Trinidad and Tobago’s Housing Development Corporation (HDC) has vowed to expand its supply of homes attainable to the working poor, starting with the reconstruction of rental units at 23rd and 24th Streets in Beetham Gardens.
The Beetham project, according to a HDC release, will be “the template for the reconstruction and renovation of many more units as well as new construction, which will yield an estimated 96 units upon completion”.
No completion date for the renovation of the units was offered, although HDC hopes to relocate six families from the area into units owned by the Land Settlement Agency (LSA) within the next two weeks.
At a sod turning ceremony in Beetham Gardens on Monday 19 October, Jayselle McFarlane suggested that the HDC’s focus on poorer families was a return to its initial mandate.
“To achieve this very laudable goal, we must therefore incrementally expand the supply of social housing,” said McFarlane. “We need to get to the stage […] where the person who is working in a minimum wage paying job—especially our women and single mothers employed at our fast food outlets, in our security companies, and even at the lowest levels of the public service, and who constitute a very significant portion of the 191,000 HDC applicants—can actually qualify for state-sponsored housing.
“When we do that, the HDC would have returned to its moorings.”
Social housing, in the context used by the HDC, means residential rental accommodations at sub-market rates for people who cannot afford rent on the free market—as opposed to the more general term “affordable housing”.
Approximately 94,000 people, or close to 50 per cent of the people on the Housing Application Fulfilment System or HAFS database, have an income of TT$5,000 or less. However, the majority of the houses built by the Corporation between 2010 to 2016 were out of their price range, even at the subsidised rate.
The Corporation’s figures show that, between 2017 to the present, there were 5,000 mortgage conversions but only 417 rental arrangements. HDC, according to McFarlane, now hopes to make its rental tenants as comfortable and secure as its mortgaged tenants.
“It hurts me when I see people living in less than habitable conditions,” said Minister in the Ministry of Housing and Urban Development and Laventille East/Morvant MP, Adrian Leonce, “and I must congratulate the HDC for making this initiative, which will transform and change the lives of persons within this community.”
The HDC hopes, “over time”, to also provide social housing to: Thomas Trace in Bon Air Gardens (36 rental units), The Edinburgh Towers Development in Chaguanas (150 rental units), and Eastern Main Road, Laventille (500 rental units) among others.
The HDC will also partner with the MIC Institute of Technology for the project, so as to provide residents the tools to complete the reconstruction as skilled and unskilled labour as well as posts as liaisons.
Residents employed on the project can also receive Level 1 certification upon completion, which will allow them to train others.
“All the work will be done by the residents,” said Leonce, “but there is also special training for contractors where the senior contractors in the community will be trained by the MIC.”
Minister of National Security and Laventille West MP Fitzgerald Hinds said he considers it his job is to ensure his constituency benefits equitably from such Government projects.
“Better living conditions do something to the psyche,” he said. “It does something to the soul.”