HDC evicts illegal tenants at Piccadilly

One of two Old St Joseph Road, HDC buildings, where occupants on the bottom floor were evicted last Friday. Photo by Angelo Marcelle
One of two Old St Joseph Road, HDC buildings, where occupants on the bottom floor were evicted last Friday. Photo by Angelo Marcelle

Five families are pleading with the Housing Development Corporation (HDC), as well as the MP for Port of Spain South Keith Scotland, to allow them to continue occupying apartments at Old St Joseph Road, Piccadilly.

The families were evicted on April 21, for illegally occupying the apartments.

While the families say they are aware they are illegally occupying the space, they said they wrote several letters asking to become the legal occupants of the apartments as they were willing to pay the required rent.

The families are composed of 18 people, including 10 children as young as months old.

A press release from the corporation said it began the eviction of 12 illegal occupants from buildings 6, 7 and 8 with the police’s support.

It added that notices of eviction were sent to the “unauthorised occupants informing them of their unlawful occupancy of the premises.

“However, these occupants disregarded the notice and continued to occupy the property.”

The release further said, “Again, on April 11, 2023, the HDC dispatched formal notices to both legal residents and unlawful occupants of buildings 6, 7, and 8, situated on St Joseph Road, Piccadilly, apprising them of the corporation's decisive intentions to initiate eviction procedures.

“In an effort to provide residents with safe and adequate housing, the corporation determined that the affected units were uninhabitable following severe flooding in 2010. The HDC recognises that some of these illegal occupants may have fallen on hard times and resorted to illegally occupying the premises.

"Nonetheless, the HDC is duty-bound to comply with the law and guarantee the security and peaceful living conditions of the lawful occupants within their community.”

The families contend, however, since former Works and Transport Minister Jack Warner had a retaining wall built at the property there have been no issues with flooding.

One of the occupants Marisha Juman, who spoke on behalf of herself, husband Kern Joseph and the other families, said she lost her job because of the pandemic and this made things difficult for her family.

Juman has been living at the apartment for a year, but lived in the community for 15 years. Both her and her husband shared living spaces with other family members.

Juman and Joseph said, however, as their family grows sharing a two-bedroom space with another family is difficult. The family said they applied for Government housing for over 14 years.

Joseph was living with his sister and has been living at the community for his entire 36 years.

“Things kind of tough for parents. The kind of rent we have to pay out there we can’t pay that no more. These apartments are liveable apartments and if it was not liveable, the whole building would have had to be demolished as this is the foundation,” Juman said.

Juman said the property was severely flooded in 2010 and that was when Warner had the retaining wall built.

She said people were relocated because of the flood.

Juman said the families decided to enter and simultaneously write to the corporation seeking become legal occupants. She and other occupants said they wrote ten letters to multiple people and departments, including Scotland, HDC’s managing director Jayselle McFarlane and its rental department. These letters were sent multiple times to the involved parties. The families shared these letters.

She confirmed that the families visited Scotland on “numerous occasions” and were told he was unable to help them it was illegal.

She added that some neighbours also complained even though there were other people also illegally occupying properties.

Juman said when help from Scotland was not forthcoming they went to numerous people and Progressive Democratic Patriots' leader Watson Duke was the only one who came and saw the situation.

Juman said even if the families are unable to stay there, they are asking for help to find a living space for them and their families. The families even tried reaching out to Warner. The families also said they are not criminals.

In a phone interview, Scotland confirmed he met with the families.

Scotland said when he heard about the families’ predicament, he met with them and explained he could not condone people illegally occupying a space.

However, Scotland said the families met with him five weeks ago and he wrote a letter to HDC respectfully requesting any assistance that could be given to them within the “strictures of HDC policy.”

“As the MP, I did write asking if any assistance could be given within the law and within the parameters of HDC policy,” Scotland said.

Scotland said he intends to follow up with the HDC tomorrow on the matter.

He said he spoke with one of the occupants on the day of the eviction but that people must start from the premise that it is not correct to illegally occupy properties.

Newsday also received copies of an April 12, eviction notice issued by the HDC.

Housing Minister Camille Robinson-Regis, in a statement, said the corporation has a mandate to provide not just housing but safe ones.

She said the buildings were condemned since 2010 and most of the original tenants have moved to other housing schemes.

“What is happening now is simply people without ties to the building are moving in, an opportunistic occupation, which makes an already difficult task even more arduous.

"Despite the fact that we are trying to maintain law and order in the carrying out of these evictions there are some people who will still want to challenge the authority of the HDC and the TTPS as well as their own personal safety,” she said.

Robinson-Regis said there were people who were not there originally moving in and their lawlessness was being encouraged by other opportunistic entities.

“This entire process was handled by HDC with empathy and willingness to ensure a peaceful transition, however, people must take responsibility for their families,” she said.

In March, residents and HDC workers clashed as it began demolition of apartments at Independence Square, Port of Spain.


"HDC evicts illegal tenants at Piccadilly"

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