“…Whereas the People of Trinidad and Tobago—…(b) respect the principles of social justice and therefore believe that the operation of the economic system should result in the material resources of the community being so distributed as to subserve the common good…”

—From the preamble of our Republic’s current Constitution (1976)

In this, my Season of Reflection, I return to my constant concern with our national housing polices and the outcomes of the State’s housing program for our neediest citizens. The quality of discourse and understanding is in my view rooted in the quality of the questions one poses. How we define the problem allows us to improve our chances of seeing and solving.

hdclogoThe inescapable challenge for our national housing program is to provide sufficient affordable housing options of a decent quality. The HDC’s waiting-list is now in excess of 176,000 individual applicants, which excludes co-applicants or dependents. Over 90% of those applicants cannot afford a mortgage or to ever buy their own homes. They are just too poor to do so.

So this is the big question which our Housing program must answer.

How do we house those who can least afford good-quality housing?

hcipCurrent housing program discussions are now charged with fresh approaches – Public Private Partnerships (PPP or P3); Housing Bonds; Housing Construction Incentive Program (HCIP) and so on. Those new approaches are being used to improve the levels of home ownership. None of those new approaches touch on the biggest problem. In that regard, they might be viewed as interesting new approaches to public housing which do nothing to solve the largest public housing issue. Almost tautological.

There are those who hold that the State has no business in housing and that rental housing has not been a success for the State. Those are widely-held beliefs, but they are not borne out by the actual facts.

The primary information on this important sector of our society is closely-held and seldom disclosed in any formal manner.

The period before the existing housing policy was created was during the UNC government of 1995-2001. At that time, the approach placed a focus on the creation of affordable, serviced house-lots to facilitate home-ownership at the pace of those with modest means. That period yielded a modest result, since only about 2,200 serviced lots were sold via the Land Settlement Agency (LSA), with 376 new homes built. A total of 2,576 new housing opportunities created in say, 5 years.

Showing Trinidad and Tobago A New Way HomeIn the current phase – i.e. within the 2002 Housing Policy – the State’s housing program is now implemented by the Housing Development Corporation (HDC) – before October 2005 those functions were done by the National Housing Authority (NHA). In the 17 years since the PNM return to power, there have never been any annual reports issued by either NHA or HDC. No accounts either.

It is important to note that the UNC teamed up with other political elements to form the Peoples Partnership from 2010 to 2015 and did not improve on those aspects at all. Indeed, the noteworthy thing is that the PP seemed to adopt the PNM Housing Policy without a blink. It always makes me smile when one of the UNC spokesmen claims boldly that ‘PP housing policy this or that’. The PP accepted and adopted the PNM’s approach, which is set out in our national Housing Policy – i.e. a strong focus on building comprehensive developments of new homes for sale.

The original headline target of the 2002 housing policy was 100,000 new homes to be built in ten years. These are the actual results of that program, according to HDC sources:

Year Total new HDC homes completed
2003 512
2004 1,069
2005 13
2006 0
2007 5
2008 0
2009 2,428
2010 0
2011 1,801
2012 2,050
2013 816
2014 1,203
2015 1,891
TOTAL 11,788

 

Both our political parties are therefore now committed to promoting home-ownership within the State’s housing program. While consensus is often regarded as a good thing, it must be based on reality. The reality is that the distribution of wealth and opportunity in our country is such that a significant number of our citizens are poor. Those citizens ought to be able to rely on our common-wealth to help them do better. The national Housing Policy speaks directly to building affordable housing for low and middle income applicants. The order is intentional, as is the statement that arrangements will be made to provide adequate rented homes.

So is the State abdicating its responsibility to allocate our resources for the common benefit? That is a fundamental part of our Constitutional rights, as per my opening citation. I am aware that colleagues at HDC are grappling hard with this affordability issue to deal with the issues shown by the actual figures and of course I am in support of those efforts.

Are we witness to a toxic political consensus to exclude our poorest citizens from proper access to State resources. If this is progress, how long can it last?

Our Housing Market

Our housing market is divided into 5 layers, moving from the neediest to the wealthiest –

  1. Homeless – People who have nowhere to live or rely on charity for shelter.
  2. Permanent Renters – People who can never afford to buy.
  3. Transitional Renters – People who are renting now, but will end up as home-owners.
  4. Home Owners – People who own their homes.
  5. Multiple Home-owners – People who are wealthy enough to own more than one home – these people are also the ones who rent property to the others.

ADDENDUM

The tenures of the new homes distributed by HDC were –

  • Rental – permanently 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 2,888 140 10,258 198 13,484
PERCENTAGE 21.4% 1.0% 76.1% 1.5% 100

The small numbers of actual sales disclose a substantial issue which will likely have a bearing on the proposed Housing Bonds, but that is for another article.

