Roel Ombao – Project Engineer, Build Change
I joined Build Change- Philippines in mid-2018, because the program caught my attention. I am interested in working to support low income families so they can have homes that are resilient to earthquakes and typhoons, events which are not new to every Filipino. I have done several post-disaster reconnaissance surveys after earthquakes and typhoons and it breaks my heart to see houses collapsed and hear the stories of someone passing away after being crushed by a collapsed wall.
After working for almost two years now with Build Change, I have come to realize that disaster resilient housing is a complex issue with many challenges, a few of which I will highlight here:
First, Money or Access to Financing: Low income families are not catered to by most commercial banks and lending institutions. Most of these clients access funds through micro-finance institutions or informal lending. These institutions offer limited loan amounts, which in most cases means a homeowner cannot afford to build a new house or fully strengthen their existing house as a one-time construction. Most families build or improve their houses on an incremental basis, step-by-step over time, which can increase the chances of building it poorly.
Second, Engineering and Permitting: Low-income families often cannot afford to hire building professionals such as engineers and architects. Applying for a building permit is also a challenge as the process is long, requires further funds and involves a lot of paperwork, such as engineering and property documents. Property documents are an essential part of the permitting process and most low-income families do not have tenure and official rights over their land.
Third, Capacity of Local Builders and Material Quality: Most builders available in the community do not have complete knowledge of safe construction. As a result, construction is often done in a way which will put the people living in the structures they build at risk in times of major earthquakes and typhoons. In addition, the market for concrete hollow blocks (CHB), the most common wall material used in house construction, is not regulated or checked. As a result, there is a large amount of substandard CHB available in the market, which can be attractive to the consumer, considering it is lower in cost.
So how can we address these challenges? Build Change works with microfinance institutions (MFIs) that provide financing to low income families. Loan amounts are tailored to the client’s capacity to pay. To help more families afford to strengthen their homes, we have developed simple tools, materials, and training packages to allow these families to have access to good designs and trained builders. There isn’t the capacity for each and every house to be individually engineered, which is why we develop tools so local builders can evaluate deficiencies, and then prioritize how to address them through an incremental build, leading to a more resilient house.
Our program will not entirely solve the challenges of access to disaster-resilient housing in the country, but it is definitely a good starting point. At the same time, we will continue to work to support the government in developing regulations and processes that will make disaster resilient housing accessible to low income families. This could include financial subsidies or loans, information dissemination on the need for disaster resilient housing, and/or releasing a new building code that would simplify the construction process and ensure quality.