Housing in Philippines

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The Philippines is a beautiful country until we talk about living conditions and government. One of the poorest countries in the world, ruled by one of the most corrupted governments in the world. Corruption and geography isolation keep foreign investment away, good paying jobs are hard to be found, so about 10% of country population is working overseas. Philippines have one of the highest income inequality of the world. They built an impressive business district in Makati City (header photo) and Fort Bonifacio Global City in Taguig, while half of population lives in poverty (less than $1.25 per day).

Incidentally, Philippines is the country where I had most customers during my career as architectural designer, this since before writing anything specially about Philippines on my website. Probably due to large population, booming economy, lack of public housing programmes and too few large-scale private housing developments, many people need to build houses themselves, browsing the internet for floor plans and contacting me for custom house design.

(personally I considered Philippines a better country than it actually is, until local people who contacted me for house projects, also informed me about living conditions)

General review of housing

Philippines have beautiful architecture, there are a lot of beautiful, over-decorated houses, but this architecture style mask the fact that the they have one of the smallest houses in the world.

Filipinos are also one of the shortest people in the world, but I still see their homes ridiculously small. Bedroom around 6-7 sqm, making 3 bedroom houses to be about 50 sqm, size comparable with Hong Kong apartments despite of much larger country, even more ridiculously, in Hong Kong most apartments are 2-3 bedrooms while in Philippines most apartments are studios or 1 bedroom. In subdivisions built by major real estate developers, houses are usually 2-3 bedrooms.

If this was not worse enough, there are many people living in informal settlers (aka slums, squatters), of the rest who have legal land titles, many built houses that still looks like slums. In downtown Manila every unused piece of land gets built up occupied by informal settlers, river beds are also heavily built, people living above highly polluted water and in danger of flooding. Even the 8-meter wide land between railways and nearby streets is the home for numerous poor families (cannot imagine how you can sleep as the trains horn continuously).

There are too many informal settlers for the government to take care about them. Government is trying to clear the slums from Philippines National Railway land and from danger areas such as river beds, and move them into socialized housing built at city outskirts, but people do not want to live there and move back to slums, which are conveniently located near workplace and amenities.

I estimate average house size in legally-built developments at 30-50 sqm, but a significant amount of population lives in slums which their house size cannot be defined, some slums having just a small enclosed area for sleeping, and people spend whole day outdoor. Is common to see families of 10 people sleeping in a 5 sqm space.

What I do not understand yet, is why in smaller cities and countryside, where the land is cheap, people own large plots but still build extremely small houses. Living in tight spaces is part of Philippines culture?

Beautiful houses from Eastwood Greenview subdivision – Slums of the poor built on Philippines National Railway

Philippines population has grown from 27 million people at 1960 census to 60 million people at 1990 census and hit 100 millions at 2015 census despite of massive emigration. Additionally, at least 12 millions filipinos are working overseas, primarily in United States and Middle East, according Wikipedia. This because is difficult to get a well paid job in this country.

While population was rising, cities did not expanded much horizontally but rather became denser and denser, in Metro Manila lots are over-subdivided by successive family generations and nowadays there are entire families squishing on lots small as 20 sqm.

New housing areas (called subdivisions) are being built by private developers at city outskirts, less-dense developments, large open spaces, gated communities with guards, clubhouse and swimming pool.
The fastest developing cities are Dasmariñas, Bacoor and Inus (30 km south from downtown Manila, within Cavite province), here are the most subdivisions and most beautiful architecture, less slums and more wealthy people.

Makati’s Forbes Park (average home price 5 million USD) vs the typical houses at few kilometers away
Salcedo Village Forbes Park Forbes Park and Makati skyline
Manila slums on river Happyland, Manila Slums on Philippines National Railway
Pasay City slums Village houses on water Manila aerial view

Housing types

Subdivisions (aka Housing Complexes in other countries) became more common after year 2000. Rowhouses on plots small as 3.5 meters wide and 10 meters deep, with 24 meters between street axes, reaching densities of about 200 housing units per hectare, probably the densest housing development in the world (example: Ximena Mabalacat – floor plan).

Single detached = house surrounded by courtyard on all 4 sides, houses built at minimum 3 meters apart (1.5m setback for both houses).

