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Billions to improve HDC rental units

Published: 
Sunday, October 22, 2017

The Housing Development Corporation (HDC) has a long-term solution to treat with tenants living in deplorable conditions which involves replacing and rebuilding apartment buildings. This project will cost billions of dollars.

That was HDC Managing Director Brent Lyons' response to questions from the Guardian on Sunday regarding complaints about the corporation's apparent failure to meet its responsibilities for maintenance of the HDC's rental properties.

The State has already spent approximately $95 million on the maintenance of housing estates over the last seven years. That $95 million in actual expenditure has been spent on apartment complexes in east Port-of-Spain, remedial infrastructure work, and the rehabilitation and general maintenance of HDC sites across the country.

According to the HDC's website, there are 275 housing estates in this country which they manage—78 in North West Trinidad, 76 in North East, 46 in Central and 75 in South.

HDC tenants pay between $100 and approximately $1,500 per month in rent, heavily subsidised rates significantly more than the market value.

This financial year, the allocation for rehabilitation and maintenance of HDC Rental and Apartments and Housing Units in the Draft Estimates of Development Programme Expenditure is listed at $20 million, an increase of 25 per cent from the preceding year.

In 2016 the allocation for rehabilitation and maintenance of HDC rental units was $4.9 million.

In 2014, prior to the announcement that this country was facing a recession, the actual expenditure for this item was $30.6 million.

The HDC has an Estate Management Division which manages the maintenance of the corporation’s estates from area offices located in Maloney, Morvant, Port-of-Spain East, Port-of-Spain West, Port-of-Spain Central and San Fernando.

The division is responsible for preventative maintenance, emergency/urgent maintenance, vacancy preparation, routine maintenance and preventative maintenance.

While the division states on its website that its goals is to maintain the properties in superb condition among others; On that particular aim the division has fallen short.

Residents Living in Poor Conditions

On Nelson Street, Jamila Nelson, a single mother, who shares her apartment with her two children, said for years she had complained to the HDC that the apartment was leaking and chunks of debris often fell from the ceiling.

"I live on the third floor, above me is the wash house and there are electrical cords hanging down in the rooms. Concrete slabs fall in my sons' room. I called HDC, they said to send letters, I sent two and nobody has come.

"Every time rain falls, inside by me is flooded out.

Nelson, whose first son is seven years old, said she had been complaining since before he was born.

One Duncan Street resident, community activist Hazel Smith said while she wished the HDC would sell the buildings to the residents, if they chose not to, then they should at least do frequent repairs.

"We haven't had our buildings repaired."

Acknowledging that gangs made it difficult for workers, Smith recalled that at Clifton Towers, a gang told HDC workers to take a hike.

"They did it over in St Joseph Road. How can we allow a gang to do that? I am so ashamed of how they did that. We sent a letter to HDC a few weeks ago and they went over there and went to put out illegal tenants. They called the city police and as soon as they left the evicted people came back and they vandalised the building with obscenities and told the HDC workers do not come back."

Smith said residents in east Port-of-Spain needed some type of stability.

Earlier this month, the Guardian highlighted a number of cases where HDC tenants complained of insalubrious conditions, mostly in Morvant and east Port-of-Spain.

Some residents said they have been ignored by the HDC for years.

Lyons: Lack of funding, threats against workers affecting HDC maintenance

In a telephone interview, Lyons said while the HDC had a long-term plan to rebuild many of the poorly maintained buildings, short-term maintenance measures were being blocked by criminals in some communities.

Lyons, who said the HDC does have plans for many of the older tenant buildings, some older than 40 or 50 years, from a design perspective he admitted many needed to be replaced and rebuilt.

"The long-term plan is to replace, rebuild, regenerate these communities, including the city, and east Port-of-Spain but do that will require expenditure that ranges in the billions," Lyons said.

He added that at present, the corporation did not have the funds to do the work.

"What we try to do is repair as best as we can. We'll attend to plumbing, electrical, carpentry. We try to repair roofs as they leak but we simply cannot afford to replace everything."

Lyons said one of the corporation's main challenges was that workers were prevented in a lot of cases from going into some of these communities to do the work.

He said in areas like Canada and St Paul Street, the workers were being told to not come around.

"I commend the workers for wanting to do their jobs. A lot of times they cannot and our efforts are hampered significantly."

He said in some communities, such as Lions Gate, in Chaguanas, workers were blocked by residents from something as simple as garbage collection and in other communities, and regular maintenance of properties was not being done because workers were being threatened.

"The police provide us with tremendous support, they respond to us but even with the police the workers are hesitant to go to some areas because now the police are being shot at."

Asked about the previous government's proposal to sell apartments to tenants for $100, Lyons said as far as he knew, that plan never got off the ground.

"It is not now a current policy or strategy that the HDC is pursuing but until we can get to a point where we can, rental is what we are pursuing.

"In rental agreements, minor repairs renters can do for themselves but there are other things the HDC is responsible for. Even so, our tenants come to us for practically everything."

Moonilal: PP refurbished 9,174 units

Former housing minister Roodal Moonilal provided statistics of repairs which would have been conducted between 2010 and 2015.

According to Moonilal, in that five-year period, the People's Partnership completed refurbishment of 9, 714 units within tenanted communities including, painting, roof repairs, roof replacement and pigeon proofing, repairs and replacement of windows, new common area lighting including solar (Beverly Hills, Laventille), repairs and construction of sewer systems, new garbage disposal systems, repairs to potable water systems including repairs and construction of water tank farms in areas prone to water problems, repairs and upgrades to electrical systems, repairs and replacement of elevators.

Moonilal said the then government also modified 102 housing units for people with disabilities and built detention ponds in Oropune Gardens, Piarco; Greenvale Park, La Horquetta.

$100M IN ARREARS...
COST TO MAINTAIN UNITS INCREASING

Housing Minister Randall Mitchell said yesterday that while the cost to maintain HDC rental units was increasing annually, its revenues from rental units remain the same, making it more difficult for the corporation to conduct necessary maintenance.

Mitchell noted that in providing affordable housing to those low-income earning citizens, the HDC makes rental units available at subsidized rental rates which is set between $100 and $1,500. Mitchell said over $100 million was owed in arrears. He said the HDC also struggled, but has stepped up its efforts in reducing the delinquency rates among its tenants in the payment of rents.

“The subsidy, at first glance, appears to be the difference between the market rental rate and what is charged by the rental rate set by the HDC. But this is not the whole picture if you factor in the monthly wage bill of the daily-rated workers at the HDC’s estate management division as well as the salaries of the administrative staff hired to manage these estates,” Mitchell said.

He said while the Government had not given consideration to raising these rental rates at this time, the HDC was presently working towards reducing the costs to maintaining these rental units and estates, becoming a leaner organization, eliminating wastefulness and increasing efficiencies.

Part of the problem, when it came to maintenance of tenant buildings, Mitchell said, was funding, delinquency and low productivity.

“As a consequence of our country’s drop in revenue, the HDC, as with other agencies across the public sector has had to management with smaller allocations from the Ministry of Finance. The HDC’s maintenance programme also suffers as a consequence of the low productivity from its work force.

Additionally, he said there were issues with deliberate misuses by tenants who, damaged the plumbing system by flushing towels and sanitary napkins and destroy the lighting systems in the corridors to conduct illegal activities..

He noted increasing costs to hire contractors to maintain these units and estates and delays in handing over these estates to the regional corporations as other issues.

Mitchell said the HDC board had been mandated to address these issues.