Home / View Point / Letters to the Editor / Dear Editor: A house for Mr T&T? Country FirsTT asks citizens to back bid for HDC fairness

Dear Editor: A house for Mr T&T? Country FirsTT asks citizens to back bid for HDC fairness

“There are currently—and this is a figure that comes from the HDC itself—180,000 applicants on the HDC’s books, which is just about 12% of the entire population. That is no surprise.

“The surprise is that, despite the length of the waiting list, there are several developments all across the country where HDC units stand empty, abandoned, incomplete and/or in various states of disrepair.”

The following Letter to the Editor, which deals with the perceived unfairness of the HDC’s system for allocating houses to applicants, was submitted to Wired868 by Daren McLeod on behalf of Country FirsTT:

Photo: The Fidelis Heights HDC compound, for high-, some say, rather than low- and middle-income earners.
(Copyright Trinidad Guardian)

It sounds like a joke but it’s a statement of fact, galling fact: there are people who put in an application for a house 40 years ago, yes, forty years, and are still waiting for a house.

So Country FirsTT is not laughing but trying very hard to get the Housing Development Corporation (HDC) to do something about fulfilling their mandate.

And trying very hard to get you to do likewise.

In April of this year, Country FirsTT requested of the Housing Minister that he or the HDC provide public information about the exact number of existing units which have not been distributed, the number of those which are habitable and the number that are not.

There was no response.

As a follow-up, Country FirsTT recently designed a petition demanding the abolition of the lottery system used by the HDC for allocating 60% of the available housing to applicants. The petition also demands that all new construction be halted until all vacant habitable units have been allocated to qualifying applicants and that this allocation NOT take place, as tends to be the practice, at election or Christmas time.

Photo: Current Minister of Housing and Urban Development Randall Mitchell.
(Courtesy IRCP.Gov)

Click HERE for the petition:

And here, at some length, is why we think it is necessary:

The HDC only came into being in 2005, when the Trinidad and Tobago Housing Development Corporation Act replaced the National Housing Authority (NHA) with it. Its statutory mandate included, among other things, to provide affordable shelter and associated community facilities for low- and middle-income persons and to carry out the broad policy of the government in relation to housing.

Country FirsTT is satisfied that the HDC has NOT so far done that.

There are currently–and this is a figure that comes from the HDC itself–180,000 applicants on the HDC’s books, which is just about 12% of the entire population. That is no surprise.

The surprise is that, despite the length of the waiting list, there are several developments all across the country where HDC units stand empty, abandoned, incomplete and/or in various states of disrepair.

Photo: Mr Bean just missed out on a Cabinet position in the PP government.

Now, housing has always been a much sought-after commodity in Trinidad and Tobago where, for a long time in the immediate pre-Independence years, children were “black people riches.” All of these children needed houses of their own in the 1970s and 1980s and more and more of them were able to afford them after the first oil boom hit in the mid-70s. The then NHA and now HDC was thus always inundated with applicants who soon became too numerous for the housing needs of all of them to be met.

Nowadays, the situation is made much worse by the influx of foreigners who, following the oil money, have come to T&T. Unable to find housing, they have moved in on the State’s or other people’s lands and their numbers have swollen to the thousands. And many of those locals who are unable to find suitable accommodation of their own have followed suit.

So there are literally thousands of families feeling the pressure. Some live in dilapidated structures which they will not repair because that will make it impossible for them to pay the deposit if the HDC calls them tomorrow. They reckon that it will be better to have a few months’ installments in hand in the event that call comes than to inject what funds they do have into a home which they may soon have to leave when that call does come.

Others pay rents which entitle them to nothing but a largely inadequate place to stay. Still others remain cooped up in cramped spaces with little or no privacy, hoping against hope that they will get that HDC call and so be able to move their children into a less stultifying space before they progress out of childhood into adolescence.

And all the time the pressure on the HDC grows.

Photo: Many citizens are reduced to desperate measures to secure proper housing.

But how does the HDC deal with this growing pressure? In a word, badly. They have experimented with various systems, none arguably more unsatisfactory than the current lottery system. Few people truly benefit from this lottery system, well, few bona fide applicants anyway.

