LEADING THE ROAD TO CHANGE
 
EMPOWERED WOMAN, COMMUNITY. Enriqueta "Kits" Catayong, one of the founding members of Alyansa ng Mamamayan sa Valenzuela at Caloocan (AMVACA) Housing Cooperative, shows the future houses of the cooperative members, gained through a community-driven housing, in Brgy. Ugong, Valenzuela that are totally different from their current shanties situated along the waterways of Tullahan River.
How People’s Plan Brought a Woman and Her Group to their Dream Community
Four years ago, a former Overseas Filipino Worker named Enriqueta Catayong or “Kits” as what her friends call her, used to lose her speaking voice after a series of countless yelling at a group of demolition team imposing threat to her shanty, situated along the waterways of Tullahan River at Sitio Sulok, Barangay Ugong, Valenzuela City. Kits, along with her neighbors, is always ready to risk her life just to keep her humble abode, untouched.

During the rainy season, Kits often play hide and seek with a chest-deep flood. Though a master of this game for almost a decade, she admitted that this situation always terrifies her nerves to death.

“Whenever we hear the alarm that indicates the river’s approaching overflow, we can’t help but worry about our family’s safety,” Kits said.

After the flood has subsided, she usually goes back to her house and repairs the things that the calamity has spared for her. For the past 10 years, this has been Kits’ semi-predictable routine.

But everything’s turning 360 degrees now. Kits and her neighbors, collectively known as the Alyansa ng Mamamayan sa Valenzuela at Caloocan (AMVACA) Housing Cooperative are gearing up for better and safer lives.

I had the chance to meet Kits and talk about the sudden change in her life at the construction site of AMVACA’s future housing buildings at Barangay Ugong in Valenzuela. This housing project is under the High Density Housing (HDH) program of the Social Housing Finance Corporation (SHFC), which promotes in-city relocation for informal settler families (ISFs) living in danger zones in Metro Manila.

Amidst the humid weather, Kits greeted me with her breezy smile. I eagerly asked her on how they were able to come up with such appropriate plan that led to the construction of their future homes.  She smiled, and then started narrating their community’s story, everyone has to know.


Mobilizing the Community: Challenges and Success

They say that we must really get tired of something in order to undergo change. And this is what Kits exactly felt as she woke up one morning in November 2011. She was tired of endless demolition threats, of risking her family’s safety whenever disasters come, of uncertainties and sleepless nights.

Having been a member of Forever Young, a pro-women’s group in their city, Kits established connections with several civic organizations. She then asked the help of Kilos Maralita, a network of non-government organizations (NGO) advocating the rights of the poor, to help her mobilize their community and create housing cooperative that can uplift their living conditions. Kilos Maralita then oriented Kits about the P50B ISF housing project of the Aquino administration for ISFs living along the danger zones and waterways in Metro Manila. This news gave a spring of hope, at least to Kits.

Kilos Maralita’s President, Manny Manato was a witness of the humble beginnings of AMVACA. He said that mobilizing the community was a hard feat especially if you want to impose change to others who refuse to have an open mind.

“It’s really hard to convince the other ISFs to join the organization because they don’t believe in its cause, they don’t believe that the government has programs that can address their housing needs,” Manato said.

Kits and other members of Kilos Maralita disseminated the information on the P50B ISF Housing project to other ISF group leaders and encouraged them to join the cooperative they were planning to create. Numerous ISF groups were convinced, others just gave a blunt face while some filed charges against Kits before the barangay hall, accused her of perjury and even scam.

“Whenever we come near their area, they are threatening us that we will never come out alive. Others spit on us,” Kits recalled.

While handling these criticisms, Kits faced another challenge that almost wrecked her world. Her third child, died of over fatigue at the age of 26.

“I felt very guilty. Because of focusing on our advocacy, I wasn’t able to take care of my child,” Kits said in a shaky voice.

But this challenge has made her stronger and more determined. According to Kits, her deceased child used to tell her that they should have a home of their own to avoid the disasters and uncertainties. This situation even inspired her to push for her dreams.

