|Critique of State housing policy
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.
the allocations policy
must be included so that matters such as family size and
income can be considered in the process.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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
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.
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
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?
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
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 email@example.com.