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Settlement Planning and Design: Experiences from Mandaue City, Cebu

JessicaMamo28 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.

Community savings: mobilising for secure tenure and housing in Davao

Laura JHirst7 April 2015

Barangay Payatas, a Quezon City neighbourbood, is home to the Philippines’ largest landfill site, where up to 500 truckloads of waste are dumped daily, and on whose slopes hundreds of people live and work, many of them scavenging for recyclable waste.

It’s here that the foundations of HPFPI were laid in the early 1990s, by Vincentian missionaries who initiated social initiatives with the waste-pickers or mangangalahigs (so-called ‘chicken-scratchers’). This included a savings programme, and as participant numbers in Payatas grew, so too did news of its success.

HPFPI Davao orienting community associations on the savings process. © Laura Hirst

HPFPI Davao orienting community associations on the savings process. © Laura Hirst

Mobilisation through savings

Other communities from cities across the Philippines visited and formed savings groups back home and in 2001, the Homeless People’s Federation Philippines (HPFPI) was incorporated. Today, the savings programme still underpins HPFPI’s community-driven interventions; whenever a group is organised, the first group project is savings.

The idea is that mobilisation through savings can develop communities’ financial capacity to invest in and plan their own developments, through for example negotiating and managing land acquisition, relocation, or on-site upgrading. As a social mechanism, savings brings community members together regularly for support, to exchange ideas and strategies and over time build capacity to negotiate with the state, private sector or other stakeholders to gain secure tenure.

Mobilisation through community mapping, Barangay Ilang. © Laura Hirst

Mobilisation through community mapping, Barangay Ilang. © Laura Hirst

Urban challenges in Davao

Davao, where I am currently working, is the primary city of the southern island of Mindanao. Geographically, it’s very different to Metro Manila, mainly thanks to its low population density and relative greenery. However, it’s still highly urbanised, and with a quarter of the city’s population classed as ‘urban poor’, many of its inhabitants are subject to the same urban trends that proliferate in the National Capital Region.

Davao has a severe lack of affordable land and housing options for low income families, resulting in the spread of informal settlements, often on hazardous land, illegally, with minimal service provision, and at risk of eviction. The huge housing backlog is being addressed at a painfully slow rate by local government, making the work of community-based organisations like HPFPI and the Philippine Alliance vital.

From individual to federated savings groups

Since I’ve been in Davao, I’ve witnessed how savings groups become part of the federation in a number of ways. Some approach the federation directly, encouraged by word of mouth, but also driven by imminent threats to their security. We were recently contacted by community groups in the Ma’a neighbourhood who, having heard of the federation’s work, requested a savings orientation. They are facing eviction from the private land they are occupying and want to mobilise to search for and acquire a relocation site.

A similar eviction threat to the Arroyo settlement (home to 3000 + households and located close to the HPFPI office), has mobilised federation members to encourage their neighbours to start saving in order to be ready to respond to any future plans for the land. Savings here have previously paid for legal fees to fight similar eviction orders.

The federation also reaches out and extends support to areas which have experienced natural disasters, as well as encouraging savings groups, as in Arroyo, which has suffered fatal floods in recent years. Additionally, partnerships between local government and the alliance can pave the way for the introduction of savings and community mobilisation.

HPFPI Davao orienting community associations on the savings process. © Laura Hirst

© Laura Hirst

Current projects of the Philippine Alliance

The Alliance is currently constructing houses as part of a large relocation project at a site called Los Amigos, which has initiated a new group of savers. We are also facilitating community mapping of a number of informal settlements in an industrial area of the city, for community planning purposes, supported by a progressive local government unit.

We hope that this will act as a catalyst for these communities to create savings groups, supporting the planning process with increased social and financial capital. The strength of the savings programme has also allowed communities in Davao to access funds through the ACHR Asian Coalition for Community Action (ACCA) programme for upgrading projects to address problems of land, infrastructure and housing at scale, often in partnership with local government.

These have included bridges (including the now world-famous, and rather beautiful bamboo bridge in Arroyo), flood defences and structure upgrading across a number of communities.

Models of community saving schemes

The federation’s model of savings comprises several different funds, amounting to five pesos (about 7 pence) a day; an Urban Poor Development Fund (loanable, for projects to develop the area) and group savings (withdrawable anytime for emergency use) are kept by the community, whilst a monthly contribution to a city fund helps HPFPI to sustain its activities, and build a revolving loan fund at the city level.

Each group is also encouraged to save 150 pesos a month for future land purchases. Groups meet weekly and there are rules about the collection and storage of money for transparency and accountability.

Whilst the model appears straightforward, as with any community mobilisation work, challenges arise from group to group. During my first month here, each Saturday we visited each of the HPFPI affiliated community associations in Davao to assess and understand their current situation and any problems they were experiencing.

Mobilisation through community mapping, Barangay Ilang. © Laura Hirst

Mobilisation through community mapping, Barangay Ilang. © Laura Hirst

Community organisation is complex

Mobilisation depends greatly on the huge commitment of voluntary time and effort of the HPFPI ‘mothers’ and coordinators; during the early days of a group’s formation members need orientation and training in record keeping.

In the long term groups also need to be sustained and encouraged; groups can succumb to savings fatigue, and become discouraged about slow progress and gains. Some associations in Davao are comprised of members who have mobilised for land acquisition but are spread living across different sites, which brings practical problems in terms of regular savings collection and meetings.

Leadership issues, schisms within associations and mismanagement of savings do occur, and in these cases, the mothers need to employ huge sensitivity and diplomacy to navigate community politics, histories, relationships and individuals to maintain strong community associations that can continue the struggle for secure tenure.

How can emerging challenges be overcome?

In light of our visits, we’ve been discussing ways to address some of these problems. We hope to start piloting a few changes to the model with new groups, such as rotating responsibility amongst all members for collecting savings on a weekly basis, so that everyone feels included and responsible for the group’s financial status.

Community and leadership exchanges between stronger and weaker groups are planned, to strengthen the situation of those currently struggling through sharing learning and successes across the city.

We hope that at the same time we can build on these activities to reinforce and deepen the (often challenging) ambition of the alliance to develop a strong, organised and engaged citywide platform for communities to discuss, plan and build their way to secure tenure and housing.


Laura Hirst is currently working in Davao City with the Philippine Alliance as part of the DPU-CAN-ACHR junior professional internship programme. She is an MSc Social Development Practice graduate and a former Graduate Teaching Assistant for the programme. Her interests include participatory urban governance and social diversity, gender justice, participatory processes and methodologies and photography. She has previously worked at the UCL Urban Laboratory as well as for Leonard Cheshire Disability, PhotoVoice and One World Action in the UK, civil society organisations in Peru and Cameroon and on action research projects in London, Kenya, Tanzania, and Ethiopia.

This contribution is the latest in a mini series of posts from our interns in the Philippines. Read blog 1, on the Philippine Alliance and blog 2, on Community Mapping in Metro Manila.