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Saturday 19 October 2019
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Commentary

Providing housing: not just about the numbers

Ronald Ammon
Ronald Ammon

Ronald Ammon

Tomorrow, members of the TT Institute of Architects (TTIA) will join architects around the world for the annual celebration of World Architecture Day, which also coincides with UN World Habitat Day. This year’s theme Architecture…housing for all, supports the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal 11, which says cities must provide opportunities for all, with access to basic services, energy, housing, transportation and more.

The 2019 budget will also be presented on this day and it is expected that, similar to last year’s budget, allocations for the provision of housing will be mentioned.

The 2018 budget highlighted common issues encountered with the provision of housing, which over 150,000 applicants await. The Housing Development Corporation’s (HDC) focus has shifted from the middle and upper-income construction market to providing affordable housing for lower and lower-middle income families, with an emphasis on rental accommodation.

Simultaneously, the Housing Construction Incentive Programme was created to encourage private developers to fill the middle-income housing gap. We hope the 2019 budget report will describe the progress and efficacy of these initiatives and we expect that further measures will be announced to mitigate our housing problem.

While it is important to aim towards providing the number of units required, this must not be our only objective. It is important that projects not be conceived or developed in isolation but must be woven into the fabric of existing communities, promote economic activity and be sustainable. To execute this effectively requires research, but there is little to no discourse in this regard. In fact, the TT Housing Development Corporation Act identifies among the functions and duties “technical research and investigation into the improvement and development of methods of construction…materials…planning, designing and other factors involved in the construction or provision of improved housing accommodation.” We consider it imperative that research be given priority in the 2019 budget, so that future housing developments can form communities that are sustainable, resilient, adaptive and responsible.

The reasons we need research

The prevalence of local projects that are remote from public transport, hospitals, work places, retail centres, schools and even entertainment, has increased traffic congestion. In this respect, our country has reached a new normal, as congestion on our highways occurs throughout the day and on weekends.

However, planning research is key to ensuring strategic urban and rural expansion to optimise the use of existing infrastructure and provide a platform to enable the growth of local economies.

Further, our urban areas present tremendous housing opportunities but high land cost and planning restrictions present additional complications that we are yet to overcome.

Additionally, the impact of climate change and resulting rising sea levels present further challenges to our urban areas. In 2015, the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) published the Climate Change Adaptation Case Study: Sea Level Rise in TT, which highlighted the fact that TT is particularly vulnerable to the impacts of climate changes owing to our high population and economic pressure on coastal areas. We need to investigate measures that can be implemented quickly, to mitigate this problem.

Design is another factor that deserves more attention. We need to explore the use of innovative materials and construction techniques specific to our environment and economic context that can improve on quality and delivery time. Natural ventilation and natural lighting techniques should be prioritised, together with active and passive systems to mitigate the building’s exposure to the sun.

Dwelling units must be designed with the understanding of the diverse needs of the prospective occupants and there are new approaches being used in other parts of the world that should be investigated. For instance in 2014, the Ninth Report of the Joint Select Committee on Ministries, Statutory Authorities and State Enterprises (Group 1), which focused on the administration and operations of the HDC, recommended exploring housing models in Singapore (well known for its exemplary public housing system) and the use of alternative housing adopted by the Community Land Trust (CLT) of the United Kingdom, which is a non-profit community-based organisation run by volunteers.

Co-living is another concept that has been getting much attention, particularly from start-ups, that may appeal to our young citizens eager to assert their independence.

Though we face a tremendous challenge to provide adequate housing, there are exciting opportunities ahead that can stimulate growth and innovation. Dynamic synergies can be created among government, state agencies, local universities and construction professionals that encourage a new mindset towards housing.

Architects are a key local resource that the HDC can use to research and bring forth innovative ideas to affordable housing in TT. This is an opportunity that must not go unnoticed and the TTIA remains committed to working alongside our colleagues in the industry and the government, towards making this happen.

* Ronald Ammon is president of the TT Institute of Architects.

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