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Ms Wattley’s unique housing challenge

Published: 
Sunday, January 1, 2017
Housing Minister Randall Mitchell, left, reacts as Chris Rambhal pops the cork off a bottle of non-alcoholic champagne following a handing over ceremony at Eden Gardens, Freeport, yesterday. Also in photo is Rambhal's common-law wife, Neesha Wattley, and the couples' children Elesha, Ezekel, Equeisha, and Eteisha

The case where a woman looked a gift house in the mouth has raised issues of proper needs assessment as a basis for handouts to the less fortunate.

Neisha Wattley attained a certain level of notoriety after she complained about the location of a Housing Development Corporation (HDC) house given to her after her plight was highlighted on the CNC3 news programme. For seven years, she and her spouse, who are market vendors, and their four children aged eight to one, had been living in a one-room shack on a river bank in central Trinidad. They had neither running water nor electricity.

After the family’s plight was highlighted on CNC3, the HDC decided to give them a home, with the private sector also stepping in to contribute three years rent, $20,000 worth of furniture and appliances, and other amenities. It was a rags-to-relative-riches story that touched many people’s hearts—only for Ms Wattley to become a target of derision and disdain when, a day after receiving the keys to her new home, she complained that it wasn’t within walking distance of her children’s schools and she had no money to pay for transport so she preferred to return to her shack.

But her spouse Chris Rambhal soon contradicted her, saying that they certainly would not be moving and he had already made arrangements for the children. Some persons interpreted Ms Wattley’s apparent ingratitude as merely a sign of being overwhelmed by her new status, and Housing Minister Randall Mitchell tactfully said: “What I see there is a woman who is overcome by the challenges that she now faces and we need to still go out there and assist in overcoming her challenges.”

Minister Mitchell also claimed that social workers had been assigned to assist the family make the transition, and that the couple will be encouraged to do programmes through the National Training Agency so they could be in a better position to sustain their family and home.

So, officially at least, this matter appears to have been arranged with all necessary measures in place. Only time will tell whether Ms Wattley and Mr Rambhal will be able to take proper advantage of their good fortune. The fact that they have remained together for at least the past eight years is a positive indicator, since research in many different societies show that children in a two-parent family are more likely to have good outcomes than children from single-parent homes that do not have a support network, and this factor holds true no matter what the parents’ socioeconomic status.

On the other hand, the fact that Ms Wattley became a mother while still a teenager also explains why she needs professional help to ensure that her children do not fall through any cracks, since a young mother invariably has challenges that first-time mothers in their late 20s or early 30s do not. That she previously got assistance from individuals shows that she was fortunate to have interacted with good-hearted persons who were willing to help even before CNC3 highlighted her situation but, by the same token, Ms Wattley’s apparent ingratitude may make future aid less likely to be forthcoming.

Indeed, a major reason for the bellicose public reaction against her is that there are many other equally deprived families who have not been as lucky. Neither the State nor the private sector can help all, or even most, such persons. Thus, the fact remains that this particular family’s good fortune, while heart-warming, does not represent a policy solution to such social problems.

Indeed, a major reason for the bellicose public reaction against her is that there are many other equally deprived families who have not been as lucky. Neither the State nor the private sector can help all, or even most, such persons. Thus, the fact remains that this particular family’s good fortune, while heart-warming, does not represent a policy solution to such social problems.