“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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.