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Govt plans $9B housing plan

Published: 
Wednesday, May 9, 2018
Prime Minister and Minister of Housing and Urban Development Dr Keith Rowley, right, presents popular pannist Dane Gulston, with the keys to his new home at HDC’s Real Spring development in Valsayn yesterday. PICTURE ANISTO ALVES

In a bid to provide shelter for the growing number of Housing Development Corporation (HDC) applicants, Prime Minister and Minister of Housing and Urban Development Dr Keith Rowley plans to inject $9 billion into the housing sector, which is expected to yield 10,000 homes in the coming months.

This was revealed yesterday by Rowley, as he delivered the feature address at the Real Spring housing development key distribution ceremony at Valsayn South.

Although Real Spring has 408 single units, townhouses and three and two-bedroom apartments, only 50 keys were handed out yesterday. Speaking about his ministry’s plans and programme, Rowley said Real Spring was just one of 19 active housing projects spread across 15 sites that were expected to deliver 3,269 houses in the coming months. The construction value of these 19 projects is estimated at $2.03 billion.

“We have $2 billion worth of housing construction going on in Trinidad and Tobago today,” Rowley boasted.

In addition, Rowley said the HDC has on its drawing board “plans and programmes” in place “to build another 6,000” units spread across 40 sites in the coming months. These 6,000 units when completed, Rowley said, would cost the HDC $6.8 billion.

“So we are looking at a yield of about 10,000 houses in an approximately $9 billion programme,” he said.

The HDC in April 2017 had on record over 100,000 applicants waiting for housing.

Rowley also slammed former People’s Partnership government for leaving the Real Spring project hanging for five years, although they had the financial resources to complete it and people were in desperate need of housing during their tenure.

Giving a history of Real Spring, Rowley said the land on which the houses were built had initially belonged to the HDC. He said while he was a minister under Patrick Manning’s administration, he and Dr Lenny Saith made a case to the cabinet to make the lands available to the National Union of Government and Federated Workers (NUGFW) at a reduced price of $4 million. But in a matter of months, Rowley said NUGFW sold the land to Udecott for $7 million which he objected to.

“Because I am not sure that the union members know where the profit of that sale went.”

Following this, Rowley said the union proceeded on some kind of arrangement with Udecott to build the houses there. Udecott, Rowley said, borrowed money to build the houses, which resulted “in the project coming into grief.”

Having taken issue with Udecott’s arrangement, Rowley said he was “fired from the Cabinet”, adding Udecott was not supposed to get involved and they faced “a debacle” which brought down the PNM government in 2010 and caused the project to come to a halt.

When the PP came into power, Rowley said there were 70,000 applicants waiting in line for housing with Real Spring being a prime location. But he said when the PP came into office they “left this project unattended for five years.”

Back then, Rowley said the PP had much more money that they have now.

“Information coming to the Government today shows that one public official and his friends stole more money on one project than it would have taken to finish this project.

“When we came back to finish this project the cost of finishing it was $114 million.”

Contractor Hafeez Karamath Ltd was awarded the contract to finish the job.

But Rowley admitted low-cost housing was now a thing of the past. He said the average award to a contractor to build a public housing unit was $1.2 million, which did not include the cost of land and infrastructure.

“So the Government was building at huge costs and then could not reasonably expect to sell that to persons who applied to the HDC because those persons would not be able to afford,” he said, adding the Government has been heavily subsidising these houses.

He said through the Public Partnership Programme a contractor can build a house and get back a cash incentive or rebate of $100,000 from Government.

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