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Property firms told to build outside the megacities

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The housing backlog in the Philippines currently stands at 5.5 million units but is expanding by 250,000 units each year, because only about 150,000 socialized housing are built annually, based on more recent government data.

But according to housing executives, this is clearly not just a problem of building enough housing, but rather building houses in well-planned new communities that host jobs and livelihood activities outside of already overcrowded cities like Metro Manila.

In the 2014 World Cities Summit hosted by Singapore, the Shell group of companies unveiled a somewhat troubling study, titled “New Lens Scenarios,” which identified Manila as an “underprivileged, crowded city.”

The study described Manila (but it could have been referring to other Metro Manila cities, as well) as a decrepit city with a high population density and low GDP per capita, meaning too many jobless people in one place.

It warned that rapid urbanization results from people flocking to megacities in search of oftentimes nonexistent jobs and livelihood. Half of the world’s population live in overcrowded megacities, Shell said.

It is against this backdrop that consumers and industry observers alike get to appreciate housing developments outside of the megacities like most of the 17 completed and nine ongoing low- and middle-income projects of real-estate firm Property Company of Friends Inc.  or Pro-Friends, for example.

Pro-Friends has been in the business since 1999, and it has shown foresight in focusing its developments in the province of Cavite which, like Laguna, hosts job-producing economic enclaves.

Take for example Pro-Friends’ flagship development, the Lancaster New City in 1,107 hectares straddling Kawit, Imus and General Trias in Cavite. About 14,800 families have owned units in Lancaster since 2007.

With everything that families need like access to churches, schools, health care and, of course jobs (at the SunTech iPark), Lancaster is fast-realizing its developer’s vision of becoming a self-sustaining township.

Shell’s study stressed that “tomorrow’s success will depend on how well these are managed and how quickly government, business and civil society improve their collaboration today.”

Reflecting improved collaboration among stakeholders and players in property development, Pro-Friends this year inked a major industry-shaking deal with GT Capital Holdings Inc. of the Metrobank group under which the latter acquired 22.68 percent of Pro-Friends for P7.24 billion.

The deal, which includes the option for GT to acquire 51 percent of Pro-Friends within three years, has made the company a tempting target for attack, which it promptly addressed under the Cybercrime law.

The government has had a bad track record at socialized housing, such as the BLISS project and its post-Yolanda rehabilitation effort. What the next government can, thus, do is extend more financial assistance to people in availing affordable housing in communities where they also work.  While at it, the government should fast track the construction of mass-transport systems to the provinces, like Cavite and Laguna to decongest Metro Manila.
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