“…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…”
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.
The 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.
This morning on CNC3’s the Morning Brew Hema Ramkissoon spoke with Afra Raymond about HDC. Mr Raymond said the plan under the National Housing Authority which was developed in 2002 was to build 100,000 homes in 10 years, he said the HDC has built approximately 12,000 homes. This is from 2003-2015. Video courtesy CNC3
Programme Date: 7 August 2018
Programme length: 00:18:34
In writing these articles on St Augustine Nurseries — Part 1 and Part 2 — I found my thoughts returning to those poorest of HDC’s applicants who simply cannot afford to buy. I reflected on the fact that many of our leading citizens emerged from very humble backgrounds which ought to have entitled their families to the benefits of subsidised housing. This is the final article in that mini-series, so I will be locating St Augustine Nurseries within the wider context.
From my reading of Dr Rowley’s autobiography ‘From Mason Hall to White Hall‘ it is clear that similar situations prevailed in his own early life. Between pages 32 and 33, Dr Rowley recalls his first visit to Trinidad to stay with his late mother, ‘Vassie’, at her rented home in John John – he was an eight-year-old, so this would have been 1957 or so. The crowded and unhygenic conditions he describes make it clear to me that Ms Rowley’s case was one which would have surely been worthy of public housing subsidy to obtain a better quality of affordable rented housing. Here was a decent, hardworking woman unable to do better, but having to make do, until she was able to move to an NHA home at Coconut Drive in Morvant as described later in the book. At page 35, we are told that Dr Rowley lived there in 1970, so those homes were conceived and built before the 1974 oil boom. Continue reading “Property Matters – St Augustine Nurseries, part three”→
The previous column detailed the ways in which this HDC project was being pursued in breach of existing land and housing policy. In this article I will go further, to specify the HDC’s statutory responsibilities, which it is legally bound to discharge. I will also examine the potential for a judicial review of the prospective decision to approve this project.
In addition to the land-use policy points made last week, the HDC is a statutory agency of the State, created by the HDC Act 2005. The HDC’s functions and duties are specified at S.13 (1) –
“…13. (1) Subject to this Act, it shall be the function and duty of the Corporation to—
(a) do all things necessary and convenient for or in connection with the provision of affordable shelter and associated community facilities for low- and middle-income persons…”
The law lists the low-income persons ahead of the middle income persons, which would conventionally denote a priority. The first item in a list taking precedence over the second and so on, but that is straight-line thinking and that is not where we are. Not at all.
HDC’s official responses to my queries stated that less than 22% of the 13,484 new homes allocated between 2003 and 2015 were given for rent. That is a scandalous misallocation of Public Money, given that 95% of the waiting-list comprises persons who cannot afford to buy a home, even on the most generous terms.
Last week, the PM announced plans for a $9 Billion investment in 10,000 new homes to be built in the coming months. That is a virtually unattainable target. Just remember that the original target in the 2002 housing policy was for 100,000 new homes in a decade, but in the 13-year period 2003-2015 only 11,788 new homes were completed. Yes, that’s right, the numbers do not match. HDC allocated 1,696 more homes than were completed in that period, but that is for another article. Continue reading “Property Matters – St Augustine Nurseries part two”→
The previous article dealt with the Eden Gardens scandal, now before the Courts, which I termed ‘a most grievous case of Grand Corruption‘. I provided a list of ten questions for media colleagues to put to the accused and their spokespersons on this complex fraud.
Senior former Public Officials preferred the valuation advice of a civil servant, who was not professionally qualified, over that of a seasoned professional of 28 years’ post-qualification experience. I don’t think any reasonable person would adopt that approach if the health of their relatives or the wealth of their family was at stake, but some persons seem comfortable to defend that kind of decision. As David Rudder would say – ‘with a straight-straight face‘. I expect we will be subjected to less and less appearances from those persons.
This article will attempt to put the controversial “St. Augustine Nurseries project“ (North Grove Housing Development) into context with existing land and housing policy. This project is emblematic of what has gone so badly wrong in our state housing policy. To be entirely clear, in this case I am making no allegations of financial corruption or voter-padding. This case is one of ‘Phantom Policy‘ in which intentionally-suppressed policies, developed to advance the public interest, are either ignored or selectively invoked. As we say, is according. Continue reading “Property Matters – St. Augustine Nurseries”→
HDC Act (no 24 of 2005) – At sections 18, 19 and 20 require HDC and the Housing Minister to publish audited accounts within 6 months of the end of every financial year.
Integrity in Public Life Act – At S.24 (3) prohibits Public Officials (which would include the HDC Board) from ‘…undertaking any project or activity involving the use of public funds in disregard of the Financial Orders or other Regulations applicable to such funds…‘
Securities Industry Act 1995 and the Securities Industry Bye-Laws 1997 – These require HDC, as an issuer of bonds, to publish its audited accounts annually for the information of bondholders.
The HDC has never published its audited accounts since it was established in October 2005 to replace the National Housing Authority (NHA). The previous article highlighted the HDC’s missing accounts and made the point that their failure or refusal to publish those audits was in breach of at least three laws (see sidebar).
On 3rd January 2017, I made a Freedom of Information request for details of NHA and HDC transactions in Public Money in the period 2003-2016, during the life of the current (2002) Housing Policy. The Public Money received would include budget allocations; monies derived from property rentals and sales; bank loans and bond funding. It is important to separate recurrent and capital expenditures. I also asked for those amounts to be itemised by year so that trends can be identified for further examination. Continue reading “Property Matters – HDC Acts”→