Feature Address- 1st Statutory Lease Distribution Ceremony
A very pleasant morning to you all,
Today’s Ceremony marks a milestone achievement not only for the Ministry of Housing and Urban Development and its line agency, the Land Settlement Agency (LSA), but also more importantly to the one hundred recipients who will be receiving Statutory Leases for the lands they now occupy.
As you would have heard from the previous speakers, the State Land (Regularisation of Tenure) Act No 25, Chapter 57:05 became law in 1998, and was designed to protect eligible squatters in designated communities with the granting of titles for the lands they occupied.
These squatters, as today’s recipients will be able to attest to, would have had to provide proof that they were occupying state lands for residential purposes prior to January 01, 1998 and would also have had to apply for the state regularization programme by October, 2000 in order to have been considered for the programme.
This year would therefore mark at least 18 years since you, the beneficiaries of the statutory leases, would have applied for the programme and satisfied the criteria as outlined in the Act.
The Act also made provisions for infrastructural development to be carried out in these designated communities to improve the quality of life for families living there. These include the provision of roads and drains as well as the installation of electricity, running water and sewerage facilities, which would have been facilitated through a Loan Agreement with the Inter-American Development Bank.
When the Act first became law, there were approximately 23,000 households illegally occupying state lands and while the legislation sought to contain the ‘mushrooming’ of squatting communities throughout the country, the numbers of squatters have grown exponentially. We all know that these unplanned developments can and do have a deleterious effect on the environment and even on the health and wellbeing of those who live within and close to these communities.
The Ministry and the Land Settlement Agency will continue to engage other state agencies with a view to forging stronger strategic partnerships to curtail the illegal occupation of state lands. With a renewed focus on containment, we intend to work more closely with them to ensure that the ‘mushrooming phenomenon’ does not continue.
The Ministry of Housing and Urban Development is mandated to provide affordable housing solutions to low and lower middle income families. In so doing, the Ministry has provided several options, through our various agencies, to make homeownership more accessible and affordable, namely:
- The incentivizing of private sector developers and contractors to construct units for mortgages through the Housing Development Corporation (HDC)’s Public Private Partnership (PPP) arrangements and the Housing Construction Incentive Programme (HCIP);
- The re-introduction of the Rent To Own programme to allow more families to benefit from homeownership;
- Revising of the 2% and 5% interest rates’ income and property bands to make homeownership more accessible through the Trinidad and Tobago Mortgage Finance Company Limited (TTMF);
- Introduction of the Aided Self Help Housing Programme to incentivize eligible persons to build their own homes through subsidized mortgages from TTMF as well as technical support from the Ministry and other state agencies;
- The soon to be implemented Housing and Village Improvement Programme that will assist with much needed upgrades to the physical infrastructure of the communities as well as individual homes so as to maintain the integrity of the existing housing stock; and,
- A shifting of focus by the HDC to construct more rental accommodations, understanding that many persons on the Ministry’s application database are unable to secure mortgages to purchase their own homes;
Through the provision of tax incentives and exemptions by the Government, the Ministry through its agency, the HDC is able to encourage and attract private sector investment to assist with its public housing programme thereby lessening the burden on the state’s coffers.
We know that there are several economic and social benefits to be derived from the provision of affordable housing solutions. There is also the added benefit that when a person owns their own home, they can enjoy all the inherent advantages of being a legitimate homeowner – such as being able to use the property as collateral to acquire loans to improve themselves through education, business opportunities or improve their property values through home improvement projects thereby creating wealth for their off springs.
For this reason, the decision was taken to provide title for the occupied lands as this is in keeping with Government policy to facilitate homeownership for the most vulnerable within the society. As such, this will be the first time since the establishment of the Act in 1998 that the Ministry is in a position to grant Statutory Leases to eligible applicants for a period of 30 years. In so doing, beneficiaries will finally be considered legitimate landowners with all of its attendant rights and benefits.
At this time, on behalf of the Ministry of Housing and Urban Development and its agencies, and on by own behalf, I will like to personally congratulate the recipients who will be granted their Statutory Leases today. Please ensure you make every effort to pay the 25% premium offered so that you can receive the Deed of Lease for 199 years. This will allow you to enjoy security of tenure, legitimate homeownership and the creation of wealth for your families for years to come.
I would also like to thank and congratulate the Chairman and Board of the LSA, the CEO and his management team and all those responsible for making this event possible.
In closing, I wish to restate that the Ministry of Housing and Urban Development and its agencies remain committed to improving the lives of people in an inclusive and environmentally sensitive manner. In so doing, we will continue to review our housing policy and our programmes to ensure they remain accessible and affordable to those who need it the most.
Delivered by Mr Haimdath Ramoutar, Deputy Permanent Secretary (Ag.), Ministry of Housing and Urban Development