Like a socially awkward dinner guest who knocks down the glass of water, Colleen Holder and her committee have disrupted the myth of public housing management.
Oropune Gardens is not a den of ‘do-nothings’ who live off the public purse. The residents want to live there and have created several community groups geared to improve their lives. They are not being silent and want ‘the criminals… to pack up and leave’.
Unlike the Clifton Towers in Port of Spain, the Oropune residents have Holder with her media connections and the problem was not swept under the carpet. The effectiveness of the stated policy of providing homes for members of the security forces, as a means of preserving order, is laid bare for all to see.
The role of the Housing Development Corporation (HDC), arguably our largest landlord, is again being sharply questioned. At the Clifton towers, the allegation was that HDC officials facilitated the illegal occupation of units. Here, the allegation is that permission for illegal businesses was granted by the HDC in direct contravention of their own rules.
In Greenvale, the floods unearthed illegal occupiers, who claimed that an HDC official provided the entry. What is going on at the HDC? The question that now needs to be answered is, ‘will we, through ineptitude, create another hotspot?’
The two recent murders in Oropune are not unexpected. Near-repeat shootings typically occur within four hundred feet of the initial shootings within a few weeks (Ratcliffe and Rengret, 2008), most often caused by retaliation between offenders and victims.
Shooting is the swiftest means to settle disputes between criminals. In a residential area like Oropune Gardens—with low offence rate but high victimisation—proactive, quick-changing policing is required. The key for containing this ‘temporary’ hotspot of Oropune is the police, working in tandem with the residents, responding to crimes that have occurred and showing willingness to prevent others.
It is amazing that the police officers, if not all members of the security forces, did not see the emerging ‘gang war’ as validated by the daughter of the hardware owner. Their stunning silence was put under the spotlight by the brave members of the Residents’ Association. Those lawmen have not acted honourably as their older exemplars who lived in Success Village, Laventille and who left, as their legacy, the peace that endures.
Apparently, there is no equivalent to Terry Young, a retired Assistant Commissioner of Police, who still works with the young men in Success Village? How could these security folk not know what was happening under their noses? Why did the Residents’ Association have to resort to calling out all the miscreants?
It is sad to witness the bumbling HDC leaders. The first line of defence against crime in these developments is the HDC and the Government, which through their housing policy, can have an adverse effect on crime. This crop of leaders weaselled out and tried to pin the problem onto the police service.
The HDC Communications Manager admitted that they have repeatedly informed the owner of his breach. Why did the HDC not call the police? We cannot afford to feed the incipient gangs. In this ‘guava season’, there is no money to pay $10 million to another Shaq O’Neal or spend $37 million on ‘Colour me Orange’.
Just as speed bumps prevent speeding, the HDC must implement preventative measures. The HDC retains the ownership title of all the lands, they have to man up to their responsibility.
Have they put in place a proper governance structure to ensure that the housing development is properly run in the present and the future? Or are we to witness the gradual decay and lack of painting of the buildings? That is their responsibility.
The callous willingness to allow crime to find root and therefore devalue the major lifetime investment of their owners/mortgagees is breathtaking. Can one office deal with both Maloney and Oropune? What exactly does the HDC want of this office? What is their vision for either of these developments?
Who did the HDC expect to meet in their shamelessly proclaimed morning walkabout? To pay the rent and mortgage requires the occupiers to work—so naturally they were at their jobs at the time.
Are the HDC officials afraid of the Residents Association? Why talk to random residents on these oddly timed visits?
Sending an unprepared delegate to the community meeting is disrespectful to the other agencies and to the residents. With multi-agency collaboration and community organisations in the fight against crime, the quality of the professionals involved is more important than the organisational structures (Foster et al, 1993).
HDC shamefully doubled down, pulling a ‘Panday’—by telling the residents to report crime to the Police. They, as landlord, have a role to play. The residents must be allowed to protect their property with fences and burglar proofing. The HDC has to improve street lighting and support whistle blowers.
At a minimum, they have to enforce tenancy agreements and maintain parks. It is this lack of enforcement of their own rules that allow the setting up of businesses that in turn attract unsavoury characters. Why leave units empty when there is a dire need for housing?
A 2015 study done in East Port of Spain showed that dysfunctional institutional resources, like the HDC, was the largest defining difference between high performing and crime ridden communities.
The HDC needs to collaborate with residents, the ones able to create and sustain the vital dynamic. Stop the excuses. Do your job and save Trinidad from having one more hotspot.
Editor’s Note: In response to media coverage of complaints by residents—including this Letter to the Editor by Colleen Holder—HDC managing director Brent Lyons ordered the demolition of an illegal mini-mart, hardware and car wash today.