IN LAS PIÑAS CITY, VACANT LOTS RANGING in size from a few hundred square meters to several hectares are slowly being turned into productive parcels of land where the poor are taught to become self-sufficient.
Since 1995, the city government, with the help of Habitat for Humanity, Gawad Kalinga and other nongovernment and government organizations, has been building houses for urban poor families.
The houses, however, do not come free. At the very least, owners must pay P500 a month to the city government for 25 years for the right to call the houses their homes.
The project, called the Integrated Shelter and Land Tenure for the Urban Poor, was initiated by the city government to eradicate poverty and reduce the number of homeless people in the city.
So far, more than 23,000 families have benefited from the project, with 139 areas all over the city converted into housing sites. Each one is provided with a community hall, health center, day care center, a road network, even a basketball court?everything necessary to ensure the beneficiaries? access to basic services.
The city government?s urban poor affairs office also provides livelihood training for jobless residents. ?It?s not so much the physical infrastructure of socialized housing. We want to inculcate in them the desire to own a house and work toward that,? said Merlie Ma. Legaspi, the urban poor affairs chief.
?We want them to learn how to work to pay for the house. They were used to having things for free when they were still informal settlers, stealing from electricity and water lines and living on land not their own,? she added.
As a gauge of the project?s success, the number of homeless families in the city has gone down from 36,710 to 13,572, an achievement that earned for Las Piñas the Galing Pook Awards this year.
The awards are given annually by the Ford Foundation, the Development Bank of the Philippines and the Local Government Academy in recognition of innovative practices initiated by local government units.
The project was a brainchild of Mayor Vergel Aguilar during his second term in office. At that time, he knew that getting the informal settlers out of the city would be difficult as most of them had found their means of livelihood in the area.
Aguilar then came up with what he thought would be a win-win solution: Give them permanent shelter and then provide them with the means to become self-sufficient.
The first site of the program was a two-hectare lot in TS Cruz Subdivision, which the city government bought and developed. Of all the 139 sites, the largest is located in Barangay CAA, where 16,000 families now live on a 96.9-hectare property.
?We are still looking at other areas along river ways, the Zapote river portion and private lots in subdivisions. It?s an ongoing process,? Aguilar added.
But more than providing affordable housing, the city government also encouraged residents to band together as a community. In all but three of the 139 housing sites, residents have organized themselves into a homeowners association responsible for collecting member-families? monthly payments for their houses, garbage collection fees and other charges.
The various associations, in turn, have formed a citywide alliance called the Kasama at Alyansa ng Mamamayan sa Pag-unlad Inc. ?If you can get them together, teach them to get along with each other, then that is more than onsite development. It?s building a community,? Aguilar said.