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Up to April 13, 2017, 3,155 people were owing the Housing Development Corporation (HDC) over $106 million.
This was the figure disclosed by HDC managing director Brent Lyons at a Public Administration and Appropriations Committee (PAAC) meeting in Parliament yesterday.
The HDC was summoned by a parliamentary committee chaired by Fyzabad MP Dr Lackram Bodoe and comprising Opposition and Government MPs and senators.
Responding to a question on debt collection, Lyons said 79 per cent of the HDC’s mortgage portfolio is in arrears. He did not elaborate on this statement.
Asked about the HDC’s recovery efforts, he said letters of notice are sent to tenants occupying houses who are in debt, giving them seven days to respond. He said this letter system was put in place over the last five years or so. However, he said the response from occupiers was not entirely encouraging.
HDC divisional manager, finance, Inskip Pollonais, said debt collection agencies are also hired to help in recovering arrears, but not all the money comes to the corporation. He said people claim they pay the debt collectors but some of the recovered money stays with them (the debt collectors) and some comes to the HDC.
Pollonais said the HDC is now planning to review its arrangements with debt collectors.
However, Lyons pointed out that the HDC is not into the business of putting people out of houses.
“The objective is to help you get back on track,” Lyons told the committee.
He said the HDC policy is to ask those in debt to come in and talk and they offer payment plans to the delinquent tenants.
Lyons also disclosed that there are also over 1,000 HDC units either illegally occupied or simply abandoned. He said there are “live accounts” for some of these units. He said half of these units are “illegally” occupied by second, third and fourth generation people whose relatives were allocated houses.
Asked about the HDC’s housing stock, acting permanent secretary in the Ministry of Housing and Urban Development, Marion Haynes, said she was unable to say.
Asked how long she had been acting permanent secretary, Haynes said since February 2017. She said the substantive permanent secretary was on vacation and promised to provide the information in writing.
180,000 applicant database
But Lyons, who was sitting close to Hayes, had the answers ready. He said the HDC’s current stock is 5,600. He said most of those units are under construction and 1,000 are available for distribution. He added that over 180,000 applicants are on the HDC’s database waiting for houses.
Bodoe asked the HDC officials to comment on a Memorandum of Understanding signed recently by a Canadian company and a local firm to provide 100,000 houses.
Hayes said the Housing Ministry had no input in that MOU but it will definitely impact the HDC, given its mandate to provide housing. She said no public/private partnerships (PPPs) for the construction of houses are happening now.
Lyons, cutting in, said early in 2016 the HDC advertised for expressions of interest for PPPs. He said the response was very encouraging and the HDC will soon embark on Requests for Proposals.
The PAAC also heard the HDC has had auditing challenges for years, was not up to date with its accounts and could not provide information in this area.
Hayes also could not say whether agencies under the Housing Ministry, like the East Port-of-Spain Development Company and New City Mall, have been up to date with their accounts.
The Housing Ministry received an allocation from the Government of $1,112,107,000 for this fiscal year.
Asked about the ministry’s strategic plan, Hayes replied there was none at present but said they were looking for a consultant to help out with that.
This caused committee member Wade Mark to become alarmed. Quoting from Proverbs in the Bible, he said where there is no vision the people perish.
“I am alarmed after 20 months the ministry does not have a strategic plan.”
Efforts yesterday to reach Housing Minister Randall Mitchell to lend clarity on some of the statements made by ministry and HDC officials at the PAAC were unsuccessful as he did not answer his cellphone or return calls.