|Housing policy imperatives – Part 4
Published Thursday July 22nd, 2010
Having set out a
framework for a more effective and equitable national housing policy, it
is time to deepen the discussion. In this week’s column, I will further
analyse the existing housing policy so as to highlight those errors
which we must avoid if we are to do better.
My proposed framework
would quantify housing subsidy and allocate that in accordance with
identified housing need, with the quality of the new homes also being
monitored to ensure constant improvement.
To go further into the
issues requires that we examine these aspects –
National Planning – It will be very difficult to achieve
improved levels of housing quality if we proceed to build large numbers
of new homes without reference to a national land-use plan. 1984 was
the last time our Parliament approved a national land-use plan. Over 25
years have elapsed and the position of the last government was that the
national land use plan was being prepared for discussion in the next 2
years or so. We have very limited developable land in this country –
only about 9 to 10% of the total – so it is critical to plan and
co-ordinate our future for best results with our limited resources.
Transportation, education, shopping, health-care, industry, housing and
recreation are the main aspects which need to be fit onto those
developable lands. This ongoing housing programme has already had
grievious cases of the alienation of agricultural lands for housing.
Alienation of agricultural lands is when we pave over farmland for
non-agricultural development. That land is permanently lost in terms of
our food supply, but we need to preserve our agricultural lands. That
is vital in terms of maintaining our food security.
Intensity of development – An associated aspect that we
need to reconsider is whether we can spare the land to continue HDC
developments of homes with gardens. The HDC must publish its figures
on the numbers of new homes built; the amount of land consumed; the
numbers of houses versus the numbers of multiple-family homes and of
course, the numbers of these various types of homes which have actually
been occupied. At this point the HDC has only built 15,394 new homes,
compared to their annual target output of 8,000 new homes, which, if
attained, would have been 60,000 new homes. The HDC has only built a
quarter of the intended number of new homes, which means that we still
have time to adjust and improve the programme.
Pricing – The more I consider the dilemma in which this
housing policy has been caught, the more it seems that the fundamentals
were poorly-considered. Just consider the issue of the pricing of the
units – How did the pricing model evolve? I have already, in part 2 of
this series, critiqued the HDC’s cost-based model for its erroneous
outputs in terms of assessing the quantities of housing subsidy being
allocated. One can go further to ask how these price points emerged.
Was any reference made to the incomes of the people on the waiting-list
or were the HDC prices driven by the demands of the physical development
agenda? It seems to me that the latter was what took place, if indeed
any conscious process of setting prices ever did occur. If we are
aiming for people-centred development, that entire misguided approach to
pricing needs to be revised. We need to give serious consideration to
building more modest multiple-family homes for rental.
Quality – Another matter which has been in the news from
both the last administration and now the new one, is the issue of the
poor quality of some of the new homes. We have been given various
‘horror stories’ about poor construction and the need for further works
and so on. But there is more to this story. The fact is that the norm
in the construction industry is that a contractor only has a valid claim
to be paid in the case of ‘works properly executed’, so how did the HDC
end up paying for all these defective buildings? I am not seeking to
exonerate the contractors from any wrongdoing, but the simple fact is
that someone in HDC ought to have had the responsibility to inspect and
approve the works before payment was authorized. Either the HDC has a
process for doing that or not. If yes, what went wrong? Who signed-off
on those poorly-built homes? If there is no such process, then the HDC
system is one which exposes the Treasury and the neediest families in
the land to real abuse. These are serious questions which need to be
answered, and soon. If there are indeed civil servants and consultant
advisers who have been approving defective work, they need to be dealt
with. If that were so, it seems to me that such actions would amount to
grave professional misconduct, at the very least. Such people should be
banned from any State work for a period, as a minimum. The real horror
story is the official silence on the fact that someone from the HDC had
to approve these very same defective works. Lying by omission – see
That continuing dishonesty is the real horror story. To remind readers
that this is no new issue, please see -
I close this week by
renewing my call for Minister Moonilal to take leadership on this
burning national issue. A conference on revising Housing Policy should
include participation from the leading civil society organizations such
as the JCC, the National Land Tenants’ and Rate-payers’ Association, the
Sou-Sou Land group, Habitat for Humanity and the Salvation Army.
Basic facts need to be
compiled and distributed to seed the discussion. The framework and
philosophy need to be clearly articulated, if we are to get it right
this time around.
The continuing presence
of over 10,000 empty homes is intolerable – it is solid proof of a
seriously failed policy. Our silence has to be broken on this issue.
We cannot continue this way.
Afra Raymond is
Managing Director of Raymond & Pierre Limited and President of the
Institute of Surveyors of Trinidad & Tobago. Comments can be sent to
|I close this week by renewing my call for
Minister Moonilal to take leadership on this burning national
issue. A conference on revising Housing Policy should
include participation from the leading civil society
organizations such as the JCC, the National Land Tenants’ and
Rate-payers’ Association, the Sou-Sou Land group, Habitat for
Humanity and the Salvation Army.