Real Estate - Property Matters by Afra Raymond
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The shape of things to come

Published Thursday 11th March, 2004

There is an unavoidable connect between the physical environment and the type of interactions which are likely to flourish within that space. The state of our nation - I am referring to the physical state here - is a powerful reflection of our view of ourselves.

When we consider the manner in which we plan and implement our policies, both public and private, can any of us really imagine what our country will be like in say, 20 years' time? Just last Sunday - 7th March - we had the input of Newsday Editor, Susan Mills on the ills of the development control system and the opinion of Sunday Express columnist, Dr. Kirk Meighoo, wrote on the meanings of public space to our society. Plenty food for thought.

Do you think that the country will be a nicer place to live in? What will our streets and parks look and smell like? Will our public spaces be safer for us all? Will we have more comfortable homes? Will we be able to afford a fair standard of living after paying our mortgages or rents? Will it be easier and safer to get to work in the morning or home from a night out than at present? Can we say, with confidence, that any of the questions asked above will have positive answers?

If we are not able to muster that confidence, why not? What is the alternative? We need to confront certain matters squarely if we are to make a fair estimate of our prospects.

Some of the key questions arising are -

  • The quality of our towns - In my view, the quality of our towns is one of the principal measures of the success of our society. Yes, spoken like a real 'townie' I know, but look at the vibrant cities in the developed countries to which we aspire. The best homes, shops, parks, theatres and restaurants are all in the heart of those cities. We have had a staggering migration away from the centre of our capital City by anyone who does not depend on passing trade. The issue is complex and will be taken up fully in another column, but we can say that the quality of our cities is a key ingredient towards the positive answers to which we ought to be aspiring.
     

  • State Housing - What is the relationship, if any, between the State Housing program we have discussed in the last few columns and those homes that make up the 'real market'? The two are interdependent in that a well-conceived and executed State Housing policy will act to promote social equity and ensure the degree of stability which is vital if the quality of life and value of the rest of the market is to persist.
     

  • Street Homelessness - I can hardly remember homeless people and vagrants when I was growing up here in T&T; even as a young man they were rare and remarkable sights. Purely on the evidence of my eyes, we have had a shocking explosion in the numbers of street homeless in our country. Surely there are reasons behind this disturbing development; one can think of increased drug addiction, the collapse of the extended family and the relentless increase in property prices and rents. Whatever the underlying causes, there is no doubt that our country is a far less comfortable place with the increase in this kind of homelessness. Women, children and young men have now joined the ranks of elderly men on our streets; can we not, as an aspiring, relatively wealthy Caribbean society do better? If we are to improve the quality of life, this issue has to be seriously tackled. We discussed some time ago that the State's capital budget for the Ministry of Housing increased from $33M in both 2002 and 2003 to $109M in 2004. Given this dramatic increase, can we expect to see a real reduction in the levels of street homelessness? If not, what is the future of our cities? What is the future of Woodford Square, Harris Promenade and our other urban open spaces if we do not deal with our least fortunate citizens?
     

  • House prices - How likely is it that homes will be more affordable in the next 2 decades? Will our investment in housing yield a better quality of life? Given the high proportion of most families' disposable income which goes towards shelter, it is clear that affordable housing is yet another key determinant of a quality nation.
     

  • Squatting - We have heard the Minister of Housing speaking this last fortnight of his determination to enforce the law insofar as squatting on State land is concerned. We must ask to what extent does the Ministry's programme provide solutions for the squatters and street homeless? Furthermore, how seriously can we take the call to law and order when we recently saw the PM canceling an official overseas trip to halt the demolition of an unauthorised community centre in Laventille? We are told by newspaper reports that the centre was built by an NHA contractor on NHA lands. As we concluded last week, it is clear that the only way we are going to bring some coherence to this area of policy is for there to be some consistent policy guidelines. In the absence of clear leadership there is plenty of room for mischief-makers and one wonders how we can develop in this fashion. What kind of society do we expect to emerge from this type of situation? The old people said that 'A good example is worth a thousand words…'

The decisions we take today will influence the kind of life we have tomorrow. The recognition of this fact is what distinguishes a mature society from the undeveloped state that seems to beset us here in the so-called Less-developed Countries.

Next, we will be examining the issue of taxation on property and the future of our cities.

Afra Raymond - Property Matters

There is an unavoidable connection between the physical environment and the type of interactions which are likely to flourish within that space. The state of our nation - I am referring to the physical state here - is a powerful reflection of our view of ourselves.