CHANGE is inevitable. But how a country manages change is not. It tells us something about its maturity, its priorities and the way power is exercised.
The treatment of residents living in Housing Development Corporation (HDC) apartments in East Port of Spain is at once a sensitive matter and a hot-button topic.
It is sensitive because it involves the right of the individual to the enjoyment of property, whether moral or legal. It is sensitive because of the intergenerational nature of some of the tenancies. And it is sensitive given the issues of class, wealth and history that intersect any attempts at tackling urban “redevelopment.”
As nuanced as such factors are, the eviction of HDC tenants from premises on Duncan Street and lower Independence Square has clearer implications, not only for other areas in East Port of Spain, but the country as whole. On Monday, the HDC assured no "legal tenants" were evicted, even as occupants have been given a week's extension to move.
The matter involves the capital city, and therefore has implications for national pride and the nationwide enforcement of government policy.
It is little wonder Watson Duke, of the Progressive Democratic Patriots (PDP), took up the cause. Equally, nobody is shocked the Opposition UNC mobilised to intervene in the community on Sunday.
“We are not doing anything the residents of the area aren’t fully aware of and in full agreement with,” said Housing Minister Camille Robinson-Regis last week.
The strength of this assertion is already being tested. Some residents have made claims that do not paint a good picture. Colleen Mendoza and Neisha Laurence have alleged unfair treatment.
Ms Mendoza said, “HDC came to us three years ago and said they going to build up Piccadilly Street and then they going to move up and put us there. Now, in less than a month’s time HDC just come and said we have to move. They are sending some of us San Fernando, Princes Town, Sangre Grande, all about.”
What is clear is that change needs to happen.
On the most basic level, the properties in question are old and there are likely to be serious issues of safety that should be addressed, if they have not been already. Only a few years ago, the premises of the Occupational Safety and Health Authority, located a stone’s throw from the latest demolitions, was deemed unfit for health and safety.
Long have there been grand plans for this part of the city, with a special purpose company even overseeing this project decades now.
Whether current residents might have a place within an overall vision, however, has been harder to discern.
Cabinet must seize all opportunities to uplift communities.
But for whose benefit is uplift intended? And does uplift simply mean removal? These are matters that require elaboration.