N Touch
Tuesday 12 November 2019
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Editorial

The affordable home dilemma

According to Minister of Finance Colm Imbert, a budget allocation for private-public housing construction partnerships of $50 million remained untouched because there was "no appetite" for constructing houses costing $850,000. To be specific, Imbert said that "What we've found in the private sector is a reluctance to build an HDC house...for $850,000."

Under the arrangements of the allocation, private sector construction companies would build a small three-bedroom house according to drawings and specifications given for a target price. If they met that price, they would receive a grant of $100,000. It isn’t the only attempt at ramping up home construction to collapse. A contract with China Gezhouba Group to construct 5,000 apartment units in Trinidad was cancelled by Cabinet after serious flaws were found in the contract terms. The failure of the programme doesn't necessarily mean that the concept is bad, only that the orientation of existing contractors of a certain scale isn't geared to consider construction of that size.

Once it became clear that the initial presumptions of the allocation weren’t tenable, a Government seriously committed to accelerating the provision of housing should have revisited the scope and ambitions of the project. That review should also have reconsidered the price of the final product, which to meet the median income of more than half of the country’s households, needs to be more like $650,000 to command a mortgage within reach of households with an income of less than $9,000 per month. Hopeful homeowners looking for a home in that price range aren't looking for spit and polish, they want solid construction, basic amenities and an opportunity to complete the home in their own way on their own schedule.

This is not an unfamiliar strategy for the HDC, which has both built complete communities and sold land in areas where it was also building homes to people willing to do their own construction. The corporation has also released partly finished homes in certain circumstances for owners to complete. Given that past adaptability and the need for more truly affordable homes, perhaps the public-private sector partnership should embrace much smaller contractors, of which there are many capable of doing a few houses instead of dozens.

Rather than a single standard HDC housing block, a selection of adaptable core designs produced by local architects that allow for post-construction expandability would engage local design capacity to produce secure, habitable shells for homeowners to complete as their role in the home construction partnership.

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