|Critique of State housing policy
Published Thursday 2nd August, 2007
100,000 homes in 10 years
Proper housing is
widely considered to be a vital ingredient in the development of a
modern, equitable, democratic state. We fully endorse that view. Our
intention here is to raise valid questions as to the formation and
operation of public policy in the area of housing.
In late 2002, the
State announced a large-scale, high-profile housing initiative to
improve the quality and quantity of housing in our country by an
ambitious series of projects to build 100,000 new houses in a decade.
That policy can be
found on the Housing Ministry’s Web site at
We are four years
into this programme and there are several aspects of it to which one
could address real questions: the types of units being built and their
location, the systems of building and their sustainability, the
procurement processes being used and so on.
In our view, it is
timely that we start by examining critically the stated aims of that
policy, its operation and, of course, the degree to which those aims are
Association of Housing Finance Institutions held its annual conference
at the Hilton Trinidad on June 8 and the Housing Development Corporation
(HDC) showed a promotional DVD of its policy achievements. Among these
was a figure of about 27,000 housing starts ie new homes which had been
started under the 2002 policy.
At that conference we
also heard the Permanent Secretary in the Housing Ministry speaking on
the challenges of implementing this new policy to address our nation’s
pressing housing needs. It is clear, from those statements and others by
the head of the HDC and the minister himself, that there is a definite
policy aim to foster home ownership in preference to building units for
Most of the units
being built are intended for sale to applicants with a small number
being rented to those who will be able to buy after a five-year review
We need to make it
clear that the intention to improve the supply and quality of our
housing stock is one to which no reasonable person could object and
further, given our windfall energy revenues, that there is no better
time to do so.
But it is also
necessary to pause and examine just what is the reality of our housing
market and the manner in which the 2002 policy impacts on that to
realise those improvements.
Our housing market
can be divided into five parts:
1. Homeless: Those
who do not have any money for housing are driven, unless they have
family or friends who are willing to house them, to live in our streets,
parks and vacant lands. One might also include here those who cannot
afford land and are forced to build on land they do not own.
These are widely
known as squatters and they are a significant source of conflict for the
wider, more prosperous community, particularly the HDC in the course of
its large-scale building programme.
2. Permanent renters:
These are employed people who are able to afford to rent accommodation
from those who own property. In every country in the world, even the
most developed ones, there are significant numbers of working people who
cannot ever afford to buy a home.
renters: These are people who can afford to rent and also put aside
savings for a deposit towards owning a home.
4. Homeowners: These
people, many of whom were once in the preceding group, who can afford to
buy a home.
homeowners: These are people who are prosperous enough to own several
homes, in some cases more than one for their family and, in others, one
for their family, with the others rented out as investments.
Despite the noted
successes of the housing programme in achieving these 27,000 units, two
critical points must be registered:
No homeless provision
When one examines the
many public statements as to the progress of the current policy, there
seems to be hardly a mention of any provision for homeless citizens.
There is no official record which we have been able to find of the
numbers of homeless people in our society.
It is important to
note that this number could even go beyond those who sleep outdoors to
include those who are forced to live with relatives or friends, many of
these people would say, if ever they were asked, that “I do not have a
home” or “I would like to have my own home.” Certainly, from our own
observations, it is clear that the numbers of homeless people on the
streets and parks of our capital city have increased significantly in
the last five years.
rented provision within the new build programme
But even this limited
quantity seems to be reserved for those who are transitional renters (as
described above). If one takes the time to speak to those of limited
means who rent their homes at say less than $3,000 a month, it is also
clear that their options are becoming smaller and less appealing.
A combination of
reasons are behind this trend: the general rise in property values has
made many marginal properties, once only suited to “basic” rentals, ripe
for more lucrative redevelopment and also, the difficulty of dealing
with landlord vs tenant issues in our slow court system has made it
necessary for some people who have rented out property for years to
re-examine their options.
All in all, it would
seem that, despite the unprecedented volume of new homes being produced
by the State, there are growing issues of inequity in how our taxpayers’
dollar in being spent.
Next week, we will
examine the State’s capital expenditure for these new homes and compare
its allocations policy with the options which exist.
Afra Raymond is a
director of Raymond & Pierre Ltd. Feedback can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.