This is a continuation of my examination of the National Housing Policy (2002), its implementation and the associated implications.
Over the last year I engaged with HDC’s management who cooperated with me, much like the previous team. I asked about new homes produced by the National Housing Authority (NHA) and the Housing Development Corporation (HDC) in the period January 1st 2003 to December 31st 2015 to establish a) the output of completed homes; b) numbers of new homes distributed; c) the tenures of those homes and finally, d) compliance with the allocation criteria established by the 2002 policy.
The 2002 policy is “Showing Trinidad and Tobago a New Way HOME” and it seems to have met the sorry fate of the 1992 national land policy, in that those important policies have both vanished from official websites. The headline of that Policy was the target of 100,000 new homes in ten years. That target was over-ambitious, given the bottlenecks in our system of planning and construction, even if, at that time, ‘money was no problem’.
- The output of completed new homes in the period 2003-2015 was confirmed by HDC as 11,788.
- A total of 13,484 new homes were distributed in that period, which is 1,696 more than the number actually completed. Evidently homes were distributed before completion.
- The tenures of the new homes were specified by HDC as –
- Rental – rented homes.
- Rent to Own – Homes rented to persons who intend to purchase, but are unable to do so due to short-term financial encumbrances. Two-thirds of the rents paid are applied to a deposit when the purchase is realised.
- Licence to Own – Homes rented to persons who are qualified to purchase, but are presumably unable to do so due to challenges on the HDC side of the transaction. It is likely that those challenges are the lack of good title as required by lenders. 90% of the rent paid is applied to the purchase price.
- Outright Purchase – Homes which are sold to persons on the waiting list.
The numbers of homes distributed in those tenures were:
TENURE Rental Rent to Own Licence to Own Outright Purchase TOTALS NUMBERS 2888 140 10258 198 13484 PERCENTAGES 21.4% 1.0% 76.1% 1.5% 100
Apart from the shockingly low numbers of new homes completed in 13 years, the tenure pattern tells another sobering story. There is a clear emphasis on the provision of new homes for purchasers, with only 21.4% going to persons who can only afford to rent. Poor people cannot qualify for mortgages, so this policy, which is intended to address the housing needs of ‘low and middle income persons’, is being breached in its implementation.
The most sobering of the matters disclosed by the tenure pattern is that 76.1% of the new homes are held via Licences to Own. That speaks to the HDC’s continuing difficulty in securing good title as required by lenders. The fact is that sites which are construction-ready – i.e. having approved designs and competitive tenders – are not always ready for sale as there are often unresolved title issues.
This is an important point from two aspects. Firstly, the HDC will have started those projects intending to sell the completed homes, only to then encounter substantial delays in achieving those sales. That has a tremendous financial impact which no private sector developer could easily survive, given the high cost of finance to cover the extended period between borrowing funds for construction and the completion of sales. Secondly, this ongoing issue of poor title will have an impact on the prospects for the Public Private Partnership approach increasingly being used by HDC.
- I also queried if the actual practice of distribution conformed to the housing policy’s allocation guidelines –
“Distribution – What is the number of new homes distributed by NHA/HDC between 1st January 2003 and 31st December 2015 within these criteria?:
- Modified Random Selection;
- On the recommendation of the Minister with responsibility for housing;
- Protective Services; and
- Senior citizens and physically challenged persons.
Please itemise by year.”
The HDC replied –
“We regret to advise that the Trinidad & Tobago Housing Development Corporation (TTHDC) has not been consistently collating data in the requested format.”
I tell you.
A fundamental aspect of public housing policy is ‘How do people get those new, heavily subsidised, homes?’. The allocation policy is intended to secure elementary equity in who gets these scarce public resources. It is a key benchmark in measuring if objectives are being met.
The HDC is claiming to have kept no records of the housing allocation policy, which is a recipe for inequitable distribution. We are being asked to accept that HDC uses a unmonitored allocation process, something resembling the ‘bran tub’ Mr Imbert was so critical of when in Opposition.
I do not accept that HDC has no records of its allocations and they should now release whatever information is available.