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Critique of State housing policy
Part 3

Targeting agriculture lands

Published Thursday 16th August, 2007


ANNICIA SANTANA, sits with her sons RONALDO, 2, and ROMARIO, 10, among their salvaged belongings, last Wednesday after a demolition crew pulled down their home at La Vega Estate, Gran Couva, in a land dispute.

Improving the allocations policy

·         Housing need

This must be included so that matters such as family size and income can be considered in the process.

·         Property ownership

Applicants are required to swear an affidavit that they do not own or part-own any property. This is only a part of the story since some people, seeing the bargain homes being offered by the HDC programme actually sold their properties so that they could qualify.

Again, one is not imputing any bad intentions here, but the system does not seem to allow a proper distinction to be made in terms of need. For example, two applicants with similar family size, income and so on can each have equally valid tickets in the lottery.

Now you might say that there is nothing wrong with that, but if one of those applicants had disposed of a property before applying, clearly that person’s circumstances are far more favourable than the one who never had any.

·         Unit allocation

We should strive for a better fit between the homes allocated and the space requirements of the occupants.

As we conclude our critique of this flagship State policy, it is important to keep our eyes on the ball. We will make some closing observations and offer some suggestions for a more equitable allocations policy.

A deepening concern is the extent to which the satisfaction of our present day priorities limits our future options. In this connection, we would need to warn about the dangers of permanently developing our prime agricultural lands today and depriving future generations of the use of those lands to grow food.

When those lands are developed with housing they will be lost to agriculture forever. We are not even counting the other types of significant development taking place in our country on our limited prime soil. In an earlier edition, we pointed out that only about nine per cent of the country’s land area can be developed: ie not forest, mountain, swamp or reserved for agriculture.

It seems that consumption of our agricultural land is the easy option being taken at this time, both by the private sector and the State.

Professor John Spence, writing in The Express of August 9 states that “I have seen no evidence that there is a land-use policy in place,” but, in fact, the present State policy is a 1992 one. That policy has not been superceded and at page 4 in para 2, speaks to our earlier concern on alienation: “seeking a balance between current gains and sustainable development.”

It goes on to speak specifically to agricultural lands, “preventing prime agricultural land from being subjected to non-agricultural use by instituting a system of zoning.”

Some of the areas now being targeted for State housing development are Tucker Valley in Chaguaramas, River Estate in Diego Martin and eastern parts of the former Valsayn Estate.

When one considers the nature and extent of the developments outlined above—and these are housing only—Professor Spence’s scepticism as to the existence of land use policy can be better understood.

Allocations policy

and implications

We are told that the State housing to be created is to be available “regardless of gender, race, religion or political affiliation.”

Father Henry Charles’ column on August 6 Guardian, “Rights Revolution” made the point that despite our progress in recognising certain types of discrimination—as outlined above—we have become virtually immune to dealing with the oldest kind.

Yes, it seems that the poor have become an acceptable part of the new politically correct age we are creating.

The simple fact is, whatever their racial, political, religious or gender profiles, that a family which is improperly housed simply cannot afford to do better. They are poorly housed because they are poor, the other issues do not really bear on the question of housing need. That is the principal issue to be confronted here: to what extent does State housing policy discriminate against the poor and most needy?

It seems to be an imperative of the new policy that home ownership be promoted, even if that shift can cause collateral damage. Given the clear imperative, is it any wonder that State proposals for the comprehensive redevelopment of East PoS, called Eastbridge and Laventille are met with significant levels of suspicion?

Some of the most pressing concerns are those of long-time residents who want to know what place, if any, is there for them in the new communities. Potent questions which we will deal with in an upcoming series.

On August 9, the newspapers reported a familiar and painful story of the Santana family who had had their Gran Couva home destroyed by a landowner’s wrecking-crew, under police escort we are told. Does the Santana family qualify as one of the 15 per cent of new housing as a special emergency case in the allocations policy of the Housing Ministry?

Some developments are permanent while others can be changed if requirements or understanding shift over time. The decisive act is to distinguish properly between irreversible change and the other kind. That is our challenge in periods of rapid, sometimes bewildering, change.

Is there time, political will or the energy to change these policies?

The allocations policy can certainly be reviewed without impacting the house-building process. A few suggestions on how that could be done are set out in the sidebar.

A final thought. Is building new homes the only solution to our collective housing needs? There was a time, in living memory, when successful people invested in good quality apartments which they then rented out. Is there a fertile combination of town planning and fiscal policy changes which we can use to increase that supply of rented housing?

Next week we move to the dizzying pace of office development in our capital city and the implications for us all.

Afra Raymond is a director of Raymond & Pierre Ltd. Feedback can be sent to afra@raymondandpierre.com.

Afra Raymond - Property Matters

A deepening concern is the extent to which the satisfaction of our present day priorities limits our future options. In this connection, we would need to warn about the dangers of permanently developing our prime agricultural lands today and depriving future generations of the use of those lands to grow food.