Under the existing system, 5% is set aside for the elderly and those in emergency situations, 10% is reserved for members of the protective services, 25% is allocated at the discretion of the minister and 60% of all homes is allocated to applicants via the lottery.

As far as we can make out, people have no complaint about the emergencies and senior citizens five percent or the protective services’ ten percent allocation. The same cannot be said, however, for the 25% or the lottery-allocated 60%.

Because the truth is that no one seems to know quite how the lottery works.

Let’s deal first with the 25%. The Housing Minister’s discretion to dispatch a quarter of the available homes, it is widely felt, leaves the door open to corruption.  And we don’t have to look far for evidence that it is a door that is in regular if not frequent use. At least one PP minister has been publicly accused of requesting, ahem, personal favours in return for the grant of a house. And it is now public knowledge that homes were given to queue-jumping media personnel and party supporters, including millionaires, while poor, working people have been made to wait in ever-lengthening queues to be served.

And so to the lottery and its 60%. The system involves a secret draw which the public is not privy to and to which it has no access so as to be able to ensure it can withstand scrutiny. How can this be fair? And even if in the end justice is done, it certainly does not seem to be done.

Photo: Desperate for a house, people go so far as to initiate loan arrangements with their banks, hoping more often than not in vain that their number will come up.

Country FirsTT thinks that the lottery system as it currently operates is discriminatory because it takes no account of either “seniority” or priority. We think that the minister ought not to have any discretion to allocate any additional homes outside of the five and ten percent.

He is there to serve the entire citizenry and he does not do that if homes are not allocated based on needs and circumstances rather than on the basis of party affiliation or any such parochial consideration.

We think that a fair, equitable and humane system should be put in place to supplant the current one. We recommend the establishment of an allocations panel which will determine cases based on blocks of applicants grouped according to the age of their applications.

All applicants who applied 20 years or more ago should have a block of houses allocated to their group. Decisions about who gets and who does not get will be made on the basis of the time of application and the applicant’s particular circumstances.

A number of houses will also be allocated to the 10-to-19 years group and distributed using the same criteria. That way, we shall eventually get to the point where new applicants will be waiting for the houses which are about to be completed or constructed.

Photo: Former HDC CEO and UDECOTT chairman Jearlean John, who is one of four HDC executives currently before the court to answer claims of impropriety made in a civil suit brought by the State. (Copyright Trinidad Guardian)

Now, over petition has already been signed by thousands of people who agree with us. That tells us that there are citizens who are not prepared to tolerate the broken systems anymore. It says that there are citizens who recognize that they have rights which are protected by international law and they intend to hold accountable those agencies and organisations responsible for ensuring that those rights are respected.

The HDC is near the top of that list.

The right to adequate housing is guaranteed to all citizens and it is found in Article 13 of the International Covenant on Economic Social and Cultural Rights. Country FirsTT has called on Ms Leilani Farha, the United Nation’s Special Rapporteur on the Right to Adequate Housing, asking her to consider whether this country’s housing policies are in breach of this and other human rights obligations.

We have gone further to raise the issue with the Human Rights Council of the UN.

Country FirsTT plans to await the outcome of this petition initiative before we take the next step. This will be to write the President of the Republic, the Prime Minister, the Housing Minister and the HDC Board to seek support in the addressing of our concerns.

Photo: PNM political leader Dr Keith Rowley (centre) gives his victory speech at Balisier House on 7 September 2015, flanked by his wife Sharon Rowley (right) and daughter Sonel.
(Courtesy Allan V Crane/Wired868)

It is our hope that you will be one of the large numbers of citizens signing the petition, which is, after all, not a political document but a social one.

Because, if you have waited 40 years for the HDC to give you a house, that means that you have not got a fair shake from the NAR, the UNC or the PP…

…or from three different PNM administrations.

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  1. Really wish one good day the system can change n be fair to all and not a “who know who system” and “pay to get your name fast tract system” fairness to all. #onegoodday

  2. I applied for a house since rock of ages was a pebble and I am still waiting. I received a reference number and nothing else. If you don’t have a good contact in there it’s a waste of time. Too much corruption. Governments come governments go same khaki pants.

