“A Home for Christmas”
The Honourable Camille Robinson-Regis, MP
Minister of Housing and Urban Development
Key Distribution Ceremony The Village Plaza
Edinburgh 500, Chaguanas
December 19th, 2022
Ladies and gentlemen, as I entered the room today, I could not help but recall one of the most famous Christmas carols of all time – “It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas;” and with Christmas a mere six (6) days away, I know the 75 recipients of keys must be experiencing the same sense of Christmas joy, to know that one of their life’s dreams is about to become a reality.
I have to tell you, I have been in politics for a long time now, and the joy I have seen on the faces of the 165 recipients of housing units between August and October, has surpassed anything I have seen before. I have no doubt that as we bring that number to 240 recipients today, that you too, will be all smiles, as finally, you get to call a house, your own home. As we say in the local parlance, you get to turn your own key.
As eagerly as we at the HDC have looked forward to this day, we could only imagine that finally holding the keys to your own home, could very well be the best Christmas gift you have ever received. If that is so, then we would have succeeded in ensuring that you got “A Home for Christmas,” and then this becomes our best gift to ourselves.
My friends, home ownership is one of most valuable assets you will ever possess. The keys that you receive today, are not just keys to unlock a door, but keys to unlock generations of wealth, keys to unlock generations of dreams, and keys to unlock millions of memories, which I hope you will soon begin to make in your new home.
What you are seeing before you are the answers to the questions: “What is the government doing for you,” and “where the money going?” The 240 persons who have received keys to their homes from the Housing Development Corporation since this programme began in August can now easily and honestly answer those questions. The more approximately 500 hundred families who have received starter homes, the hundreds who have received fully developed housing lots upon which they can now build their own homes, the scores who have received their Certificates of Comfort, all from the Land Settlements Agency, can also now easily and honestly answer these two questions as well.
As a Government, we have kept faith with you, the citizens of this beloved Republic. We are delivering on our promises to you. I know it takes some time for the promise to be realized, but I give you the assurance we will not stop, that I will not stop until we have satisfied our mission to you.
Ladies and gentlemen, I say this without any fear of contradiction whatsoever, there is no other administration in the history of Trinidad and Tobago that has delivered so many houses and provided access to housing, in such a short space of time, than this PNM administration, and therefore I want to expressly thank the Honourable Prime Minister for his foresight.
I also wish to place on the public record too, my most profuse thanks to the Board, management and staff of the HDC, and all their stakeholders, for the yeoman efforts they continue to expend, in delivering on the mandate which they have received.
Infrastructure is essential to any country’s development and prosperity. In recognizing this, and in response to the prevailing economic environment which has constrained Government’s resources, we have made repeated calls for greater private sector involvement in Trinidad and Tobago, and ultimately, for a shift away from the state-led commodity-dependent development paradigm. While successive Governments have placed varying degrees of focus on Public-Private Partnerships (PPPs) which facilitate the transfer of investment projects that have traditionally been executed by the public sector to the private sector, this current administration has made it a necessary feature of several discussions at multiple ministries.
Public-Private partnerships are by no means new to Trinidad and Tobago, going all the way back to the Power Generation Company of Trinidad and Tobago Limited, also known as Powergen in 1994, the Industrial Court in 1995, the Desalination Company of Trinidad and Tobago (Desalcott) in 1999, and the National Library Building Complex in 2003.
All of the these have taught us valuable lessons, and today, we at the Ministry of Housing and Urban Development are pushing ahead to secure more and more private sector organizations who are willing to partner with us to satisfy the growing demand for housing accommodation across the length and breadth of Trinidad and Tobago.
Already we have two such initiatives moving full speed ahead in Mt. Hope with NH International where approximately 160 apartment units are being constructed, and with Furness Trinidad Limited in San Fernando where the sod was recently turned for the construction of an additional 90 high-end apartment units. Under additional PPP arrangements, there are several units under construction at Malabar and Trestrail Gardens in the east, Eden Gardens in Central and Corinth B (Riverside East) and Corinth C (Riverside South) in San Fernando, which when completed will provide an additional yield of Six Hundred and Thirty-Six housing units.
The HDC is open to entering into similar type partnerships with any private sector organization willing to invest in Trinidad and Tobago. To this end we recently hosted a symposium for potential investors in the housing industry and we are eagerly anticipating numerous positive responses.
For us to be taken seriously by private sector investors though, we must get our own houses in order. It is for this reason, that this Government remains absolutely committed to the restructuring and reorganization of the HDC, moving it from its current structure to that of a holding company with three (3) distinctive and laser-focused subsidiary companies, each with its own clearly spelt-out mandate – a construction company, a facilities management company, and an asset management company.
It is not telling tales out of school to admit that one of the more persistent critiques of the HDC revolves around its perceived inefficiencies, built up over time, either through its failure to adhere to its own policies and procedures, or the absence of more modern methods of tackling its various issues. A simple case in point in the accumulation of arrears by tenants of the HDC who fall into debt. At the end of July 2022, the HDC was owed approximately $200 million by persons occupying state-sponsored houses.
