“Until all have crossed, none have crossed…and some we have to carry”
— the late Dr Pat Bishop TC… timeless…
“…The Housing Policy of the Government of Trinidad & Tobago is based on the understanding that every citizen should be able to access adequate and affordable housing regardless of gender, race, religion or political affiliation…”
(the emphases are mine)
This is my second essay on the size and meaning of the Housing Gap. That is the gap between the beneficial intentions of the Housing Policy (2002) and the needs of the actual applicants, the neediest citizens, in this my Season of Reflection. The State Institution with responsibility to close that gap is the Housing Development Corporation (HDC). The Land Settlement Agency has responsibility for providing serviced lots but that is a minor part of the output.
The previous article opened by citing the little-known preamble to our Republican Constitution (1976), which affirms the principle of social justice by the operation of our country’s economic system to promote the common good. This week, my opening quotation is from the late artist, musician and commentator, Dr. Pat Bishop, in which important community values of assisting those least able to assist themselves are elevated. Almost socialist, in both expressions. I tell you.
Once again, I am asking the pointed questions as to how well does our existing housing program, as executed by the HDC, serve those ends as properly articulated in our housing policy.
In the previous article I also specified that a mere 21.4% of the HDC’s 2003-2015 output was allocated for permanent rental. That is a scandalously low percentage of rental homes, given that over 90% of the 176,000 applicants on the waiting-list cannot afford to buy.
In May 2018, the PM, who was at that time acting as Minister of Housing and Urban Development, announced an ambitious program to commit $9 Billion to build 10,000 new homes via the HDC. Dr. Rowley’s statement was welcome news for those involved in designing & building new homes for HDC, effectively setting the stage for a solid level of medium-term activity during a relatively slow period.
Apart from that effect within those ranks of professionals and contractors, there are further implications to be considered.
The way contracts are discussed in this country is that the cost of construction is the only figure which is really mentioned. We ignore the land, both literally and symbolically. Just consider that at an average cost $900,000 per new home ($9,000,000,000/10,000 = $900,000) the completed units would average over $1.0M each. Even with the HDC’s housing subsidy applied to each unit, the cost to the purchaser would be of the order of $600-650,000. Which means that those homes would be affordable only to households earning $15-20,000 per month, which is over twice the average household income in this country, as examined later in this article.
The Rental Housing option
Then, on 22nd June 2018, Dr. Rowley, still acting as Housing & Urban Development Minister, made these interesting assertions –
“If you know how the application list is made up. Of the tens of thousands of people who apply and who look to the HDC for relief in public housing, a huge amount of those persons can only afford a rent.” With the best facilitating policy in place, he said, some people simply could not afford high quality housing.
“So, what we have done is to change the policy a bit and say that the Government is going to focus now, or for a little while, at least going forward, on building houses or apartments for rental to service the needs of those persons for whom a rental can satisfy their needs.”
(the emphases are mine)
Dr. Rowley clearly recognised that the element of rental housing is essential in satisfying the neediest applicants, yet there is a painful ambivalence in that those are limited to ‘for a little while‘. The simple fact is that over 90% of the applicants on HDC’s waiting-list cannot afford to qualify for a mortgage. Obviously, the partial recognition of those needs is not a satisfactory position in terms of the real requirements. This is a fundamental issue of political responsibility.
Politically Correct Housing Policy – What is its impact?
The second opening citation is from the HDC’s publicity and is a commendable attempt to promote non-discrimination in the allocation of State housing. It is a policy approach intended to prevent any discrimination on the basis of ‘gender, race, religion or political affiliation‘, the only problem is that, notwithstanding its satisfying several aspects of political correctness, there is no focus on the decisive issue. The reason people do not live in proper housing has nothing to do with gender, race or any of those listed factors. The failure to obtain proper housing is due solely to a lack of money. We live in a capitalist society in which access to money will give access to various items on the market, including a decent home.
The singular failure here is one of vision, where we readily satisfy political correctness, while ignoring the only reason citizens cannot get good housing. Incredible, but true.
The income limits for HDC applicants
Finally, one must consider the fact that HDC’s qualification limits for applicants are severely at odds with the reality. With an average monthly national household income of less than $9,000, the HDC, which has a statutory duty to provide affordable housing to low and middle income applicants, has a monthly household income limit of $25,000.
The program can therefore be dedicated to providing new homes in the $700,000+ price-range, way outside the reach of the vast majority of applicants. That is what is happening and it is entirely unacceptable. We must do better.
