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Dialogue 1.11 (Summer 1998) "Toward a "Social Foreign Policy" for the state to provide affordable housing to low-income groups. order with Asia" Corazon Soliman, Shyama Venkateswar This led to a discussion of a third category of barriers connected to the role of government: overregulation and bureaucratic rigidity. Some participants expressed the need for government involvement in the provision of infrastructural necessities like sewage, water, and the like; others argued June 5, 1998 that the involvement of government often led to abuse and corruption. Participants from the United States and Asia identified instances where government involvement often hurt ordinary citizens. Wilson gave an The following is a summary of the breakout group on housing, as reported example of communities on the U.S.-Mexico border that are unable to by Shyama Venkateswar, Carnegie Council on Ethics and International afford to build their houses because of the stringency of building codes in Affairs the area. As an example of bureaucratic rigidity in Asia, Fernandes mentioned that many of the standards in place in Asian countries are Moderator Corazon Soliman (Community Organization Training and designed by Western-trained bureaucrats and planners, who appropriate Research Advocacy Institute) initiated the discussion by asking the laws that are wholly incompatible with local conditions. Fernandes brought American and Asian participants to share their views on what they felt were up the case of Karachi, another example of government involvement, where some of the barriers to adequate housing for citizens on both sides of the only 5 to 8 percent of the government-sponsored housing projects were Pacific. Although the participants represented countries with different levels occupied by low-income groups, with the rest occupied by middle-income of economic development and political regime types, they agreed on the groups who bought their property on speculation. existence of a common set of barriers. In the United States as well as in Asian countries, a major issue is the scarcity of affordable housing and access to credit. Even when housing is available, the prohibitive costs of renting or purchasing and the lack of easy access to mortgage or lending systems place decent housing beyond the reach of ordinary citizens. A second barrier is the insecurity of tenure and property rights. Both Soliman and Kenneth Fernandes (Asian Coalition for Housing Rights) raised the issue of how in Southeast Asia the lack of secure titles and the prevalence of informal ties to land often result in eviction. Without proper documentation of ownership, those evicted, usually the poor and the marginalized, have no recourse to the law. The American participants were divided over the value of having property rights set within a clearly defined legal system. While some participants commented that a tight legal structure was simply a way to tax and charge citizens during the transfer of property or the closing of a transaction, others, like Harold O. Wilson (Local Initiatives Support Corporation) Class, race, age, and gender discrimination pose another set of barriers. Tom Jones (Habitat for Humanity International) noted that even in the United States, where there is a willingness to help find affordable housing for people of different cultures, races, and classes, there is still a general attitude of NIMBY (not in my backyard). In other words, supporting the idea of housing for all is fine in theory, but it is difficult to implement such plans. People are reluctant to integrate and share neighborhoods with those from different socioeconomic and racial backgrounds. The group turned to the question of finding common solutions for the housing crisis on both sides of the Pacific, and specifically to the means of providing affordable housing for all citizens in both rural and urban communities. A common thread was the need to empower ordinary citizens by organizing them, thereby giving them the opportunity to engage with policymakers and planners in decisions regarding their neighborhoods and communities. Lawrence Chickering (International Center for Economic Growth) gave examples of housing initiatives that his organization has led in California. By organizing tenants to create self-governed organizations in
public housing projects, the NGO was able to turn dysfunctional crimeridden communities into productive communities with less crime and fewer racial tensions. Citing another example, Wilson described a successful initiative in Honduras in the 1960s. A housing foundation started giving small, starter loans to squatter communities with the stipulation that the loans be repaid. The foundation also help form cooperatives, NGOs, and credit unions to serve those particular areas of the community. The key, according to Wilson, was organizing communities. Once that had been achieved, the loans were repaid, and soon afterward the shanty towns constructed from cardboard had been replaced by concrete and cement structures. Soliman asserted that it is important for Asians and Americans to work with their governments in planning and developing communities. She gave the example of the Philippines, where NGO groups advocating for housing rights actively search out planners and technocrats to elicit from them ideas about how to develop communities. She cited a land-sharing agreement in Bangkok, in which slum dwellers had negotiated with the government and the monarch to divide the land on which they squatted; a portion of it was used by the crown property to build commercial buildings where business was conducted, and the rest was used by the people to design houses for themselves. Institutionalizing that kind of interaction, Soliman argued, helps cities to move in the direction of being “people-owned” rather than “planner-owned” or “government-owned.” However, she cautioned that these attempts in Asia tend to be more successful in secondary cities, as opposed to megacities like Metro Manila and Bangkok. All the participants agreed that this work could not be accomplished by the NGO and nonprofit communities alone. It is essential that local community organizations and housing advocacy groups work in close cooperation with the relevant branches of government to find solutions to the housing crisis and to build sustainable communities. Jones and Fernandes offered concrete examples of such successful collaborations in the United States and in Cambodia, respectively. Although ownership is construed in different ways—in the United States, in a legal manner and in Asia, more informally—the participants stressed that giving people property rights and secure titles to land would result in their
being able to use the property as collateral, to invest time and energy in their communities, and to become politically active in demanding local schools, roads, and hospitals. In their personal experiences, these participants had found that providing secure titles and soft loans motivated people to create and build their communities according to their own definition of quality of life rather than that of government bureaucrats and elite planners. The group also discussed the role of intermediary institutions like the U.S. community development corporations (CDCs) at the community, city, and international levels that determine policies in cooperation with city planners. In this context, the participants noted the value of intermediary national-level groups that help to aggregate resources for community-based organizations and train them in advocacy. By amassing funds for lowincome and disenfranchised people and bringing together those who own capital and those who own land, CDCs help people to build their houses, organize, and empower themselves. Wilson brought up the Self-Help Housing Program as a model in place in rural America. Under this program, the Department of Agriculture makes grants to CDCs to organize families to construct their own houses through low-interest loans.
