Manila workers forced into illegal housing amid soaring property prices - Channel News Asia

MANILA: The Philippines may have one of the fastest growing economies in Southeast Asia, but not everyone there is feeling the effects of its booming economy.

A combination of factors, including an inadequate transport infrastructure and a city centre land squeeze due to poor city planning, have driven property rental prices beyond the means of many residents.

Despite earning good salaries, many professionals who migrate to Metro Manila in search of better job opportunities are forced to live in poorly built housing on land that is not legally owned by the landlords.

Accountant Dennis Faundo, 36, works in Manilas Central Business District of Makati. He earns just over US$1,000 a month, a fairly impressive rate for a young professional in Manila. However, Dennis living standards are hardly a reflection of his white-collar profession and earnings.


Barely able to fit a bed, sofa and work space, his 20 square-metre lodging, for which he pays a rent of US$54 per month, does not even have a private bedroom. But with rent prices ranging from between US$648 to US$1,296 for a one-bedroom condominium in the city centre, this is all Dennis can afford.

After paying taxes, sending money back to his family and paying for utilities and food, he has very little left over.

He does however have the option of living further away from work like his colleagues, but a one-way 10 kilometre commute can take up to three hours in Manilas notorious rush hour traffic.

"I decided to live here in this area because its accessible to my work. I have all transportation like the MRT and Jeepneys, he said.

Dennis is just one of many professionals who have become whats known in the Philippines as an informal settler, or people who live in a house that has been built illegally on land that is not actually owned by the landlord.However, he is not alone.


An estimated 30 to 40 per cent of Manilas population, many of whom have moved into the city from the countryside, cannot afford to pay the high rental rates of accommodation in the city centre.

Instead, they opt for the much cheaper rent offered by the makeshift illegal developments that have proliferated next to the main business areas.This area straddles the boundary of Taguig and Makati.

Dennis neighbours are fellow professionals such as nurses, teachers and employees of Business Process Outsourcing companies. While the houses are small and cramped, they do at least provide easy access to work for the thousands of people who cannot afford the high rent prices in the areas that they work.

According to architect Felino Palafox, a big part of the problem is poor urban planning.As the city developed, little consideration was put into land use especially in high value areas, he said.

Military camps and huge gated communities, which are usually located in the periphery of large metropolitan areas, are actually right in the centre of Manila, leaving little room for much needed residential space.

"Most of the workers in Makati are priced out of the housing stock, Mr Palafox said. Many spend three to five hours, and up to six hours a day with the worsening traffic situation, getting into the city because theres a big imbalance between the location of jobs and housing."

This imbalance has put a huge strain on Manilas burgeoning economy and its millions of commuters. A recent study by the Japan International Cooperation Agency estimates that Manilas poor infrastructure and traffic jams cost the country more than US$20 billion a year in lost productivity and wasted energy.

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