Carvajal: Drop in the bucket

Headline: President Bongbong Marcos (PBBM) aims to build one million housing units every year. Offhand, it is what he says it is, an “ambitious” target and an “aggressive” move of his administration on the country’s housing problem.

But only offhand, because once the numbers are flashed against the country’s total low-cost housing needs, they immediately turn into a rather feeble attempt at a solution, not unlike the generally anemic and nondescript way PBBM is approaching the country’s perennial problems. He’d rather travel, it seems, than eyeball them.

According to Habitat for Humanity in 2021, “over four million Filipino families are living in unsustainable conditions with a lack of safety and access to clean running water and safe sanitation. More than 6.6 million housing units are needed by 2022 with the figure rising to over 12.3 million by 2030.” Manila alone, according to other charity organizations, has a homeless population of a whopping three million.

It’s now November of 2022 which means most of these housing units will probably be built in 2023. Assuming, therefore, that PBBM can build one million units by next year, what is that compared to the more than 6.6 million units that will be needed by then? A drop in the bucket that will produce no significant ripple on the surface of the problem.

The principal reason for homelessness is low income or no regular income. You can do the math; there’s just no way one can build or rent a decent house on minimum wages, least of all on no wages. The only way, therefore, that PBBM could get away with just one million low-cost units is if an aggressive job-creation program is launched that would give Filipinos the capacity to build or rent decent homes.

Fat chance. This cannot be reasonably expected from the profit-oriented businesses of capitalists who control government. And if by a miracle this should happen, it will take years for it to give us the desired results. Government has to come in with some heavy housing subsidy in the meantime. And one million housing units are nowhere next door to heavy.

Yet why only one million a year when the government spends billions for superhighways for the cars of the upper middle and upper classes, billions more for airports for their travel convenience and billions more for military jets and helicopters to protect their properties. Note that the poor, homeless Filipino has nothing to protect.

One million low-cost housing units are not nearly enough under ideal conditions. Factor in government corruption and the program can degrade rapidly. Contractors will shave off from the budget the commissions politicians are used to getting. It is also more than likely that politicians will award units primarily to their ward leaders and followers instead of the intended beneficiaries.

That makes for a smaller drop and a more indistinct ripple. But can we really expect anything different?