Single attached = a definition that do not exists in any other country, with 1 or 2 firewalls (walls built at 0-lot boundary), built with same orientation so everyone is having windows facing to neighbor’s blank wall at 1.5m apart, giving the advantage of detached houses without shared walls. Sometimes the carport roof is attaching houses. They are VERY UGLY because on one side the roof is overhanging 700mm and on other side there is a blank wall that extend above roof.

Duplex = semi-detached, 2 houses symmetrical.

Rowhouse = synonym with british Terraced house or american Townhouse.

Bungalow = single-storey house, similar with American meaning. Unlike the rest of Asia where bungalow means a detached house regardless of number of floors.

Most common housing typologies in these subdivisions:

40 sqm 3-bedroom back-to-back terraces on 5×8 m land (example: Cedar Residences – floor plan – I wonder how you can reach house door after parking, carport is 2.5 m wide and an average car 1.8 m wide will block the door).

50 sqm 2-bedroom terraces on 4×10 m land, (example Portville Mactan).

The subdivisions offer also bigger houses with 3 and 4 bedrooms but very few of them are over 100 sqm.

As 2014, prices of the 2-bedroom 40-50 sqm terraced bare houses vary from about 1 million PHP (22,000 USD) in Cavite to 3 million PHP in Metro Manila. 3-4 bedroom 100 sqm detached finished houses are 3 million to 10 million PHP.

These houses are 4 meter wide and 7 meters deep, about 50 square meters
St. Dominic Subdivision in Basak Mactan La Aldea Buena Homes, Mactan Timog Park Homes, Angeles City

Housing design regulations

In urban areas (non-subdivisions), according my study from satellite photos, most lots are within 4-10m wide and 10-16m long. Most plots vary from 40 sqm (minimum by law) to 120 sqm, very few lots are more than 120 sqm of land in urban areas. 80-120 sqm looks being average lot size. However, some people asked my help to design house plans for lots small as 20 sqm.

Philippines building code regulate habitable rooms at minimum 6 sqm and 2 meters wide, most houses are built at these minimum values, but corruption in real estate allow developers to build even smaller rooms, examples: Pioneer Woodlands bedrooms are less than 2m wide, Angelesfloorplan 25.5 sqm 2-bedroom home, bedrooms should be 1.9 x 2.4m internally.

For comparison, a nearby country Malaysia building code says 6.5 sqm bedroom and 9.3 sqm master bedroom, but these minimal sizes are rarely seen and only in public housing. I never seen any developer in Malaysia building anywhere closer to minimum requirements, they build usually 10-15 sqm common bedrooms and 15-25 sqm master bedroom.

House setback are 1.5m in front and sides, and 2m at rear. I never found a clear regulation about carport roofs and balconies within setbacks.

Ceiling height should be minimum 2.4 m, and 2.7 m for first floor, but in most houses, all floors are 2.4 m.

Bad house design: as seen in floor plans provided by developers, living room is so small that you cannot place a sofa, TV and dining table in same time, or dining chairs once pushed out, block the way between kitchen and bedrooms.

Kitchen stuff (sink, stove, fridge, cabinets) are together only 2 meters long. Some low-cost houses do not even have kitchen inside, sink being placed outdoor (so you are bitten by mosquito while washing dishes?).

Carports are often designed 2.5 meter wide, minimum by law, the floor plans illustrate cars but insufficient space to open car door (so how you can get out of car?), or the car is blocking the way to house main door. No wonder why we see many people parking on roadside. The idiot architects don’t know that 2.5 meter wide is OK only for open carparks, garages or any parking space between walls should be 3 meters minimum width, today cars average 1.8 m width and you need 90 cm space on driver side and 30 cm on other side.

I need feedback from local people. I understand that a large part of population is poor so low-cost housing is needed, but are these houses big enough for people needs? Or people will extend it over courtyard and destroy the urban landscape, like in Mexico?

Good website: www.pinoyrealty.com, few dozens house models, all with floor plans shown on site.

More stuff

Anyone who know or find resources about building code regulations across history please contact me!

