HDC: ‘Legal’ East PoS tenants given one-week extension

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

BACK AT HOME: David Yorke at his Duncan Street, East PoS HDC apartment home on Monday, after the HDC gave a one-week extension of its eviction notice to tenants. PHOTO BY ANGELO MARCELLE –

CHAIRMAN of the Housing Development Corporation (HDC) Noel Garcia has confirmed that the remaining, legal tenants of apartments at Independence Square, Port of Spain, have been given a one-week extension to finalise arrangements for their relocation. But he also sought to make it clear that no legal occupants were evicted from these buildings over the weekend.

On Saturday morning, HDC workers – accompanied by police – removed the belongings of some tenants and even removed doors and windows from some of the apartments as insults were hurled at them.

The eviction stems from the HDC’s plan to “revitalise” East Port of Spain which was initially announced in 2021, which includes the demolition and rebuilding of these apartments.

In a release, the HDC had said it held “a series of progressive, open consultations” with the tenants and stakeholders “to determine the most feasible way to advance the revitalisation project in the best interest of all parties.

“Being cognisant that: (I) The residents do not have title to the housing units, (II) the residents do not have an agreement to remain in occupation of the housing unit and (III) the HDC was not required in law to re-locate the residents to facilitate the demolition, the HDC considered it essential to communicate its decision to relocate all residents and alleviate any concerns they may have about being evicted, in circumstances where they had no alternative housing option.”

It added that alternative housing has been identified for residents of each apartment set for demolition, and that there are only five tenants left to be relocated.

But it said there are also people who have been occupying apartments there illegally.

“The HDC will also act responsibly and within the parameters of the law to obtain vacant possession of the illegally occupied units to advance the demolition and restoration works,” the release said.

When Newsday visited the apartment complex on Monday morning, there were several heaps of clothing and household items just outside the apartments, many of which had no windows.

Tenant Colleen Mendoza told Newsday she paid rent as recently as Friday and was upset that the HDC evicted her just one day later.

She said while her daughter has been relocated, she has not.

“My brother and my sister live here (too). My sister have three children and three grandchildren, and they’re only giving my brother a place (to stay). That could be right?”

Mendoza said she moved all of her belongings back inside of the apartment she occupied.

She said there are about five other people who still occupy apartments there but the others were not there at the time of Newsday’s visit.

But Garcia told Newsday that no legal tenants were evicted on Saturday – “only squatters and people who had some kind of pumpkin vine relationship (with legal tenants).”

He also said he could not understand “what all the noise is about.

“These are old units that need to be demolished. We have been in consultation with these people since November 2021 and constant consultations, and the majority of the people are happy they have been relocated. What is the noise about? Everything in Trinidad has to be a bacchanal. What would people prefer, for people to live in squalor forever? Is that their aim?”

Speaking with Newsday on Monday afternoon, Port of Spain south MP Keith Scotland said he met with councillor for St Ann’s River South Jenneil Frederick about the issue.

“It was conveyed to me that (an extension) was requested (by the remaining five tenants) and I immediately contacted the honourable line minister – Camille Robinson-Regis – and on behalf of the occupants, I asked and that was granted.

Personal items belonging to a tenant in the yard outside the Duncan Street, East Port of Spain HDC housing development. PHOTO BY ANGELO MARCELLE –

“But that is for those that are in legal occupation. There are others who are occupying illegally and that is a different story…”

He said compassion is still “the order of the day.

“I am aware of everything that is going on, and we are trying to resolve this without putting people in jeopardy, without having any disruption in the country…(We want to) do things legally, with decency and in order – that is what we are about.”

Asked to comment on people who took issue with the manner in which residents were evicted on Saturday, he said any eviction will ever bring a person joy or be an ideal situation.

“I don’t think the persons conducting it got any joy from it…It was and is not an ideal situation.”

He said officials are in constant dialogue with the remaining legal tenants.

The Opposition recently indicated that a team of three is seeking the legal interests of residents of East Port of Spain.

This team includes Opposition members Dinesh Rambally, Wade Mark and David Nakhid.

Rambally told Newsday that some tenants contacted them since the weekend after Carnival for assistance.

“So it is from there we started asking people to gather their documents – notices, if at all notices were involved, what ever correspondence, those who paying rent, etc.”

He said he does not consider Saturday’s eviction as “lawful.

“Lawful eviction would have been properly going to the court, indicating what your position with the HDC is and why it is you believe that these persons should be evicted from the premises and serving those proceedings on those tenants, and the tenants would have been able to indicate exactly what are their individual circumstances.”

He said he knows of at least five people who wish to remain there and “are fearful of being evicted (again).”

While legal advice has been provided, he said, “The ball is in their court as to how they will proceed.”

On Monday evening, the HDC issued another press release, outlining a timeline of its communication with tenants.

It said the housing development was built in the 1940s and that there, and surrounding buildings, including what’s commonly called Workers Bank” are “obsolete with expired serviceability.”

It will replace these with “modern, fully functional buildings utilising cost-effective designs.”

It reiterated that the tenants were made aware of this since 2021.

It added that from April 25-36, 2022, “the HDC, through its managers of mortgage and rental administration and social services and community relations department met with each resident in office and on site to determine their geographical area of interest.

“(From) May-December 2022, residents were assigned, viewed and accepted housing units. (From) November 11-16 November, 2022, surveys were conducted with residents to solicit the family particulars, such as household size and income which determined that certain residents were financially qualified to purchase units. (And on) November 22, 2022, a meeting was held to discuss the revitalisation of East Port of Spain and the required for relocation.”

It added that it issued “several notices” for residents to move to their new assigned homes.

While some people were able to purchase HDC housing units, it said, the remaining tenants entered into rental agreements for housing units in areas including Charford Court in Port of Spain, Powder Magazine in Cocorite and Cypress Hills, San Fernando.

“Upon request, the HDC has repeatedly extended, and continues to extend, the relocation deadline for all of its tenants who remain at the Independence Square Housing Development. However, regrettably, persons have entered into illegal occupation of those units that were vacated and they have refused to leave the units, despite repeated attempts by the HDC to have them so do.

” Also, the HDC has received requests from relatives, who resided with already relocated tenants, for separate allocation of a housing unit as a pre-condition to their vacating the (complex).”

It said the HDC “peacefully conducted its eviction exercise” on Saturday to “obtain vacant possession of all housing units that were occupied illegally.”

Addressing claims by “one illegal occupant” that she is unemployed, has no alternative residence and has three children, it said, “This occupant remained in occupation of a housing unit assigned to her uncle. Her uncle, the legitimate tenant, was relocated to a three-bedroom apartment unit in Oropune to which all occupants of the unit at the Independence Square Housing Development were expected to move.”

The HDC added that the sum of arrears for this housing development is $19,212.47 as at today’s date, “representing arrears of approximately 192 months at $100 per month.

The HDC will continue to ensure that the remaining tenants assume occupation of their relocated housing units.”