Underlying the discussion of barriers and solutions to the housing problem is the notion that housing is not simply a matter of building concrete structures or infrastructure, but is intrinsically a social and human problem that relates to the empowerment of local communities. Related to this are two questions on democratic values: What is the common good and who defines it? What is the optimal way in which governments can be involved in regulations so that the common good can be preserved? The idea of peoplecentered solutions to housing problems highlights the importance of people’s access to and control of their own resources, and their ability to participate in larger decision-making processes that relate to their lives. Finally, building decent homes and communities is strongly linked to creating economic value for the families living in them. The participants concurred that
focusing on housing development is the first step in generating economic development in rural and urban areas in the United States and Asia. A Story
High Rises and the Poor Excerpt from: Housing by People. Asian Coalition for Housing Rights. No 12, April, 1999, p 9. Vitas Housing in How NOT to Design a Medium-Rise Building for the Poor Tondo:
nuthouse." The buildings are falling apart, uncollected garbage is piling up, walls and roofs in every unit leak, drains are clogged, broken sewage stacks ooze excrement, stairways are crumbling, gangster-like syndicates have taken control of the supply mains and extract fees for water and electricity. Forty-three percent of the occupants are no longer paying their rent or making their mortgage payments, and nearly half perceive their stay in Vitas as temporary, “until they can no longer bear to stay, or the NHA throws them out for not paying.” Court cases against the NHA, and by the NHA, abound.
What happens when poor people who live on the ground, are 'upgraded' into flats that are up in the air? There are some obvious benefits in "going up," since more people can be packed into less land. But it's expensive, hard to maintain and the complex web of connections which knit poor communities together do not always survive the transition from street to sky. The National Housing Authority's enormous Vitas Housing Project was built in Tondo, Manila, in the 1980s to resettle families displaced by the Port Authority's new container terminal. Ten of the project's 27 buildings were allocated for socialized housing while the rest were sold on the open market. The brand-new, engineer-designed, pink-painted buildings were inaugurated in 1990, and marked a revival of NHA's medium-rise housing program. A recent study by Urban Poor Associates examines the project's planning, design, construction and management, and uses extensive interviews with residents to find out how the occupants are adapting to a “vertical environment.” In a time when many slum redevelopment programs are opting for similar high-density housing types, the study makes a valuable catalogue of all the things NOT to do.* It's hard to imagine a project doing more wrong than Vitas, which in just nine years has deteriorated into what one Manila journalist called "a
Almost every aspect of the project seems to destroy community rather than create it. Physical segregation of different types of "beneficiaries" has exacerbated "us and them" divisions within Vitas. Some residents are extremely poor relocatees from nearby Smokey Mountain (the former city dump), who continue sorting recyclable waste within the grounds, to the chagrin of better-off neighbors who bought their units at market rates, and who resent their mortgage payments subsidizing these scavengers.
Contact between neighbors on different floors is due mostly to quarrels. In one instance, a woman hacked down her upstairs neighbor's door with a jungle bodo when there was a leak. Unoccupied buildings elsewhere have been invaded by squatters and social divisions throughout the project have made the entire area into a war-zone. Drugs, crime and violence are getting worse, kids are kept locked inside their small units for safety. Only 33% of the residents belong to one of the 18 residents organizations which have formed in different buildings. There is no project-wide community association. The real bad guy at Vitas is not design. The buildings there aren't much different from the standard walkup tenements you find all over Asian cities, and not all of them are this bad.
But..... What if strong, organized communities had been central in the planning, allotment and management of the Vitas housing project? If people had felt
they had a stake in Vitas, if they felt this was their own community, would things have gotten so out of hand
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