion funding for the DHSUD and other shelter agencies under the 2023 national budget, Acuzar says the DBM allotted only P3.9 billion for housing, nearly 50 percent down from the 2022 budget of P7.6 billion.
Sen. Chiz Escudero agrees. He stresses that the one million target will happen only if the government will pour in more resources into its mass housing projects. “Housing remains in the basement of government spending. This year, for example, shelter retained its cellar-dwelling status in the national budget, receiving a microscopic 1/6th of 1 percent, or P5 billion, [roughly equivalent to] the amount property moguls allot for constructing one high-rise,” Escudero notes, although his figure is bigger than Acuzar’s. “The DHSUD estimates the shelter demand to grow by 827,000 units a year. This means building 2,277 homes every day over the next six years just to meet future demand, without denting the huge 6.8-million-unit backlog prior to 2023,” Escudero says of the huge task at hand.
There is also a need to address the perennial problem encountered by previous housing programs for the poor: Nonpayment of loans. If borrowers become delinquent, money for new housing projects will run short. Acuzar emphasizes that borrowers need to regularly remit their loan payment to sustain the project. “As soon as they get their house, they need to pay because for every unpaid house, 10 Filipinos would not be able to get their own shelters,” he explains. The Home Development Mutual Fund, or Pag-IBIG Fund, emphasizes the same. While informal workers may also avail themselves of the socialized housing loan program, Pag-IBIG chief Marilene Acosta says that funds must be collected from the borrowers. “Of the almost 15 million Pag-IBIG members, only 1.5 million avail themselves of the loan services,” she points out, adding that the savings of the remaining 90 percent fund the housing loan program of the government. “Our commitment is that we will find ways to fund the housing loan but the key here is the collection,” Acosta stresses. So there is the added requisite to ensure that borrowers have recurring income not only to pay the small amortization but also for the upkeep of their houses.
From the looks of it, the target of a million low-cost housing units a year is like promising the moon and the stars to the poor. Acuzar needs to disclose more details of how he intends to implement this rather unbelievable plan. Low-income Filipino families who have long yearned for a house of their own can only hope that Acuzar will really find a way to complete this difficult task. And that it will not end up as another broken promise as experiences with previous administrations have shown.
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