The Hon. Major General (Ret’d) Edmund Dillon- Feature Address- HDC Housing Distribution Ceremony- Nepuyo Court, Malabar
Ladies and Gentlemen,
A pleasant Good Morning. It is indeed a pleasure for me to be here this morning and be part of a defining moment in the lives of the beneficiaries of the Government’s Housing Programme.
This development has been a long time in coming. This project started in 2007 and was meant to be completed twelve (12) months later. However in 2011, the project was still not completed and the contract was terminated as a result of many factors. It was then left in abeyance until after the election of 2015.
Once this Administration, led by Dr. Keith Rowley, had reviewed the affairs of state, it boldly and categorically declared its commitment to prioritize and complete the housing projects that were abandoned by the last administration for reasons best known to themselves, as well as projects that would have been started between 2010 and 2015 and were not completed during their tenure. This is what responsible governments do, in order to manage this country’s limited resources. It is not about serving our self-interests to satisfy a few, but to do what is right, for the common good of all citizens who have placed their trust in us. We must always be equitable and transparent.
Today we are pleased to have finally been able to complete this project and distribute these beautifully constructed, structurally sound units, to families who are deserving of this opportunity, to realise their long awaited dreams of home ownership. My heartfelt congratulations to all of you.
There is a feeling of independence when you have your own home, own the keys to your own home
Following last week’s earthquake, many persons expressed the view that we should have a national building code in place to avoid the devastating effects that can be caused by them. In one of the HDC’s communities in Rio Claro there were some serious structural damages reported, with respect to the external staircases, and walls, in about twenty (20) of the units. The HDC was able to get a team out there to assess and have contractors on site within a couple days to begin repairs to these units.
Overall, the HDC teams visited and assessed over thirty (30) of its housing communities across Trinidad for structural damages. It would seem that only Mora Heights in Rio Claro was affected. While much has been said about the need for a national building code, I am assured that the developments constructed by the HDC in the last few years have been done in accordance with international standards. During a tour of the Gomez Trace Housing Development in Moruga last week, post the earthquake, the engineering staff was quick to point out that none of the units were affected by the tremors experienced. Gomez Trace is another project started in 2017 under this Administration.
The engineers’ assurance is supported by the HDC 22 Point Certification Quality Management Programme, which has been proven to guarantee improved quality of the HDC’s construction projects. This means that at every stage of the construction process, there is sign off and approval, to mitigate against poor workmanship and make the contractors accountable for delivering the highest and best quality standards. That is very important to us and should be to you too.
This Administration has encouraged the use of small to medium contractors on the various construction projects to spread the proverbial economic pie around and avoid a monopoly of just a few contractors. This provides an opportunity for them to develop their businesses while ensuring they deliver quality, structurally sound work on each and every project. It also allows us to keep costs down thereby making home ownership more affordable.
I know many persons look to the Ministry and the HDC to provide them with a house. We are, however, much more than that. Yes, our mandate includes the provision of affordable housing units but even more important and with less funding, the Ministry, through its various agencies, has been able to deliver affordable, innovative, sustainable housing OPTIONS to satisfy everyone’s most fundamental need, which is ACQUISITION of shelter and the establishment of communities.
On assuming office in 2015, we realised that we were faced with an economy which had to be placed on a sound footing. In light of this we knew we had to change the paradigm and seek innovative ways of rebooting the public housing sector to meet the existing demand and continue where we had left off in 2010. I am proud of the strides we have made with the Housing Programme and it is a fact that very many good and positive things have happened in the last three (3) years.
To ensure our lower middle-income families can access affordable mortgaged units, the Ministry through the HDC will continue to pursue the Public Private Partnership model as well as encourage private developers and contractors to become involved in the state’s housing programme through the Housing Construction Incentive Programme. At this time, five (5) private construction firms have signed up under the PPP arrangements and they will be providing the HDC with an additional 1,000 units in developments located in East, Central and South Trinidad.
To facilitate a seamless process, the Government established the Housing Task Force to monitor, coordinate and expedite the process of obtaining statutory approvals from regulatory agencies to avoid unnecessary delays in the construction of new housing stock. Under these arrangements, applicants can access mortgages valued as much as $1.5M or as low as $750,000 and less, so that every income grouping listed on the database is catered for.
Understanding that a significant number of applicants on the Ministry’s database will be unable to secure mortgage facilities, the Ministry and the HDC intend to shift focus away from solely constructing mortgaged units and use its scarce resources to provide rental accommodations for those who need it the most. Depending on the life stage and financial circumstances of some of these applicants they can be considered for the Rent to Own Programme which allows them the opportunity to access a mortgage as soon as their situation improves.
In this way we can provide mortgaged units at affordable prearranged prices, to prequalified applicants on the housing database, utilising the Trinidad and Tobago Mortgage Finance Company Limited’s 2% and 5% mortgage interest rate. This facility is also available for persons wishing to purchase on the open market.
