Resilient Housing in the Philippines, in the Era of COVID-19

By: Jessica Stanford, Country Director-Philippines

The COVID-19 pandemic is without doubt an unprecedented event, impacting lives, communities and economies around the world. As governments and nations work together to implement prevention, containment and mitigation measures, families from California to metro Manila are instructed to #stayhome, #shelterinplace to help curb the worst of this public health crisis.

But what if you’re one of the 1.2 billion people who live in substandard housing today? What if you’re a low-income household that depends on daily wage income now threatened by changing dynamics? How will this impact your capacity to shelter, safely in your home?

The World Bank estimates that three billion people will live in substandard housing by 2030. In the Philippines alone, 70 million people live in substandard housing, and this is projected to grow to 113 million people by 2030. Housing indicators are sliding backwards; rapid urbanization is driving precarious construction in oftentimes precarious locations.

Pembo, an informally-built community in Manila, where Build Change is working with families to protect their homes from the threat of earthquakes and typhoons.

Even as our schools, streets and open spaces empty, time does not stand still. On June 1st the hurricane season will officially start in the Atlantic. Between approximately July and November, typhoons will develop and build in the Pacific region. Earthquakes and subsequent tsunamis can strike at any time.

The Philippines ranks as the third most disaster-prone country in the world based on the World Risk Index. The country is in an area of high seismic activity, meaning future major earthquakes are likely and it endures approximately 20 typhoons a year and four to six make devastating landfall. In the final three months of 2019 alone, the Philippines was struck by two major typhoons and a series of magnitude 6+ earthquakes cumulatively impacting an estimated 4.5 million Filipinos and damaging over 1 million houses. Many thousands of families remain in communal evacuation shelters making recommended social distancing and self-isolation measures precariously difficult to follow.

When climate and seismic events strike, they dis-proportionally impact low-income families and those living in substandard housing. The solution? Support homeowners, through provision of technical, financial and policy initiatives, to strengthen their house before disaster strikes.

Before (above) and After: The Mendoza family of seven in Pembo, Manila were able to make their home safer through a house strengthening loan scheme.

There is a strong micro-finance industry in the Philippines with many micro-finance institutions (MFIs) working tirelessly to alleviate poverty and help raise the living standards of their clients and communities through the provision of financial services tailored to local needs. Through successfully combining a homeowner-driven approach to safe and resilient construction with client-centric financial services, Build Change is supporting MFI partners in the Philippines to provide house strengthening loans directly to low-income households living in substandard housing.

Set to pilot at scale from March 2020, the rate of roll out and client take up is now more uncertain as quarantine measures come into force across the nation, and the world. Even if the containment measures put in place are successful in flattening the curve and avoiding the worst effects of a public health crisis, COVID-19 will still have a dramatic economic impact on individuals, families and communities as well as businesses and governments.

Individual homeowners may need to combine government financial relief packages and stimuli with calamity or emergency livelihoods loans, where available. MFIs, having already impacted their own liquidity by relaxing repayment collections during quarantine but still facing salary outlay and interest losses to wholesale funders, will need to re-assess their clients’ ability to repay and cope with increased delinquency rates and re-financing needs. All of this will take focus away from the essential, longer-term benefits of safe, resilient housing and slow down the implementation of urgently needed prevention measures in this area.

Build Change is therefore championing to work with government housing agencies, major development banks and others to review financial service options, either directly to homeowners or through well-established community MFI partners, to support households to strengthen their homes, ahead of the 2020 typhoon season and beyond.

Build Change’s global team is poised and ready to spring back into action to protect these at-risk communities, and many others, as soon as the public health situation allows. As the onset of COVID-19 has emphasized, in times of crisis, when #stayhome and #shelterinplace is the recommended course of action, there is a heightened need for everyone to have a safe and resilient house to call a home. This is Build Change’s mission, and YOU can help us make it a reality!  Safe housing is a human right, every day and especially during these extraordinary times.