Housing Minister Pennelope Beckles has said the government is currently assessing what effect the recent increase in cement prices by Trinidad Cement Ltd (TCL) will have on its housing programme.
Beckles gave the update on Thursday at a Housing Development Corporation (HDC) key-distribution ceremony in San Fernando.
“Clearly it will be a challenge for us, given the government’s policy is affordable housing.
“The (increase in the) price of cement and the price of steel has meant that the cost of construction has gone up. We know we have to look and see how it is we are going to be to address the increased price of cement.”
Beckles was unable to confirm whether TCL had given a commitment to stick with current prices for projects already under way and those yet to begin but for which contracts have been awarded.
But even before the recent cement price hike, Beckles said contractors had been notifying the government that they were not able to build houses for the cost they would usually charge as recently as 2019.
Despite this, Beckles said the government continues to make efforts to maintain reasonable building costs.
“What happens if the price of cement, the price of steel, as well as the price of labour, increases? How do we do that balancing act?
"Because we know that people want to purchase houses. I don’t think we will scale back (on our housing programme) because the number of people requesting houses is not reducing."
Beckles said the government’s goal to build 25,000 houses in ten years has also been affected by covid19.
“Some challenges have existed for us particularly due to the covid19 pandemic. There have been some challenges particularly as it relates to the construction sector. We have not done as well as we would have liked to this year and last year (2020).”
Beckles said her ministry and the HDC are also stepping up efforts to clamp down on illegal occupation of houses that are waiting to be distributed.
“Even before we complete houses, people are going into houses. My difficulty is that people feel they have a right to occupy a house simply because nobody is living in it.
“The HDC is improving the issue of security, (but) we have to do a lot better as it relates to these unoccupied houses.”
On December 13, TCL announced that the price of Premium Plus cement will increase by 15 per cent and Eco-cement by eight per cent. The new prices are effective from Monday. The company said the price hike was due to increases in input costs.