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Saturday 21 September 2019
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Editorial

No bligh

NOT ONLY do delinquent tenants owe the Housing Development Corporation (HDC) millions in unpaid dues, but the debt is increasing, according to the latest figures disclosed by state officials, suggesting the HDC needs to do more to get a handle on this situation.

But while the HDC has a responsibility to scrutinise its housing allocations more closely, ultimately, tenants need to change their attitudes and get their house in order.

In 2010, about 5,000 people owed $100 million to the HDC, according to figures given by then housing minister Dr Roodal Moonilal. Last year, Parliament’s Public Accounts and Appropriations Committee heard the debt had increased to $106 million, even as the number of delinquent homeowners decreased to 3,155 as at April 2017.

But now, according to figures given by HDC officials on Monday, approximately 3,000 people owe $120 million.

What has the HDC been doing to handle this situation? According to evidence heard at the parliamentary committee last year, officials have been writing, calling, and encouraging tenants to bring their accounts up to date. Last year, debt collection agencies were retained.

Yet the problem persists. The situation has culminated in the Prime Minister a former housing minister, on Monday issuing a stark appeal to HDC tenants.

“If you don’t pay your rent, we will put you out. There is no bligh to be had,” Dr Rowley said. “The rent is affordable as long as you make your house a priority.”

The State is entitled to exercise any legal options available to it, especially if it has exhausted all other measures. With hundreds of thousands on the waiting list for homes, there is no shortage of responsible individuals who would be willing to take the place of delinquent tenants.

At the same time, the HDC has a responsibility to recover the money owed and to abide by a fair process. Implicit to any strict approach is the need for some degree of leeway to deserving tenants considering one of the raisons d’etre of the HDC is to provide housing for low-income families.

Therefore, the HDC must strike a reasonable balance when implementing the no-nonsense approach correctly called for by the Prime Minister.

This is especially the case considering the HDC has to shoulder some of the blame for allowing this situation to drag on for years. Perhaps closer scrutiny should be paid to who gets housing and whether they are willing and able to fulfil what is required of them.

Ultimately, tenants are the ones who have the responsibility. And while we do not wish to generalise, the Prime Minister likely struck a chord with many people when he observed that the responsibility that comes with home ownership seems to fall by the wayside once people get possession of these houses. That, in the end, is an irresponsible attitude that must change.

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