After the demolition of structures, some of them inappropriately massive, constructed to house businesses on the compounds of HDC settlements in Oropune Gardens and Lisas Gardens in Couva, there has been push back from residents asking the corporation to have a heart.
Mary Peltier, speaking on behalf of the Couva residents affected by the removals, noted that just two days after they were given notice that the structures must be removed, the process began, resulting in the losses in perishable goods and material.
To be clear, the Housing Development Corporation should and must enforce the rules of residency in the developments over which it retains oversight. To do otherwise would be to court an unacceptable degree of chaos. It's also obvious that some residents took advantage of lax enforcement to go outrageously overboard, constructing extensions and stand-alone structures that were not only ugly, they conformed to no established planning or safety standards within the community.
The corporation should also be mindful that these businesses, many of them small, community-based and very specific, would not exist if there were not a demand for them. The residents also have a point in noting that in these small communities, poorer residents supplement their incomes with trade, ranging from skill-based services to the sale of small goods.
In some HDC communities, small malls and plaza spaces are part of the planning environment and serve the residents well, so the corporation should be well aware of the value of proximity and community involvement in these small business spaces.
The HDC also has its own problems to set straight. Responsible for billions, the state housing agency has failed to maintain standards in its own accounting procedures. The accounts for the first five years of its existence are described as a qualified opinion, essentially learned guesswork by professional auditors about what might have happened with the $9.5 billion it received between 2005 and 2009. The agency has also struggled with ensuring that its vacant apartments aren’t taken over by criminals for use as hideouts.
But measuring all HDC side gigs by the yardstick of the infamously expansive installation erected by Anthony Knights at Oropune Gardens, which required several crews, trucks and high-end hardware to remove, would be a mistake.
An HDC that acknowledged the community need for these services as well as the need to earn by residents on the financial margins and created formal, properly zoned and supported spaces for small commerce and trade would be one that demonstrated both compassion as well as good sense in managing the realities of the communities it has established.