  3. There are ppl who work hard getting a monthly salary and who Dont have the paper work to get the house most important hdc get the monthly payment so plz stop suffer middle class ppl

  4. How many of the 200 Thousand ILLEGAL IMMIGRANTS ie the Nigerians Guyanese and Venezuelans do Citizens have to Compete with for these national Resource such as housing and WATER

  5. What about i was chosen got all my documents and my appointment was cancelled. When I went to enquire only to be told by the front desk staff that I was chosen under the previous administration.

  6. Corruption at its best another 17 years in waiting, it’s easier for me to get a house to buy in the US now than to get one here,a man boasting in a taxi one day his 2 children living in America but they have HDC house here , I was so pissed to hear that knowing the run around I getting, but this country have no coming back, corruption is a way if life who don’t want to be, is being left out, all the wrong things right now & ppl love it nobody wants it to change, sad, sad, sad state of affairs.

  7. Excellent article I am waiting 10 years and more and hoping to ‘ve called

  8. If yuh want to see corruption just check the list of owners of Fidelis Heights properties.

  9. To much corruption, I applied over 25/years,all I got is a number,nothing else.

  10. Look at me I was in a good government job at the time I had waited for 15years and when I use to be taking time off from my work to go and get some information from these demons at the front desks they does have a way about them like if the houses belongs to them don’t ask for when you go on the second floor is like you reach the fares of he’ll the securities have a much better approach

  11. Well you figure out we trinidadians ketching we add to get a house them guyanese getting house before us and they does be boasting how they get house and imagine people who in good government jobs can’t even get a house and there are people who sells in the market works in drug store and even selling on the sidewalks and they get very good homes that is why I always use to say when you r high and mighty you must have to come down and that goes for Ms.Jerlean John she never knew she had was to come down from that throne her attitude stinks that’s why she had to be where she is today

  12. People if the Real Estate Market functions properly citizens wouldn’t be so frustrated at our housing problem. Governments not supposed to get tie up in housing to the extent that we are angered by this system of distribution. The private sector for housing has been dishonest. We may be the only country in the world which has defiled economic forces to keep housing at $1 million and above in a recession. It shows that real estate is money laundering as people are hiding their money in property. You try to sell something not wanted, you soon find yourself dropping your price since you want the money. Housing NOT dropping??? Don’t blame government blame the upper 1 per cent of Trinidad…wake up people.

    • Wow you hit the nail on the head so long I’m saying that I’ll gotten gains are pumped into housing because I know contractors and one was telling me a three bedroom and two bath house can cost between $350,000. To $450,000 on average to build and then they turn around and sell for $1.5 to $1.7 million

  13. Those HDC units is for my really good friends & my family

  14. If anybody reading this, join a credit union and save up your money. It will come faster

  15. I feel I will buy a house first, die and still be on that list

  16. 100 a week; anyone recall those numbers coming from “Mr Stink Mouth” himself?

  17. And yet it have people who got units and renting it out or not living in them even those with more than one unit.

  18. It have one owner from 5 to 15 units an they renting them ……fig boat nation

  19. What is going to happen when we run out of space ?

  20. A lottery is while strictly the “fairest” way of allocating these units.

    It is ALSO the LEAST accountable way of allocating them.

    If there were a queue or a system with criteria and someone is allocated a house a review can be done after the fact.

    Why did this person get picked? “Well you see, based on their economic classification, their number was next to be serviced in the queue for said allocations based on xxx criteria from XXX months in the queue etc”

    Lottery system? “Well their number come up in de system” no way to review or understand if it was legitimate or not.

  21. This whole HDC business always struck me as one of the most obvious government rackets. Every year we hear of applicants waiting in vain on homes while videos surface online of entire neighborhoods of HDC homes laying vacant. Obviously contractors were paid for the construction of these homes yet they were never allocated to families, that suggests to me that the main purpose of their construction was to fill the pockets of contractors. Another purpose of these homes is to use them as political capital as elections draw near because it’s mainly then that sitting administrations seem to begin distribution of these homes in earnest AND their challengers begin posting videos of vacant homes as Clarence did in the lead up to the last GE.

  22. People who take money from people to build houses and never did but kept people money writing this article.