The Government recognised that one of the options in the provision of shelter is access to developed land for the construction of owner occupied homes. The Aided Self-Help Housing Programme was successfully launched late last year. Of the five thousand persons who applied, seven hundred were selected and are in the process of being financially assessed and having title searches conducted to determine their landlessness. We are hoping to assign lots in the shortest possible time to those who have met the financial criteria to service a mortgage, so that they can not only purchase the land, which is being offered at a subsidised rate, but also start immediate construction of their own homes.
Another initiative of the Ministry utilising the aided self-help approach is the Housing and Village Improvement Programme (HVIP). The primary aim of this project is to facilitate village and individual interventions to enhance communities and improve the living conditions of residents in villages all over Trinidad and Tobago, but without changing the social, cultural and historical essence of the area.
Last week I took the opportunity to tour the Merikins community situated at Fifth Company, Moruga, which was selected as a pilot project in the HVI Programme, not only because of its improvished state but also because of the historical significance of the area. Based on social surveys conducted, the Ministry recognised that this is just one of the many villages in need of assistance from the state to improve basic shelter and overall living conditions.
I am happy to report that the Ministry through the Land Settlement Agency has undertaken construction and improvement of basic infrastructural works in the area. Thirty (30) new mortar and bricks starter homes are being constructed. I have been assured that the starter homes which are ninety (90%) percent complete will be ready for delivery before the end of this fiscal year. Technical assistance has also been given to ten (10) families for implementation of home improvement projects. There are also plans to construct a recreational centre for the community in the next financial year.
I must say that I was pleased that the residents were impressed with the work carried out and cannot wait to move into their new homes. That is what this Ministry is about – providing much needed solutions to meet the shelter needs of qualifying low to lower middle-income families.
As such, the Ministry also provides a non refundable Home Improvement Grant of $15,000 to assist home owners carry out much needed repairs and upgrades to their existing homes. In this way too, we can reduce the demand for new housing stock while improving the existing stock.
We also saw the Land Settlement Agency award Statutory Leases to deserving CoC holders as part of the State’s Regularisation Programme. This will give certain occupants of state lands in designated areas security of tenure. Once they have paid for the land they can then receive a Deed of Lease which they can use as collateral to access loans to improve their physical homes and living conditions, or for educational or medical purposes.
These initiatives and Programmes I have mentioned are all geared towards increasing the public housing stock and assisting the Ministry to meet its mandate while reducing the burden of expenditure on the State. At the same time I want to encourage persons currently under Rent to Own and License to Occupy arrangements to convert to mortgages, as well as to urge those in arrears to negotiate a payment plan with the HDC to clear those arrears.
These measures will provide the HDC with much needed revenue streams that can be utilised to provide even more housing developments that can accommodate even more families. I am happy to announce that to date, we have received over $1bn from these conversions and sales, which has been used to fund other housing projects and pay off some of the debt owed to contractors.
We were also able to complete seven (7) projects, some of which were started prior to 2010 and suspended during the period 2010 – 2015. We believe it’s a waste of tax payers’ money to leave developments incomplete, especially when there are so many families relying on the Ministry’s Housing Programme to access affordable housing accommodations.
I am very pleased to report that since coming into office we have been able to distribute 2, 347 homes to deserving families such as yourselves. To further our home construction programme, we have also turned sod on seven (7) new projects in East and South Trinidad. Just two weeks ago we were able to distribute seventy-six (76) units in Phase 1 of River Runs Through in Arima, which was the very first project started under this Administration.
This Government’s policy is to create sustainable communities to ensure holistic development of all our citizens. As such, we have been able to provide ten (10) community play parks in some of our housing developments. Through the urban development portfolio we have also been able to construct, refurbish, retrofit and provide suitable and in some cases, state of the art facilities and recreational amenities, which serve many of these communities.
At this time, as part of the Ministry’s public awareness and educational thrust we are producing a manual which will be used as an information resource to guide persons through the various processes involved in accessing housing solutions that are just right for them. It will also include information on Government’s housing interventions.
As you collect your packages today, make a conscious effort to do what you can to let your new homes and communities reflect all that is good about this country. As we get ready to celebrate our country’s 56th Anniversary as an Independent State let us reflect on how much we have developed and achieved over the years, and let us try in our own small way to correct the ills in our society such as intolerance, indiscipline, unproductive behaviours that seek to tear us down instead of lifting us up. Let this be a time to stand up and be proud of our history, our culture and our people regardless of our political persuasions, and be willing to leave this place we call home a lot better off than when we found it.
I urge all of you to uphold your financial obligations to the HDC and TTMF, so that the HDC can use the monies to construct other developments to benefit other deserving families.
I wish to thank the Permanent Secretary and staff of the Ministry, the Chairman, and Board of the HDC and Mr. Lyons and his team, the contractors, service providers and others who would have worked tirelessly to make this event possible.
Happy 56th Anniversary of Independence to all of you and may God continue to bless our beautiful nation!