|'Coded Racism' in housing message
Thursday 4th March, 2004
There is an urgent need to build new affordable homes to preserve and
enhance the national standard of living, however, as we mentioned last
week, we need to consider where we put these. The issue is one for both
private and State housing, since the concerns are related.
The location decision is usually an important one, but here in T&T we
have these additional elements -
Supply - The limited supply of suitable, available land;
The NIMBY factor - These are the people who agree that
more homes need to be built, but they are of the even stronger
opinion that these should be Not In My Back Yard (NIMBY). The
reasons behind these conflicting opinions are interesting, from
'young people need somewhere to live' to 'what we going to do with
all this traffic when they build all these homes? People know that
the only way that the steep rises in the prices of homes will be
slowed is if the supply is dramatically increased, but they are also
concerned over the impact this new construction will have on them as
Political element - Given the government's ambitious
annual target of 10,000 new homes, the recent sequence of very close
election results and the delicate balance in the 'marginal' seats,
the location of these new homes is an extremely sensitive question.
We have even had the allegation that some of the new homes are being
carefully located so as to prejudice the party in opposition with
additional allegations as to falling property values from senior
The fact is that property is central to understanding the political
economy of a society such as ours, where so much hinges on what one owns
and who are ones' neighbours. Affluent people already own a nice slice
of the pie, the value of which can, in their view, only be preserved if
the status quo is maintained; i.e. the shortage of housing preserves
high values. Those who do not enjoy that position are even more anxious
to get a piece of the Trini dream - 'a place to call home' - and the
factors listed above only add heat to the discussion.
To bring some light to the discussion -
Urban Development - The redevelopment of serviced urban
lands already in State ownership is a better use of capital since
the infrastructural costs of raw development land can be avoided.
Generally speaking, it makes sense to develop serviced urban land -
i.e. with all the services like water supply, sewerage, electricity,
roads and so on - in preference to the more expensive choice of
other 'raw' sites. We will return to the other implications of this
aspect of the site selection issue in a future column.
Size of the Society - In light of our limited size, the
new affordable homes need not be exactly in the neighbourhoods of
the 'homeless' people. We will always need to build new State
housing in areas which are already occupied.
The value issue - We have heard from some surprising
places that values of private property in certain parts of San
Fernando are set to decline if the government proceeds with its
planned construction of multi-story apartments off Circular Road. Of
course, we have had no evidence of this and I am unaware of any
value decline in this country arising from the construction of State
housing. Frankly, the entire issue smells of a kind of 'coded'
racism disturbingly reminiscent of the mini-furore recently raised
by Westmoorings' residents when plans were announced to build new
State Secondary Schools in that area. This also brings in the
controversial 'betterment' debate, since there are provisions in our
Land Acquisition laws for property owners to be compensated for a
reduction in value which has arisen as a result of public works. The
question here being whether property owners are willing to pay
increased property taxes for the increase in value arising from
public works. New roadworks like the Cross-Crossing Interchange and
the much-discussed Churchill-Roosevelt/Uriah Butler interchange all
have the effect of increasing property values.
The Medium-term picture - The loaded question is whether
the new, large-scale building of State housing will have the effect
of driving down property prices in those areas. It is my opinion
that the strong demand for property and its limited availability,
together with the strong outlook for national income would limit any
declines in values. The most that we might say is that, if the
government's ambitious plans bear fruit, there might be a reduction
in the present steep rate of price increases. It is also important
to consider the rôle of quality housing in improving social
stability. The national picture, with some small exceptions, is one
of dynamic price increases; the worst areas are merely static. As
the old saying goes - 'A rising tide lifts all ships'.
The Power Equation - Ultimately, all this is pointing to
the fact that in the absence of rational policies and public
accountability, there is scope for perceptions of bias, however
unfounded these might be. This could flow from any side politically
and there needs to be a move towards more open public policy
formation and execution. As we said from the beginning, good public
administration has a number of implications, among those being the
end of some of today's methods of policy formation and delivery.
Next, we will be examining the issue of taxation on property and
the future of our cities.
|The entire issue smells of a kind of
'coded' racism disturbingly reminiscent of the mini-furore
recently raised by Westmoorings residents.