Notwithstanding multiple attempts, utilizing a multiplicity of methodologies, that figure remains unacceptably high. It is one of the more compelling reasons for us to properly and finally restructure the HDC so that, once rectified, this will not be a recurring point of dismay for successive administrations.
One of the three (3) companies envisaged therefore is the asset management company will complete the sales of the finished housing units, as well as manage the housing portfolio until the unit is handed over to the purchaser, upon completion of payments.
The construction company will manage all aspects of property development, including land acquisition, urban planning, project and construction management, as well as the provision of financing solutions to undertake the various construction projects.
The facilities management company will focus on property management, including the maintenance of rental housing units, whilst partnering with Regional Corporations and other external entities to provide upkeep and preventative maintenance for all HDC properties.
With this clear focus on efficiency and productivity, the HDC will therefore be in a much better position to leverage its huge asset portfolio to begin the process of significantly reducing its reliance on the public purse for its viability.
There is an old saying that “if you were not there with me in my struggles, stay away from my success.” Mindful of that, the HDC will always have time for the many small and medium contractors who have stayed with it through thick and thin, during the good times and the bad.
It is for this reason, ladies and gentlemen, and mindful as well of the far-reaching impact of housing construction on the wider economy, in his 2023 Budget presentation, Minister of Finance, the Honourable Colm Imbert revealed Government’s intention to arrange for the benefit of the HDC, a government-guaranteed loan of $1.5 billion. The proceeds of this loan were to be utilized in three (3) ways:
- To fund the completion of stalled existing housing projects;
- Payment of debts to contractors and suppliers engaged in the maintenance, landscaping and garbage removal at HDC rental properties;
- To fund the construction of new housing units at HDC’s greenfield and brownfield sites, in accordance with HDC’s mandate of construction of affordable housing units.
Today, I am happy to indicate that, having received the first $500 million of that loan from the Government of Trinidad and Tobago, we have been able to not only resume some of our projects that had been stalled, but also to honour our obligations to our many contractors.
Ladies and gentlemen, the HDC’s debt to contractors amounted to approximately $1 billion. Today, I can say with some degree of pride that of the $500 million received, the HDC allocated $468 million to repay contractors, and as of today’s date $387 million or more than one third of the debt has already been liquidated. And I give our contractors the guarantee that we will do all within our power to ensure that we are never faced with a similar situation in the future.
Ladies and gentlemen, in January 2020, the HDC launched the Small and Medium Contractors Housing Initiative (SMCI), which targets experienced small and medium contractors who are capable of constructing basic 3-bedroom single family units, ranging in cost from $250,000.00 to $500,000.00 per unit, in batches of up to ten (10) units.
The HDC has since engaged the services of a total of seventy-three (73) contractors in keeping with Government’s policy to engage small and medium contractors to stimulate growth within the construction sector. Thus far, that has produced a yield of two hundred and nine (209) units at a cumulative cost of Ninety-Two Million, One Hundred and Thirty-Five Thousand, Two Hundred and Sixty-Nine Dollars and Ninety-Three cents (TT$92,135,269.93).
Some of the housing units to be distributed today were built by these small and medium contractors, and I can assure you that there has been no compromise in the quality of the house you will make your home. These contractors have kept the wheels of the industry turning, and ensured that the HDC is able to deliver on its mandate. To them we, and you, owe an immense debt of gratitude.
I am happy today to also be able to announce that the HDC will soon be commencing an extensive repair programme on rental properties at various locations, including Maloney Gardens, Charford Court and Morvant. These repairs, some long overdue, will provide not only a facelift to the buildings in these communities, but also be a source of short-term employment for persons.
Just as we have done with the construction of the housing units, the HDC will endeavour to make maximum use of the small and medium home-grown contractors, so that the monies expended on these projects will be able to circulate in the local communities. We are confident that we will continue to unearth new talent utilizing this method, and in so doing, wean more and more persons off the statesponsored welfare type programmes.
To you the recipients of these keys, today is indeed a red-letter day for you and your families. Nothing beats having your own home, and I want to congratulate you on that achievement. There are many persons, hundreds of persons who would have worked extremely hard to be able to afford you this privilege. I urge you to live up to your responsibilities, to honour your rental and mortgage arrangements with the HDC.
When you pay your rent, we can pay the contractors, who will, in turn, be willing to construct more houses, so that increasing numbers of persons can enjoy the experience you have today. The HDC has recently launched a number of ways in which tenants can pay their debts, and therefore I urge all of you to make ample use of these facilities.
On behalf of the Government of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago then, I offer our sincerest congratulations as you have now joined the ranks of homeowners. On behalf of the HDC I welcome you to the HDC family. And on my own behalf, I extend best wishes to you and your families for a wonderful and joyous Christmas season.
May the abundance of God’s grace and favour be poured out upon all of you as we celebrate, in your new home, the magic of Christmas.