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Settlement Planning and Design: Experiences from Mandaue City, Cebu

By Jessica Mamo, on 28 April 2015

1. Heading image_Completed landfilling on site_web

The Philippine Alliance has been an active agent in Mandaue City since 2000. Their work is primarily focused on two large sites, involving a large number of communities, each one at a different stage of settlement upgrading. The team collaborate with Local Government Units (LGU) to address the housing gaps within the city by adopting a sustainable citywide approach which benefits both the low-income groups, as well as the city’s vision of development.

This post explains the approach that has been adopted for the upgrading of the 6.5 Relocation Site in Paknaan, one of the two prominent sites where the Alliance is active in Mandaue City.

The relocation site is situated in Barangay Paknaan, on the periphery of Mandaue City, and covers an area of 6.5 hectares. Originally a mangrove area, the site was chosen to accommodate 1,200 families, organised into 12 Homeowner Associations (HOA). These families are being relocated from along Mahiga Creek in central Mandaue City, as part of the River Rehabilitation Program, after the area was devastated by flooding in January 2011.

Although the site was still a mangrove area, families started living in Paknaan in October 2011. Today, 465 families who were allocated a plot of land have moved on site, some building permanent housing, whilst others simply rebuilding houses out of light recycled materials.

Informal developments on site (left); Construction of permanent housing development, overseen by TAMPEI (right)

Informal developments on site (left); Construction of permanent housing development, overseen by TAMPEI (right)

10 out of the 12 HOAs are part of the Homeless Peoples Federation (HPFPI) and collaborate with the Alliance, particularly with regards to organising communities to save, enabling them to finance the construction of their new homes, or pay monthly amortizations for loan repayments. TAMPEI, the technical support unit to the Alliance, have provided assistance in the planning, design and construction stages of the upgrading process.

The Role of Homeowner Associations

The strong role of the HOA is interesting to note. In order for a family to be eligible for an upgrading or relocation programme, they must first form part of a HOA which is registered by the Housing and Land Use Regulatory Board. This requirement has driven communities to get organised and collaborate closely with one another, creating close-knit communities which take pride in the recognition they receive as a registered HOA.

This contrasts greatly with the situation in some other countries, for example the communities I encountered during fieldwork in Cambodia with the MSc Building and Urban Design in Development last year. The particular settlement we were working with in Battambang faced particular concerns regarding community mobilisation and organisation. As a students group, we were constantly challenging the concept of referring to the residents as a community since they did not actually work as a single unit, and found it difficult to support each other. Therefore, the requirement of forming part of a duly registered association acts as a form of mobilisation for residents to really act as a community.

The HOA is an important representation for community members, as a form of formal identification within the City.

The HOA is an important representation for community members, as a form of formal identification within the City.

Land Acquisition and Financial Support

One of the most important elements of slum upgrading is the acquisition of land, which allows families to have security of tenure, whether they are being relocated, or able to upgrade on site. Without the constant threat of eviction, families are able to invest in their homes by building permanent structures. To be able to do so, families need the financial support to buy the land, as well as to pay for the construction of the house and site development. This support either takes the form of the savings program run by the Federation, or loans.

An important stakeholder is the Social Housing Finance Corporation (SHFC). SHFC is mandated by the President of the Philippines, and aims to provide shelter solutions to organised, urban poor communities. It was created to lead in developing and administering social housing programmes, such as the Community Mortgage Program (CMP), which is currently being implemented in Paknaan. The CMP is a loan system, targeting residents of informal settlements, that aims to finance the lot purchase, site development and house construction, which will be repaid over 25 years.

By far the most encouraging approach that has been adopted in Mandaue City is the housing construction through personal savings. Some families, mobilised and organised by HPFPI, have been able to limit their loan from SHFC to the lot purchase, and finance the construction of their homes through their own personal savings.

The construction of their houses, which began in September 2014, was dependent on the capacity of the families to save a fixed amount per month to keep up with the rolling costs of construction since no capital was initially available for the project, other than the money they put aside.

In March 2015, 5 units were completed, with another 8 units still under construction. Out of the original 23, 10 families struggled to meet the monthly target, which means that the construction of their units has been delayed. However, these families have shown that persistence can challenge the notion of charity and free housing.

Ongoing construction of 23 housing units, funded by beneficiary families (left); 41 housing units were completed in 2013, funded by the SDI 7-Cities Programme

Ongoing construction of 23 housing units, funded by beneficiary families (left); 41 housing units were completed in 2013, funded by the SDI 7-Cities Programme

Housing and Service Provision

There are two approaches to the housing development, depending on the affordability of the family in question. If the family is able to cover the full expenses or monthly loan repayments, then the family may proceed to construct the full housing unit. If families are unable to take the full loan amount, they may instead opt to construct them incrementally – however, this second option has never actually been implemented.

Very often, residents aspire to apply for the complete rather than the incremental option, even though they probably cannot afford the loan repayments. This results in families being rejected from taking the larger loan, and therefore actually being unable to build any form of permanent housing.

As part of the TAMPEI team in Mandaue City, I have worked on the design of new housing units that cost less than the original low-cost row house design and are therefore a viable option for a greater number of families, without resorting to the incremental construction. So far, five alternative housing units have been developed, two of which are illustrated in the images below.

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Service provision and site development in Paknaan is still lacking, particularly with regards to sanitation services. Through the initiative of one particularly active HOA called SMASH, two communal toilet blocks will be built soon. Through the collaboration between TAMPEI and SMASH, the design proposal and community management system were developed.

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By far the biggest challenges that we have faced throughout the developments of the Paknaan relocation site have been due to the large number of stakeholders that are involved in the project… surely a common issue when approaching citywide upgrading!

Shortcomings and delays have been caused by both the communities, some of whom have been unable to keep up with their required savings, as well as the local government units, who have promised more than they can deliver with regards to the site development. However, it is only through close collaboration by actors across various levels that such large-scale projects can be implemented, and have a significant impact on the wellbeing of the city’s urban poor.


Jessica is an architect and has recently completed the MSc in Building and Urban Design in Development at the DPU. Currently, she is working in the Philippines, as part of the DPU-ACHR joint internship programme. Her interests lie primarily in community-led upgrading, particularly with regards to housing and service provision.

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