According http://hlurb.gov.ph/wp-content/uploads/services/developer/rule1.pdf, the minimum lot areas and is rowhose 50 / 4m, duplex 80/attached sqm / 8 m, detached 100 sqm / 10/12 m (medium housing).
According http://hlurb.gov.ph/wp-content/uploads/services/developer/rule1n2.pdf, the minimum lot areas and frontages are: rowhouse 32 sqm / 4 m, duplex/attached 48 sqm / 6 m, detached 64 sqm / 8 m (economic / socialized housing).
According http://hlurb.gov.ph/wp-content/uploads/laws-issuances/board-resolutions/BR_824.pdf, the minimum lot areas and frontages are: rowhouse 36/28 sqm / 4/3.5m, duplex/attached 54/48 sqm / 6 m, detached 72/64 sqm / 8 m (economic / socialized housing).
Which is the truth??

http://grem.ph/realty-resources05.php specify different laws, setbacks 3 m at front, 2 m at back, 1 m at sides.

different laws again

More strange examples found during my study

Wallnut Grove, 22 sqm 1-bedroom house, 4m wide and 5.5m deep (smallest house ever?)
Gran Seville, 36 sqm single-floor 2-bedroom house.
Greeensbolough Dasmarinas, 40 sqm 3-bedroom house

M Place, block with apartments from 16 sqm studio to 40 sqm 2-bedroom
Cambridge Village, Condo with 2-bedroom apartments small as 30 sqm.
The Stratford Residences, 68-storey condo dominated by studio and 1-bedroom apartments. 3-bedroom apartments are only few on top 8 floors.

Note that all these horrible tiny houses are examples of LEGAL buildings, designed by architects and build with permit from government. Imagine that the slums are even worse!

Can’t find an empty plot of land? No problem, build OVER ROAD!
Bambang Barangay Hall build over road


Manila Light Rail / Metro Rail was the first metro system in South Asia, opened 1984 but development was slow and presently it have only 3 lines totaling 51 km.

There are also modern buses, but most common means of transportation is the Jeepney, originally US Military vehicles which (few hundreds vehicles) were sold to locals when troops retired at end of World War II, locals converted them in buses by extending their wheelbases and installing roofs, and over-decorated, calling them Jeepney. Nowadays most Jeepneys are made 100% locally, resembling the shape of American Jeep but made 6-7 meters long, others are based on second-hand Japanese SUV, vans and trucks, still called Jeepneys despite being unrelated with American Jeep). About 50.000 Jeepneys are driving around Manila (according BBC).

These vehicles are over-decorated with various texts, religious messages and other bullshit, but not with their route (so how people know to pick the right one!?). They follow chaotic routes and stop anywhere even in middle of road, putting passengers in danger. In rural areas is common to see Jeepneys overcrowded with people sitting on their roofs, despite that it is an illegal practice (example video).

Old jeepney from 1950s Jeepney vs bus Jeepney overcrowded and overly-decorated

Another form of transportation unique in Philippines are Owner Type Jeep, hand-made vehicles resembling the US Jeep but in miniature, less than 3 meters long, most lacking seatbelts, windshield wipers, or other features standard for western cars since 1960s. Does anyone know what engine they have?

Philippines also have tricycles, common also in other South Asian countries, made from bicycles and motorcycles with a bench attached supported by a 3rd wheel, and roof. Some are even used as taxis. When you see a car, it looks giant compared to traditional vehicles!

Owner Type Jeep Trycicle waiting area


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    • Guest on December 23, 2017 at 6:13 pm
    • Reply

    Hi I’m an architecture student in the Ph and though I agree that most Filipino houses are small I would just like to say that there is actually cultural and contextual background on why it’s like that. Usually Filipinos like staying close with their family and that idea can be translated into their homes.

    Indigenous houses in the PH (if you do more research), are actually about multi functionality of spaces where there is one big space and it’s function transform from living area to bedroom from morning to night respectively. An example of this would be the Badjao boathouse, although other indigenous architecture also reflects this 🙂

    Your blog is helpful though! and I agree on your thoughts that sometimes, Filipino contractors do cut on some costs and build small homes. I guess for Filipinos tight knit space can also translate into a tight knit family unit (even though it was translated quite literally). These are just some personal thoughts + mixed with Filipino Architecture knowledge as taught to us in school! Thank you for blog though, it was helpful!

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