Afra Raymond: Housing policy failing the poor

Outgoing president Narda Ramkissoon present Afra Raymond with a token of appreciation after his address at the Penal Rotary Club handing over ceremony on Saturday night. PHOTO BY YVONNE WEBB
Outgoing president Narda Ramkissoon present Afra Raymond with a token of appreciation after his address at the Penal Rotary Club handing over ceremony on Saturday night. PHOTO BY YVONNE WEBB

Chartered surveyor and managing director of Raymond & Pierre Ltd Afra Raymond has said the housing policy is a tragic failure because it has discriminated against the very people it vowed to help – the poor.

Raymond, a former head of the Joint Consultative Council (JCC), said the policy had not benefited its target audience in spite of special mortgage arrangements.

The new policy, to construct homes under a public/private partnership arrangement, will be worse, as those units, costing in the million-dollar range to construct, will certainly not cater for the people who are on the Housing Development Corporation’s (HDC) waiting list.

Today, he said, with the new public/private arrangements embarked on by government, the 5,000 houses to be built by a Chinese engineering firm in Port of Spain and Lady Hailes Avenue, San Fernando will cost $1.15 million per unit.

He questioned who were they being built for and put forward a theory which he referred to as a “cosy consensus” between the two political parties to ignore the poor and instead build for the middle class by selling them those high-priced units.

Raymond addressed an audience at the Rotary Club, Penal's handing-over ceremony on Saturday night at the home of charter president Surujdeo Mangaroo. Former chief medical officer Dr Akenath Misir received the chain of office from outgoing president Narda Ramkissoon.

President of the National Council of Indian Culture (NCIC) Dr Deokinanan Sharma and Deo Doolarchan and community and social workers were conferred with the Paul Harris Fellow Award (PHF).

Raymond drew from the discourse of Sharma, who said he grew up in poverty and was only able to study because of scholarships he received.

Raymond said the reason people did not have homes was because they did not have money and challenged the authorities to engage universities and professionals in the region in a design competition for homes in the $450,000-$475,000 range.

He said while the official statistics said the average household income was $9,000 a month, to apply for a home from the HDC, which describes its role as a provider of homes for low and middle-income families, there is an income limit of $25,000. He said households with that kind of income should be taken off the HDC’s list.

“That makes no sense,” he said, pointing out the HDC criteria for application talk about non-discrimination on the basis of race, gender, religion, political affiliation.

“All of that is good, but the one reason why somebody does not have a house is none of these things. All of that is a show. Those things are necessary but not sufficient.

“The reason people don’t have a house is because of money. We have to design policies to help poor people. What are we doing for those who cannot afford to finance?” he asked.

He referred to the Prime Minister’s autobiography, From Mason Hall to Whitehall, which talks about Rowley’s mother, a single parent who worked at the Breakfast Shed, but was able to own a home at East Dry River on her salary.

“The houses at Coconut Drive that Dr Rowley and his mother were standing in, were conceived in 1966 and 1967 and built in 1968/69. Conceived and built so a woman working in the Breakfast Shed could afford one.

“Fifty years later, heaven knows after how many oil booms, how much education, doctors, lawyers, two universities, island scholars. where are we?”

Raymond said $13 billion of public money was spent on the ambitious policy initiated by late prime minister Patrick Manning in 2002 to build 100,000 houses in ten years. After 16 years, government had failed to implement the policy. Only 15,299 were constructed and of those, 3,171 were rented.

Raymond said the Manning proposal would have worked out to approximately 400 homes a week or 50 houses a day.

“When they realised it was not going to work, that it was water more than flour, like a science fiction, the housing policy disappeared." At that time, he pointed out, the country had more money that it knew what to do with, “and they still could not do it.”

He said he would like Rowley, “or whoever is coming next, to look me in the face and tell me, 'We have a plan. That most of the houses we are building, women working in the Breakfast Shed or women cleaning the junior secondary schools, they could afford one.'

“If you can’t tell me that, then you have lost your way. We have lost our way. If you are telling me that the cheapest mortgage for a prime candidate is $5,000 a month, to borrow $1 million that you have to be earning $18,000 a month, two times the average income, and you still have people in jacket and ties walking around this country and still talking about building affordable houses – we have truly lost our way.”


"Afra Raymond: Housing policy failing the poor"

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