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Critique of State housing policy
Part 1

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
http://www.housing.gov.tt/pdf/housingplan.pdf.

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 being fulfilled.

The Caribbean 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 rent.

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 period.

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.

3. Transitional 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.

5. Multiple 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.

·         Extremely limited 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 afra@raymondandpierre.com.

Afra Raymond - Property Matters

It is important to note that this number [of homeless] 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.