UDeCOTT’s Chairman Noel Garcia,address the media at a press conference held by the organisation, London Street, Port of Spain. – Photo by Angelo Marcelle
HOUSING Development Corporation (HDC) chairman Noel Garcia is confident that a restructured HDC will be more efficient in the delivery of its mandate to provide affordable housing to the people who need it most. He expressed this confidence in response to questions from Independent Senator Amrita Deonarine during a virtual meeting of the Public Administration and Appropriations Committee (PAAC) on Wednesday.
At a key-distribution ceremony at the HDC’s Carlton Place apartment towers in San Fernando on August 22, Housing and Urban Development Minister Camille Robinson-Regis said Cabinet is considering reorganising the HDC to ensure more efficient delivery of housing to people who need it most.
The restructuring will see the creation of three companies under the HDC.
They are the HDC Construction Company Ltd (to manage all elements of HDC’s property development), HDC Facilities Estate Management Company Ltd ( which deal with matters such as maintenance of rental housing units) and the HDC Asset Management Company Ltd (which will have duties such as the completion of the sale of completed housing units)
In his budget presentation in the House of Representatives on September 26, Finance Minister Colm Imbert said, “We anticipate that the HDC as reorganised will now have greater financial flexibility, greater efficiency, better focus, and the ability to quickly monetise housing assets which cannot be easily completed in their present form.”
Garcia told Deonarine and other PAAC members that the boards of the HDC’s subsidiary companies are currently being filled.
Deonarine said over time there have been concerns about “the continued deteriorating financial performance of the HDC.” She asked how the creation of three subsidiary companies will improve the HDC’s overall financial performance.
Garcia said each company will have a specific area of focus and collectively they will improve the overall performance of the corporation.
He also said the HDC is looking at innovative ways to reduce some of its costs. One of those ways is discussions with the Rural Development and Local Government Ministry for local government corporations to do jobs such as cutting grass and clearing drains on HDC housing sites instead of the corporation doing those functions. Garcia said the HDC estimates it could save between $85 to $90 million through such an approach.
Noting the HDC gets an annual allocation of $1.5 billion, Garcia said $500 million of that sum is used to settle outstanding debts. Additional money to pay outstanding debts comes from the collection of rent from HDC tenants and sale of HDC properties.
He was optimistic that within the next 12 to 14 months the HDC should be able to clear all of its outstanding debts.
HDC managing director Jayselle Mc Farlane said of now, the corporation has $47 million in unpaid rent from people occupying its traditional rental properties. These are some of the HDC’s older apartments where the corporation pays for electricity and water. McFarlane identified Duncan Street in Port of Spain as one area where these apartments are found.
Tourism, Culture and the Arts Minister Randall Mitchell asked HDC officials what was being done to deal with tenant landlords who rent HDC apartments for $100 per month but live elsewhere and charge other people rent of $2,500 per month or higher to live there.
“What are you all putting in place to stop this practice?”
HDC divisional manager (corporate services) Jeremy Campbell assured Mitchell that this matter is being addressed.
Mitchell, a former housing minister, also did not believe the publicly stated figure of 191,000 applicants on the HDC’s housing list was accurate.
He asked HDC officials, “When last have you scrubbed the list?” Mitchell said there could be situations where some of these people have since found homes through other means, migrated or have died.
Opposition Senator Wade Mark expressed concern about vandalism of HDC homes while they are under construction and when they are completed. Garcia assured Mark that the HDC is tackling this problem in different ways. These include collaboration with the police and private security firms and installation of closed circuit tv cameras at these properties.
Garcia said there would not be any job losses at the HDC and Robinson-Regis has given certain assurances to the trade unions that currently represent HDC workers about this.