At last, Kit’s cooperative was founded in January 2012, wherein one thousand four hundred forty (1,440) ISFs are currently part of. Majority of them are living along the waterways in Tullahan River while some 384 ISFs are living under the National Power Corporation (NPC) transmission line. Both places were identified by the city government of Valenzuela as danger zones.
COMMUNITY S PERSPECTIVE. The building and site plans for the AMVACA housing project provided by Performance Builders and Developers Corporation based on the visualization of AMVACA Housing Cooperative.
Community-Driven Housing
Equipped with knowledge and improved capabilities due to the help of Kilos Maralita and other NGOs such as Institute for Popular Democracy (IPD) and Institute for Philippine Cooperative and Social Enterprise Development (IPCSED), Kits and the entire cooperative decided to take a leap of faith and started the quest for their dream community using the People s Plan approach.

The concept of the People s Plan and community driven housing allows the community to initiate for a housing plan that is responsive to their needs and capabilities. From the selection of the site, developers and building designs, the community has always the final say.

Kits is proud to say that their cooperative had a full hand and participation in choosing the site of their permanent relocation. Through the People s Plan, they were able to identify their proposed site through a 4.2 hectare vacant land within the city that is accessible to their basic needs.

They also tapped the land developer Performance Builders and Developers Corporation (PBDC) to create the site and building plan based on the community s perspectives.

"People s Plan is very effective. All that we have envisioned, from the building structure to the size of the houses were attained," Kits stressed.

The developers admitted that it is the first time that they did a community-driven housing project. They are more on developing housing projects for several private organizations but they took the risk because it is something unique and "it was worth risking for."

"It was not an easy project, because it entails a lot of requirements. It was not a lucrative project, but it was very fulfilling, knowing that we played a part in reaching for their dreams," said Geraldine del Rosario, Vice President for Finance of the PBDC.

Now that the cooperative has a site prospect and concrete building and site plans, they now move to find a source of fund to translate all these into reality.


Government Intervention
It took years of hard work and patience before the cooperative found the perfect government agency that fits their housing needs. Kits recalled the days when some of them seemed to give up on their dreams until they found out about the HDH project of SHFC.

They enthusiastically submitted all their requirements to the agency and their loan was approved in December 27, 2013. With the help of other agencies including the local government, AMVACA secured the permits needed on time to commence the building construction.

The loan amounting to P576M or P400, 000.00 per ISF is now being used to construct thirty (30) 3-storey housing buildings. Each unit measures 28 square meters and has provisions for a second floor.

The payment of the monthly amortization starts a month after the housing units were turned over to the beneficiaries. Each ISF shall pay a monthly amortization of P975.33 for the first year up to P2,299.78 till the 10th year based on the 10% Graduated Amortization
Scheme (GAS). On the 11th to the 30th year, there will be a fixed monthly amortization of P2,529.75 based on the 10% GAS.

Through the help of the local government, the process of securing permits is expedited and paved way for the construction of the housing buildings last November 2014.
WOMEN POWER. Kits  co-members at the AMVACA Housing Cooperative who used to accompany her during orientations and community mobilization phase.
Making it Happen: Living and Owning the Dream Community
Kits knew that a lot of things shall be done way beyond the construction of their dream community. They have to be financially stable in order to repay for their loans.

"We already have a lot of saving schemes in mind that we will apply to ensure financial stability," she noted.

Aside from the housing buildings, commercial spaces will also be constructed in AMVACA s relocation site. Proceeds from the rent of these commercial establishments will go to the savings of the cooperative. They are also planning to put up their own wet and dry market, club house and transient homes.

"Through the People s Plan, no one will be left behind. No one will get stubborn because every member of the community needs to work hand in hand in shaping their future," Kits exclaimed.

This coming March 24, in line with the founding anniversary of the Urban Development and Housing Act (UDHA) of 1992, 3 of the 30 housing buildings will already be turned over to 144 ISFs including Kits . It will be a sweet moment for Kits, knowing that her deceased child s wish will finally come true.

More than excited, Kits said that she felt vindicated; knowing that she proved to the critics and unbelievers that the People s Plan, coupled with the help from civic organizations and from the government is indeed effective and  that change can be attained by a community aiming for the same vision.

Kits has high hopes that other informal settlers who are still dwelling along the waterways will soon experience this major transformation that they are experiencing. If only other ISFs keep an open mind and dream of bigger things, everything will be possible.
"As ISFs, we also need to help ourselves and the government especially in solving our housing problems. If we wanted change, we must also work for it," Kits stressed.

It is never too late to start moving. Yes, there will be hurdles and challenges but there are also a lot of people who will help you along the way.  Today is the right time to act and adopt the plan that brought Kits  group to their dream community--- the People s Plan.
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