Owning up to housing mistakes

Housing Minister Pennelope Beckles - SUREASH CHOLAI
Housing Minister Pennelope Beckles - SUREASH CHOLAI

HOUSING Minister Pennelope Beckles’s admission on Monday that some Housing Development Corporation (HDC) projects have not been maintained well enough was a level-headed acknowledgment of the deficiencies of the State’s housing programme.

Questioned by a member of the public at an event convened to discuss plans to revitalise East Port of Spain, Ms Beckles did not blindly defend the work of the statutory corporation. Instead, she admitted to sharing some of the public’s concerns about projects not being well run after being completed.

“We commit ourselves to doing better,” the minister said. “We have to improve on our delivery of service.”

With regard to East Port of Spain, Ms Beckles suggested the HDC might lean more heavily on the idea of adjusting “management structures” to allow greater collaboration between the people who live in HDC projects and HDC officials.

“So, you live there, you get involved in managing the facility and you work together with the HDC,” she suggested.

This makes perfect sense. More co-operation and responsibility on the part of people who live in a residence could mean a greater sense of ownership. It could also save precious time. Rather than waiting on the HDC to notice a problem, people could inform the agency and even address the problem themselves. Empowering the residents to intervene to get things done could also boost community spirit.

“One of the things we don’t discuss enough, of course, is the cost of the maintenance of the buildings and the responsibility, both to the HDC, as well as the tenants,” Ms Beckles also said. “That is something we are going to look at very seriously.”

Such costs are directly related to the quality of the design and construction of the buildings involved, matters that also need to be carefully examined by the minister and the HDC.

There is only so much the State can ask residents to do, when the actual design of many projects is often where a lot of problems arise in terms of subsequent maintenance.

In this regard, there should be even greater scrutiny at the design stage and in the evaluation of contract tenders. The State needs to get value for money both in the short term and in the long run.

As the case of HDC resident Nicole De Silva also demonstrates, there is also need for more efficient collaboration between government agencies. This paper recorded recently the appalling runaround Ms De Silva endured in relation to a ruptured sewage line in the yard of her Wallerfield home – for over a decade.

“WASA will tell me it’s HDC, and when I go to the HDC, they will tell me it’s WASA,” Ms De Silva said last week before the situation was finally addressed.

She should not have had to wait so long. Her ordeal, hopefully now ended, is the perfect, horrifying example of the shortcomings of the HDC’s modus operandi which its line minister acknowledges must end.

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"Owning up to housing mistakes"

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