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‘HDC housing not only about numbers, cost’

Published: 
Wednesday, April 19, 2017

The front page of the Guardian of April 13, 2017 displays a file photo of a HDC settlement with a headline stating “Canada firm building 120,000 units across T&T–homes for all”.

Although I am not particularly enthusiastic about the need for having a Canadian firm involved in building housing here in T&T, I suppose some will argue that we should be grateful for whatever investment, homes and jobs it brings.

However, this model of development is a manifestation of the shortcomings of our mindset about how best to initiate development in the best interests of our country.

Housing is a self-financing development and I question the need to have a foreign firm involved—there is no reason why locals cannot develop housing settlements once the right conditions are created by the HDC.

Continuing to outsource public projects erodes the construction industry that is vital to our economy.

The newspaper article does not get into sufficient detail about the arrangements to warrant specific questions but one would like to know more, including information about the track records for Wylde Orchid Design and Management Ltd and the local firm Prime US International Ltd and whether these contractual arrangements were subject to a transparent tender process of some kind.

I am not suggesting that anything is amiss but I believe the taxpayers are entitled to a full disclosure by the HDC, especially since foreign firms are being considered for work that can be done by locals.

However, what is most disturbing to me about the article is the file photo of an HDC settlement that appears on the front page of the Guardian newspaper. This photograph is graphic evidence of the inability of the HDC to provide properly designed settlements. Row upon row of mindlessly reproduced sheds does not a settlement make. There is no evidence of design, environmental planning or landscaping. No sign of parks for children to play. No sense of community.

What this sort of dreadful housing achieves is an environment that breeds criminal behaviour.

These settlements are not places to be proud of, except for providing the most basic element of shelter at the expense of a marred landscape and missed opportunity to provide an uplifting living environment. Studies show that environmental factors can have a strong influence on anti-social and criminal behaviour.

Housing settlements need to create an environment that inspires householders; one that inculcates a sense of pride knowing that as citizens we are getting something of value. Settlements should include landscaping and parks for children to play and facilities for the benefit of the community. A settlement needs to create an environment that sustains a sense of pride and community, not just mindless rows of identical boxes. The problem here, in my opinion, is the lack of vision by the HDC leadership.

Another example of misdirected development is the Victoria Keys project in Diego Martin; a high-end apartment with units priced for sale ranging from $1.4 million to $4.5 million.

If the HDC were using taxpayer’s funds to compete with the private developers for upmarket housing this would be a serious problem that should be investigated and rectified. I was pleased to learn that Prime Minister Rowley expressed concern that the HDC had strayed from their mandate to provide affordable housing for low and middle-income earners. Public housing that does not provide an uplifting environment is a failure. It’s not just about the numbers of houses or their cost.

We have to appreciate that we are creating environments and this has a fundamental impact on people and society as a whole. Public housing as currently procured cannot produce the best results. We need to look at different models.

Our neighbouring French islands of Martinique and Guadeloupe have got it right. Their public housing is subject to local architectural competitions to get the best local designs, environments and value for money for their citizens.

I respectfully urge the HDC to avoid outsourcing solutions and to consider other successful models for delivering a quality living environment for our citizens.

A transparent and comprehensive analysis of the designs of entire HDC programme perhaps could be undertaken in order to focus criticism and find a way forward. We must stop using taxpayer’s funds to build environments that breed anti-social or criminal behaviour.

We can do better.

Brian Lewis

Registered architect