Co-operative housing project aims to help recovery in the Philippines

Typhoon Haiyan has left the Philippines devastated, with 30,000 houses destroyed and over 50,000 severely damaged. Seventeen health facilities, 36 city-owned buildings and 90% of schools were also damaged. At the present rate of construction it will take around 14 years to for replacement housing to be completed.

As the country continues its recovery from the disaster, a group of smallholder farmers, property owners and other professionals are looking to develop a commercial and residential site using the co-operative model.

“60% of all Filipinos live at or near sea level and are likely to be adversely affected by climate change,” said Jonathan Brown, associate member and consultant at Marvel Multipurpose Cooperative. “Add to that the fact that the Philippines comprises over 7,100 islands and logistics become problematic. We believe that we have addressed those issues and have solutions.”

The site, based between Mariveles and Pampanga, covers 150 hectares and the proposed development would be entirely owned by the co-operative. It would include the factory, a small shopping mall (20,000 square meters), various community facilities (including schools) and planned clusters of housing. The co-operative would act as the developer on some of the commercial and more expensive residential properties, selling those expensive houses to finance the social housing that will comprise between 20% to 30% of the total housing provision.

“The core idea for Marvel Multipurpose Cooperative comes from a technology transfer, originally into the Sultanate of Oman, for which I was the project coordinator many years ago. All that was part of the British Omani intergovernmental offset programme,” said Mr Brown. “I’m now retired but this seems a much better way of applying these technologies for the benefit of as many as possible rather than in support of some highly suspect defence sales.”

The members of the co-op envisage a site that would minimise electrical loses, which are currently at 80% in the distribution system. The site would convert to a localised electrical delivery system based on shared solar power.

“That concept has been further augmented by recognising the huge electrical energy shortage here in the Philippines,” added Mr Brown. He cites efforts in Peru to provide free electricity to over two million of its poorest citizens using solar power as a source of inspiration.

“Peru’s National Photovoltaic Household Electrification Program will provide electricity to poor households through the installation of photovoltaic panels. If Peru can do this for its people, it makes us wonder why other countries can’t do the same as part of an integrated programme to provide electricity across an entire community development. This also circumvents the systemic, legislatively maintained, cronyism here.”

The Marvel project also seeks to address the poor quality of construction in the social housing sector as evidence suggests that hurricanes will become stronger and more frequent in the region. The co-operative intends to use precast concrete for the construction of the building, and aims to complete two housing units per day by employing local professionals.

Despite the impact of the typhoon, the economy in the Philippines continues to grow and house prices have risen by as much as 113.3% from 2004 to 2014. According to the Global Property Guide’s 2014 report, Philippine property has experienced the fifth-highest price rise in the world, meaning that the “transition from ‘raw land’ with commercial planning (150,000 square meters site) to developed land will provide more than adequate security for the loans”.

There is no sizeable ‘out of town’ shopping area between Mariveles and Pampanga, where the proposed development is planned – some two hours by car or three hours coach trip away. “Balanga is the nearest small city centre shopping facility but getting around in Balanga is difficult,” added Jonathan Brown.

“The proposed shopping complex will include around 20,000 square metres of development similar in size to the Lulu supermarket built in Oman, but without the Arabic facade. The site is about one and a half hours from Metro Manila by barge. It’s said to be the most densely populated city in the world – and a city that is slowly sinking into the sea.”

The team behind the initiative includes a number of former officers of other co-operatives, two former chairs and two treasurers, who will act as mentors over the next few years. The plan is still in its early days. Marvel Multipurpose Co-operative has recently been registered with the Cooperative Development Authority, the Philipine organisation that supervises co-ops in the country.

It hopes to raise 30% of funding required through grants for the urgent disaster relief housing and 70% from loans secured against the land ownership.

“What we are really trying to do is provide a range of locally viable alternatives to a deeply entrenched global economic system that is failing fast. Shipping cement and aggregates internationally is not viable as transport costs are escalating. Reducing costs by minimising waste and increasing production efficiency has to be a better option,” added Mr Brown.

“Even if none of this happens, I am very optimistic about the future – the project has already worked to some extent by demonstrating that there are genuine alternatives that can provide for future generations.

“Several government departments here are very interested in what we are trying to achieve as they are beginning to be convinced that we do have a common sense, workable and demonstrably new approach to the multiple difficulties here.”