Rising from the ashes, starting anew at ‘Navotaas’
After losing their loved ones and life’s possessions in a fire that hit a Navotas City slum area early last year, hundreds of families are now hoping to rebuild their lives in more decent housing facilities built by the city government.
Newlyweds Willan and Jerlyn Agarin are among those who are starting from scratch. Willan—who lost his first wife, their two children and his father in the Jan. 29, 2011, inferno—found a new partner in Jerlyn this year.
“It’s quite dark, but the sun would shine through the windows every morning anyway,” said Jerlyn, 26, who stepped into their new nest for the first time last month.
The Agarin couple along with about 200 families have just moved in to their low-cost but safer homes called “Navotaas Residences,” City Hall’s first medium-rise housing project.
Navotaas is a play on the city’s name and taas, the Filipino term for height or ascent, which aptly captures the sense of optimism among the new residents as they move on from the tragedy.
Built along Leongson Street in Barangay San Roque, the P170-million Navotaas is composed of two buildings with three floors each and a total of 219 studio-type units measuring about 20 square meters each.
The units were offered to about the same number of families who lost their homes, mostly shanties, in the fire that broke out on the eve of the barangay fiesta.
In an interview with the Inquirer, Willan recalled: “I lost my first wife Jennifer, our two children aged 2 and 4, and also my father. They failed to get out in time. I was outside the house then, preparing for the fiesta the next day.”
The late-night blaze killed eight more people.
After burying his loved ones, the 28-year-old Willan went on “vacation”—his apparent euphemism for mourning—for months. He was living with his sister in Barangay San Roque when he learned of the housing project then being planned for residents displaced by the fire.
It was also during this period that one of his friends introduced him to Jerlyn. They got married earlier this year, but what may be considered their best wedding gift came later—when their application for a Navotaas unit was approved.
Willan noted the stringent application process which required him to present proof that he was one of those devastated by the fire, in his case the death certificates of four family members.
Would-be residents must also agree to some house rules similar to those imposed in pricier condominiums: No pets, no sari-sari stores and no parties on the corridors. They must also agree to take drug tests to be conducted at random by the city government.
Mayor John Rey Tiangco said the restrictions were aimed at making sure Navotaas remains a wholesome community despite its modest environs.
“We basically want them to be good citizens. In return, they can live in the units for 25 years, and if they follow our agreement, their contracts can be renewed,” Tiangco said.
The residents pay for their own power and water consumption, but they only have to pay the city government a monthly “maintenance fee” of P500.
The terms are light enough for Willan, a contractual factory worker, and the currently unemployed Jerlyn who are looking forward to raising a family in their new unit.
“We now have a permanent home which we are getting for just P500 a month. As we are expecting a baby (Jerlyn is three months pregnant), we plan to save up and slowly make this our own,” he said.