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7 thoughts on “Property Matters – The Housing Gap

  1. Time to talk to the Singapore Housing Development Board. The government cannot decide if its a middle eastern country rewarding its citizens with free housing or a developed country giving a hand up to its poorest citizens. Also there needs to be transport to work .
    However I think this situation reflects the continuing low wages and productivity in the ROTT. Every time I return to Trinidad, I am depressed given the huge amounts various governments have spent on education how many clearly badly educated citizens there are. Why? I don’t understand? Even when they left high school my cohort spoke well, could do math and understand difficult concepts? What happened. My Dad rest his soul ended up spending a significant amount of his salary to send me to Uni. No government help I worked to cover the rest. The best thing the government did for me was finance 7 years of education at two really good Catholic schools and I am not even Catholic. I still use my learning from those times 40+years later.

  2. Like education, Mr. Salter, and the propagation of ignorance that justifies the graduation of engineers with final grades of 35% and of SEA teachers, who are unqualified to grade the papers for which they prepare our children, the housing, health and other authorities cater only to those who can pay. Poverty is of concern only to the poor. The others write and lecture about it but only when it pays them to do so. We have enough money here to pay all NGOs, voluntary and charity organisations. Our institutions serve their administrators and facilitators, but we vote by race so that there are only three winners. The masses await deliverance, Lotto luck or a green card and only at death do they arrive. Sadly, this is a global malaise.

  3. In all developed and developing countries there are poor and uneducated people. In many countries the leaders make it their mission and policy to provide some form of shelter for those who cannot house and feed themselves. It seems that in TT this is a political lever which is used by every government whoever they may be to get access to the public purse. When they get this purse they then enrich themselves, friends, and cronies. In other countries this problem is being solved by building multifamily housing with proper amenities such as parks etc. and housing the poor and under priviledged persons. In T&T there is a belief the government by extension the citizens are obligated to “give me a house” as if they are asking for a bread. This has made the population believe that they can register with the HDC and wait for a house. “Ah want a house” is the slogan. The government seems to think that building small single family homes all over the country will solve the problem. TT are small islands with limited land space therefore this policy of dotting the islands with small houses is misguided and inefficient. In addition, Trinidadians believe in the old inefficient construction methods and using expensive materials. This result in a high cost of construction of a modest home. Multifamily buildings take up less land and infrastructure therefore cost will be lower. There is also a high level of corruption in the state housing contracts which rob the citizens of the much needed housing.
    When some government take it upon themselves (re: last government) to house every citizen then it becomes an impossible task. Governments responsibility is to facilitate private home ownership for those who can afford it and provision shelter for the low income, poor and homeless.
    It is obvious governments of TT are incapable of doing any thing right in this important area.

  4. While I recognize and indeed concur with the unabashed cynical nature of Mr. McMaster’s response as I do the cry of helplessness in Mr. Salter’s, my own view is that Housing, being one of the three basic requirements of humankind – food and clothing being the other two – governments have a moral responsibility to provide this essential to those unable to provide it for themselves…

  5. Absolutely right, Regina.
    If we assess the resources pumped into foreign food imported and the cost of expatriate salaries and benefits alone against the boosting of locally produced food and the training and remuneration of locals into those skills over the last 50 years, we will observe the Kilimanjaro that is the tip of the continent of fiscal waste that endures as inherited, structured policy here and in the ‘other countries’ that K. Ram seems not to know. The details are not symmetrical but the outcomes are: 1% against 99% more or less.

  6. I think it prudent to paste here, the lyrics for Sparrow’s Good Citizen.
    GOOD CITIZEN
    Performed by The Mighty Sparrow
    Album: Many Moods of Sparrow, 1967.

    When does someone really become a good citizen?
    I’d like to know for sure.
    Why when the ordinary man disagrees with the establishment
    They call it treason?
    Why should they persecute a brother for seeking black power?
    Don’t they know a blind man could see that this is blatant hypocrisy,
    The real traitors and them are all high in society.
    Yet the government protecting all ah dem and penalizing you and me.

    And in a million different ways they violate the law
    It’s the same good, no good bastards who oppress the poor
    They selling black market, making excess profit, paying a starvation salary.
    These good citizens are the architects of economic slavery.

    They say you have the right to criticize but then you are victimized,
    And without any reason, many a time you find yourself
    Politically paralysed by that same good citizen.
    Yet these fakes and phonies enjoy a long life of luxury
    While they spread corruption throughout the country.
    When they should be arrested,
    They’re protected and respected in the society.

    And in a million different ways they violate the law.
    It’s the same good, no good bastards who oppress the poor
    With their false declaration, tax evasion, defrauding customs duty.
    These good citizens are the architects of economic slavery.

    In lust, in greed, in fraud, in strife they specialize
    Double deals, double deals they idolize.
    If you brave enough to open your mouth and criticize,
    One time you are ostracized and or victimized.
    Still they go unpunished and un-accused of any crime,
    While on the backs of the ordinary man these vultures climb.
    They use their riches and their power, make a mockery of the law
    And have the law protect them same time.

    And in a million different ways they violate the law
    It’s the same good, no good bastards who oppress the poor
    They controlling bootlegging, dope peddling, prostitution and piracy.
    These good citizens are the architects of economic slavery.
    Source: http://guanaguanaresingsat.blogspot.com/2006/09/good-citizen.html

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