Struggling San Fernando mother of 2 evicted by HDC for owing $63k

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Peter Burnett packs his belonging on to a truck after the HDC evicted him, his wife and her children from their apartment home in Cypress Hills, Union Hall on Tuesday. PHOTO BY ANGELO MARCELLE – Angelo Marcelle

A 43-year-old female tenant of the Housing Development Corporation (HDC) in arrears of an estimated $63,000 has been evicted from her apartment in San Fernando.

Roxanne Garcia, the mother of two, from Building 24 at Cypress Hills in Union Hall, was unable to persuade HDC officials to let her family stay.

She works as a ward maid at the San Fernando General Hospital, and one of her children has special needs.

Her common-law husband, Peter Burnett, spoke on her behalf on April 30 when Newsday visited.

He was busy loading household items into a truck from the three-bedroom apartment as the family was relocating to Palo Seco.

Burnett said HDC officials served the notice on April 29 and gave them until 10 am on April 30 to remove their belongings.

Burnett acknowledged that Garcia had received letters about the arrears some time ago when the debt was about $50,000.

Burnett, a labourer, said Garcia and her children had lived there since 2016.

A few years ago, she took unpaid leave from work owing to domestic violence involving someone else.

Burnett said she was struggling to make ends meet.

“When she returned to work, the bank took out the money she owed on loans. She thought part of that money was sent to the HDC.

“When we checked with the bank, we found out that the last HDC payment was in 2020. There was only one payment that year.”

He said her payment was $1,200 a month.

“Right now, she is trying to get a bank loan to try to pay off the debt.

“Yesterday, the HDC people suggested that she make at least half of the arrears to avoid eviction.”

Burnett moved into the apartment about a year and a half ago.

From what he was told, Garcia was withdrawing the money before the bank had a chance to send it to the HDC.

“She did not deny it. She was in a situation and owed a lot of people. She was taking care of her children while dealing with abuse. We did not make a fuss about leaving.”

Two other families were evicted from the building. No one was in those apartments when Newsday visited.

The eviction was the continuation of a collection drive in several housing developments nationwide to recover millions of dollars owed to the HDC.

As of April 29, the HDC reported that 15 tenants had been evicted.

“These tenants did not respond to the HDC’s numerous attempts to pay their arrears by way of lump sum payments or payment plans,” the corporation said in a statement on April 29.

After eviction, the HDC processes the unit for reallocation. It expects those evicted to honour their previous commitments and settle their arrears.

Moonilal: Eviction harsh, oppressive

Former housing minister Dr Roodal Moonilal considered the evictions harsh, oppressive and malicious. The Oropouche East MP is the shadow minister of Housing and Urban Development.

He accused the Government of creating more homelessness and economic desperation.

In a statement on April 30 Moonilal also accused the HDC of encouraging criminal activity by demanding unreasonable payments from people who have been unemployed for years.

“HDC tenants in arrears want to pay their bills and mortgages. Many are without jobs and economic opportunities. TTEC is now cutting electricity from tenants in arrears,” he said.

“As shadow minister, I have been meeting with HDC tenants who have been served with eviction notices.

“It is clear that if they can pay, they will pay. In these difficult financial times, the HDC must be reasonable and show compassion for homeowners who are unable to make timely rent and mortgage payments.”

Moonilal believes the evictions add further financial hardship to an already burdened society.

“The HDC and the Ministry of Housing should alter their hardline policy to blend empathy with enforcement of the law. The authorities must provide a valued helping hand instead of callously throwing families on the streets.”