|Housing policy imperatives – Part 3
Published Thursday July 8th, 2010
Last week’s column
delved into the vital issue of housing subsidy and its mis-allocation.
This week, I will set out some suggestions as to how this wrong-headed
allocation of public subsidy might be re-oriented to better serve our
The existing system is
fundamentally flawed and in urgent need of reform, if we are to better
apply the limited quantities of housing subsidy to the nation’s real
In order to create a
more effective and transparent equation for the allocation of housing
subsidy we need to establish three things. Those are the quantity of
housing subsidy which is available for the State to dispense; the
housing need of those on the HDC’s waiting list and the housing quality
of the new units produced by the HDC, since those ought to be raising
the general standard of housing accommodation.
The key point here is
that there is only limited housing subsidy available and a clear choice
has to be made as to its allocation. That
choice has been made under the existing policy, which in my view is
inequitable and counter-productive. If we accept that the proper
measure of a successful housing policy is needy families moving into new
HDC homes which improve their living conditions, we also need to accept
that a policy which can generate over 10,000 empty homes is a failure.
A supplementary point is
that if we are spending vast sums to build new homes, we also need to
obtain a measurable improvement in the nation’s housing standards.
The main points could be
outlined in this way –
Housing Subsidy – First of all, we need to establish the quantity of
housing subsidy the State is prepared to dispense. That can be
determined by the sale of the new homes, as recently proposed by
Minister Moonilal. The figure here being the difference
between the market value of the new homes and the HDC’s sale price.
I am of the view that we are at, or very close to, the ceiling as to
the national percentage of home-ownership. Another approach
would be to establish the difference between the market rental value
of the HDC units and the rents affordable to the applicants on the
waiting list. That figure can be capitalized to allow
comparison between the policy choices. The proposed effort to
sell the new homes will in fact be inimical, since it will have the
effect of decreasing the amount of housing subsidy available to
those who cannot afford to buy. In other words, the neediest
people on the waiting list are being discriminated against by the
policy of the HDC.
Housing Need Index (HNI)
– We need to develop a framework for measuring the housing need of
applicants for HDC housing. That analysis would need to include such
items as size of the family, family income and their living
conditions, as well as any special needs such as disabilities and
the location of the extended family. The UK’s Department of the
Environment and its implementing agency, The Housing Corporation,
have already done substantial work in developing the HNI as a means
of properly allocating State funding for housing across the nation.
The USA’s Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has also
done considerable work on this complex series of questions.
Index – In 1993 I proposed a Housing Quality Index for the UK which
would have been a tool for measuring how effectively the State
funding had been applied in creating good quality housing. The
main elements of my proposal were to measure the quality of design
of and amenity provided by new homes. The Housing
Corporation’s approach to this can be viewed at this
link, see also this view from the UK’s Homes and Communities
Agency (HCA) -
link. Training is available at the Housing Quality Network
We need to allocate the
limited housing subsidy to those in the greatest need. That is the only
reasonable policy for this critical area of national development. That
can only proceed properly on the basis of understanding the parts of the
puzzle. Anything other than a comprehensive review of these
wrong-headed policies is a recipe for more waste and empty homes.
Which brings me to an
issue raised in last week’s column; the incidence of ‘policy silos’.
That phrase – ‘policy silos’ – refers to a condition in which the
activities of various State agencies impinge on the same issues and yet,
incredibly, there seems to be scant, if any, co-ordination between those
agencies. The aspects addressed last week can be summarized as –
The Minister of Housing and the Environment, Dr. Roodal
Moonilal, making extensive statements on the sale of new homes, but
being silent on the burning issue of new homes for rent. Silence as to
the greater area of need, alongside ambitious proposals to advance
futile policies in favour of the less-needy.
The Minister of Science, Technology and Tertiary Education
(MSTTE), Fazal Karim, proposes blanket rental subsidies for students in
The Legal Affairs Minister, Prakash Ramadhar, who is
responsible for the rent control system, declares that he prefers that
rents be determined by market forces.
Those are exactly the
‘policy silos’ we need to dismantle if we are to make any real progress
on these vital issues.
Minister Moonilal should
take the lead on this issue by convening a symposium or conference to
debate these issues and establish some kind of policy consensus. We
cannot continue this way.
We need to go beyond the
numbers game of billions spent, jobs created and new homes built. We
need to move to a new, clear space where our national housing policy is
declared as existing to improve the living conditions of our neediest
citizens. We need to move beyond the narrow perspectives which glorify
home-ownership as the only correct answer. There are many productive
and honest families, in advanced countries, who never own a home. They
are no less worthwhile than those of us who are home-owners.
Most of all, Minister
Moonilal should take urgent steps to distribute the ‘…approximately
10,000…’ homes to the most needy.
Afra Raymond is
Managing Director of Raymond & Pierre Limited and President of the
Institute of Surveyors of Trinidad & Tobago. Comments can be sent to