Previously I expressed my support for current HDC efforts to develop low-cost model homes to meet the needs of the poorer applicants. I understand that the target cost is below $300,000, which is of course far less than the $900,000 average cost per unit disclosed by Dr Rowley in May 2018. Of course the HDC is an important part of the design and construction activity in our country, so maintaining its pace of activity is critical to the general level of the economy. I have been proposing that HDC make a shift in focus toward more modest and genuinely affordable new homes, to properly align with existing housing policy. The decisive point is that the level of activity could be maintained, while benefiting three times the number of applicants.
3 thoughts on “Property Matters – The Housing Gap part two”
Mr Raymond the citizens of T&T must appreciate your drive to correct this misguided approach to the affordable housing problem by the various Minister of Housing, Prime Minister and other technocrats of all governments. It seems that they cannot come to the terms of what “affordable” housing means. This idea that all applicants for housing want a “front yard and backyard” which was touted by the Minster of Housing of the UNC government cannot solve the housing crisis. The UNC built homes costing over $1.2 million dollars and were proud of this madness. The projected cost of $900,000 per house as estimated by the present Prime Minister seems as though he is being advised incorrectly by his advisors or he is not conversant of the income and ability of citizens of TT to pay for such expensive homes. Your article above proves this fact. It is amazing that Dr Rowley was the Minister of Housing in the Manning administration and he is not aware of the facts on the affordability price of homes by a large majority of the population. Any level headed construction expert will tell you that with newer and efficient construction homes can bring the cost down to about $400,000 also the most efficient and cost effective construction is Multifamily buildings as done by much large countries than Trinidad. Again the misguided policy of building small houses dotted all over the country occupying valuable scarce land must be changed. All governments and their advisors should look at countries where multifamily housing is helping in solving the affordability problem.
When will the governments, Prime Minisiters, Ministers of housing and the technocrats look at how to solve this problem. The people are waiting with abated breath. Spending billions dollars will not alone solve the problem. It means more corruption, bad constructions, kickbacks etc.
I am of the impression that these politicians are very out of touch with the reality facing the citizens of Trinidad and Tobago. Most do not look beyond their inner circle of the “privileged” for advice and therefore make decisions that would never benefit the masses in T&T.
There are a number of exclusive circles of opportunity in this country that are only reachable by the “Haves” whilst the “Have Nots” are soothed with words and criticized for not doing better.
The very design of a number of incentives offered by the government of T&T incorporates processes and requirements which impede access by the ambitious – HAVE NOTS or poor or lesser fortunate in this country, and sadly so.
So the issue on housing Afra is just one of the well crafted exclusive circles in favor of corruption,nepotism and cronyism.
EXCLUSIVE CIRCLE #1
HOUSING: Provided for the lesser fortunate who obviously cannot afford it.
EXCLUSIVE CIRCLE #2
FARMERING: To register as a farmer in T&T you must have LAND or legal access to land
To get lease land and agri incentives from the government,you must first be registered as a farmer.
So the man who has some knowledge in agriculture but no land,will never get access, because he cannot be a farmer because obviously,he does not have land…
What a foolish paradox of exclusive provision in T&T!
So the same persons or groups of persons continue to benefit from Housing, from land distributions, from Agricultural Incentives, from Business Incentives and processes and contracts and jobs etc. etc…
So let us not hypocritically wonder why there is still so much hopelessness in this country or why citizens have believed for decades that the GOVERNMENT does not care.
Our systems are designed to exclude the poor and by so doing, keep them poor!
Ms Patrick is right and K. Ram typifies those of us who refuse to acknowledge that the poor outnumber all other categories of voters and they follow blindly the propaganda of politicians. Still they are not entirely to blame since half a loaf is better than none and the crumbs that were bargained for by unions were better than the enslavement of our ancestors. At this rate the 1% will migrate to Mars and we shall inherit this Earth that we progressively despoil. The Mighty Duke sang in his “Apartheid” (1985) that no peace will be had in Africa until Azania is free. We still await that freedom there. Housing, like freedom is more gimmick than policy for the poor. Is a peaceful revolution possible? Are we utterly hopeless? Will violence solve these issues? Can we truly guide the masses? I guess that as long as we put money as the object of our existence we will bend to Massa’s will.
Has anyone read: Is Massa Day Dead? Black Moods in the Caribbean, Paperback – 1974