As of yesterday, people who had applied for Housing Development Corporation-subsidised housing on the basis of a joint monthly income of $45,000 will no longer be eligible for such housing – even if they had pre-qualified for the process – and people with a joint monthly income of $25,000 will be allowed to access that housing instead.
After Communication Minister Maxie Cuffie announced the new policy decision yesterday – reversing the People's Partnership administration's previous policy – former housing minister Dr Roodal Moonilal said the change would prevent 80,000 people from obtaining subsidised housing, including largely public servants and protective services personnel.
"Generally, it will now be government workers who will feel the pain of this policy. It's a sour Christmas gift for public servants, teachers, administrative officers, protective service officers and similar middle income workers to receive," Moonilal added.
Cuffie announced the change of policy at yesterday's weekly post-Cabinet media briefing at the Office of the Prime Minister, saying those applicants with a joint income of $45,000 would be taken off the HDC applicant list immediately and the new policy would apply for the future. He said all homes to be distributed in future would be in keeping with that policy.
"If persons in that category ($45,000 joint earning) have applied (and qualified) they would no longer be eligible for subsidised housing... once a decision is taken. It's either you are allocated a house and get a key; if you haven't been allocated, then the decision applies to that," Cuffie said.
He said the decision to change the PP's previous policy of last year, which allowed applicants with a joint income of $45,000 to qualify for subsidised state housing, was taken by Cabinet yesterday.
Cuffie added: "We wanted to bring the qualifying limit closer to what was originally envisaged in the Act of 2005 (in People's National Movement's tenure) which stipulated that the HDC should do everything to provide affordable shelter and associated community facilities for low and middle income citizens..."
"The first thing we took into consideration was the fact that the HDC's mandate was for low and middle income housing... the primary purpose of this change was to ensure the HDC operates by law."
Cuffie said the original PNM stipulation was reversed by the PP, which led to low cost housing being afforded to people of higher income and this affected the availability of houses to lower income earners. He said Central Statistical Office (CSO) data showed 60 per cent of employed people earn less than $9,000 a month.
"So when you look at the fact that 60 per cent of the population earns $9,000 and less, you'll see the HDC was operating outside of its mandate and it needed to operate according to law. Raising the joint income limit to $45,000 allowed it to operate outside the law.
"So the revision to the $25,000 joint income limit (the upper level) is in keeping with the HDC's mandate to serve lower and middle income citizens," he added
He said the CSO data suggested that those earning above $25,000 would be a small portion of the market and "would be able to access funding and financing on the private market."
He later told the T&T Guardian that the total number of people who have applied for houses currently stands at 160,000. He maintained, however, that 60 per cent of that number had a joint monthly income of $9,000.
Cuffie added: "If you construct houses for the $45,000 bracket, you're taking scarce resources from where it's most needed and providing subsidised housing for people who may not really need it."
He couldn't say, however, how many people who were allocated houses but had not yet received keys, might now fall into the group of those ineligible.
"That is a very detailed question I cannot answer now," Cuffie said.
He said he was not sure it was correct that the new policy would eliminate a group of people who now, would not be able to own a house in the current market.
He added: "Prior to this decision, the real estate market was very vibrant and the mere affording of the $45,000 limit impacted on the real estate market generally. By bringing back the limit to $25,000, we would be allowing people to enter the private housing market where people were comfortable before the (PP) change (of limit).
"I don't think the issue is accessing housing, as much as it's that more people under the $25,000 monthly limit, where there are the most people seeking housing, we would have more houses and resources available to provide housing for them."
On people with joint incomes of $45,000 who had already received a house, Cuffie said: "I don't think we can do anything about that. It's in the past. What we are dealing with (the $25,000 joint income limit) is for future allocations."
He said the country had seen a significant increase in state housing construction costs over the last five years.
Cuffie said HDC would resume distributing keys for houses this weekend in Diego Martin and other areas.
Cuffie referred other queries to Housing Minister Marlene McDonald, who didn't answer calls and emailed queries.
HDC managing director Jearlean John was not available for comment on the policy change yesterday.