Police called in as HDC demolishes Port of Spain apartments

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

A HDC worker removes a door from one of the Independence Square, Port of Spain apartments on Saturday. – ROGER JACOB

Housing Development Corporation (HDC) workers ignored insults and threats as they tore down windows and doors at an apartment complex at Independence Square, Port of Spain under guard by a contingent of over 50 police officers on Saturday.

The action follows a last-ditch attempt by some tenants on Friday to get the HDC to delay the demolition.

From around 8 am, vanloads of police arrived at the site as HDC workers, accompanied by the corporation’s head of security, Sterling Hackshaw, moved in to evict the tenants and other dwellers.

Tenant Colleen Mendoza hurls abuse at HDC officials as workmen began to demolish apartments at Independence Square, Port of Spain on Saturday. – ROGER JACOB

HDC workers, wearing balaclavas, were seen throwing empty plastic food containers out of the windows, dismantling doors and windows and piling them on waiting trucks.

At one point, the workers found what appeared to be a bottle of alcohol and pit it on a window sill but in a blink it was gone.

The workers removed everything from the apartments – barrels of clothing, boxes of dishes, TVs, closets and bed frames. One resident was seen removing some of her own belongings, which included a wheelchair.

When workers could not remove the windows with power drills, they resorted to breaking them with hammers. Newsday heard glass shattering as the news team went closer to the apartments.

One tenant Colleen Mendoza shouted at Hackshaw, telling him, “This will come back for you.”

“If they (officers) take me out, I grabbing you.”

Speaking to Sunday Newsday, she said she couldn’t understand why there were so many armed officers present.

“People here, we have nothing, no gun, fighting, shooting or killing, we living quiet. You never hear about the people in Independence Square and how much police they have here.”

Police officers stand ready to assist HDC workers as they removed doors and windows from Independence Square, Port of Spain apartments on Saturday. – ROGER JACOB

She also claimed that officers manhandled a woman while trying to get her out of her apartment, but didn’t give any more details.

Every time Mendoza walked close to Hackshaw he would step aside so he was blocked by police officers or other workers.

Another tenant, Michelle Le Maitre, said she received her keys for another apartment in Charford Court, Port of Spain, but couldn’t move in there, since repairs had to be done after a water leak damaged it.

“When they gave me a key, they said my day to move was the third (of March) to move in, but the apartment wasn’t finished.” She said she had got a two-week extension to stay at the Independence Square apartment from an HDC official, whom she named.

Le Maitre said she began repairs instead of waiting on the HDC. She said on March 2, Hackshaw and two HDC workers visited the apartment complex and told the tenants they had to leave by March 3.

Le Maitre and Mendoza were among the tenants who went to the HDC on Friday, accompanied by Progressive Democratic Patriots leader Watson Duke, to protest the relocation.

“We went down with Duke yesterday (Friday) and that make things bad for we.”

Mendoza said she and other residents were only given options to relocate in South Trinidad.

“What sense that make? Some of these people are parents and their children going to schools in Woodbrook. Think about the money they would have to spend to travel.”

On Saturday, HDC communications officer Elorne Duncan said the issues raised by the tenants will be addressed at a subsequent press conference.

In a release on Friday, the HDC said the eviction process was a part of its initiative to revitalise east Port of Spain and its plan was to relocate the residents.

The HDC said it offered tenants alternative housing options but all but five tenants had not moved yet.

The corporation also said that last year it held open consultations with the tenants and stakeholders to determine the best way to carry out the revitalisation programme in the interest of all parties involved.

Tenant Michelle Le Maitre salvages a painting from her Independence Square, Port of Spain apartment before the workmen began to demolish the apartments on Saturday. – ROGER JACOB

The consultation process. which is still ongoing, was deemed integral by the HDC, since the tenants had landlord-tenant agreements that have now expired. This means that the tenants do not have title to the housing units or an agreement to remain at the housing unit.

The release said the HDC was not required by law to relocate the tenants to facilitate the demolition, but considered it important to relay the relocation idea to its tenants in an attempt to alleviate any concerns over eviction in circumstances where they had no other housing alternative.