The Hon. Major General (Ret’d) Edmund Dillon- Remarks- HDC Housing Distribution Ceremony- River Runs Through
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Good Morning and Welcome to today’s Housing Distribution Ceremony.
It gives me great pleasure to be here with you this morning, not only as your Member of Parliament but also in my official capacity as the newly installed Minister of Housing and Urban Development.
Despite what others may say, for those who have had the good fortune to be counted as home owners, there is no other feeling in the world like it. To know that sense of place and belonging where one can put down roots and become an integral part of a community, that is simply priceless.
I have paid attention to what has been said in the public domain over the past week and all I will say is thank God there is a Housing Policy and Programme to criticize. Just think for a moment what would have been the case if the PNM did not get involved in the local housing market and developed the Accelerated Housing Policy in 2002. Or established the mechanisms to facilitate the construction and allocation of thousands of housing units to provide shelter and more important home ownership for low to lower middle income families.
For those who choose to say otherwise, there are many more persons who look to the Ministry and the HDC to provide them with affordable homes knowing that they can ill afford to face the open market to purchase, lease or rent a property to shelter their families.
The Government’s Housing Policy continues to be informed and guided by the housing needs of our low to lower middle income groups. It is clear from the initiatives we have introduced in the housing sector over the last three (3) years that we are on the right track in terms of providing affordable housing solutions.
However, we do appreciate that with all the good intentions in the world, the State will never be able to provide housing for everyone. We can, however, persevere to do what is possible with what resources there are to ensure as many families as possible are assured home ownership.
When we came into office in 2015, we immediately realised that we had to be innovative to ensure families didn’t suffer because we no longer had the kind of resources to invest in the housing sector. So we went about introducing initiatives and incentives to the private sector to get them involved and the response has been very positive.
We initiated the public private partnership arrangements and the Housing Construction Incentive Programme to drive the home mortgage programme while introducing the Aided Self-Help Housing programme to encourage individual home construction for persons with and without land. We also restarted ten projects that were left incomplete by the former administration for reasons known best to them. Those developments have since been completed and distributed to deserving applicants on the Ministry’s database. The aim is to increase the national housing stock so that more persons have the opportunity to share in the home ownership pie.
We also revised the income and property bands of the Trinidad and Tobago Mortgage Finance Company Limited’s 2% and 5% mortgage facility. In this way more persons within the low to lower middle income groups can access affordable housing solutions. This has also made it possible for the HDC to make inroads with the conversion of households from rent-to-own and lease arrangements to homeownership.
Arrangements have also been made with persons to reduce their arrears, which has gone a long way in providing much needed revenue streams to pay contractors and start new developments. There has also been a shift in policy to provide more rental accommodation, recognizing that many applicants are just not able to afford a mortgage.
Under this Government, the Land Settlement Agency has started to offer Statutory Leases to eligible Certificate of Comfort holders. This is the first time since the State Land (Regularisation of Tenure) Act 25 of 1998 was enacted that any Government has been able to distribute the leases. Last month, the LSA distributed 100 Leases which ensures that persons who were illegally occupying state lands prior to 1998 are now able to attain land security for themselves and their families.
This demonstrates your Government’s commitment to providing access to affordable housing solutions and getting families closer to their dream of homeownership, because we know it matters.
I want to credit my Cabinet colleagues before me for having done an excellent job to advance the tenets of the policy to the benefit of families across the country. I do not have to defend their performance as their record speaks for itself. For those who like the numbers game let me share some numbers with you –
- In the last two years, the HDC has completed seven (7) projects which provided 1,856 units.
- We turned sod on five (5) new projects, the first being River Runs Through in Arima. Tomorrow, we’ll be distributing seventy-six units from Phase I of that project which is now complete.
- The HDC has also been able to allocate 2, 347 homes over the last three (3) years (these would comprise of units from stalled projects as well as those that were vandalised and were refurbished and distributed).
- We have also been able to amass a total of one billion dollars ($1b) from the mortgage conversions as well as direct sales of units. This was used to fund other developments and pay off some of the debt to contractors.
This development we are at today, Lake View, was one of the stalled projects I spoke of earlier which was suspended many times but restarted in January 2016. Since then we have delivered seventy-five (75) units, and we will be distributing more today.
So ladies and gentlemen, do not believe the rhetoric about the PNM not “building a single house”, you know differently. In or out of office, low and lower middle income families have been benefiting from the PNM’s Housing Policy and Programmes. Just take a look across this country and you’ll see how the landscape and every community has been changed because of our housing policy and programmes.
I wish to thank the Permanent Secretary and her staff, the Chairman and Board of the HDC and all those instrumental in making today possible. Let me also congratulate those of you who will be receiving your mortgage packages and keys today. Take a moment to appreciate the opportunity you have been afforded because you are better off day than you were yesterday. Ensure you maintain your financial obligations to the HDC so others can benefit as well. Best wishes to you and your families as you embark on a new chapter in your lives.