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One of the last statements in my
recent five-part series of housing
interviews came from Afra Raymond.
It passed under the radar so I will
repeat it: "In our country at this time
there s between 11,000 and 12,000
empty homes which taxpayers dol-
lars have paid for," Raymond said.
There is no reason to disbelieve him,
since he has his finger firmly on the
pulse of the housing situation. He even
lives within the city of Port-of-Spain---
that nightly ghost town where aban-
doned residential properties reflect
the decrease in urban population from
100,000 in 1981 to 38,000 today.
But Raymond wasn t suggesting the
thousands of empty homes were due
to abandonment. They are empty
because the Housing Development
Corporation (HDC) hasn t completed
them to a habitable standard yet.
It s an alarming statistic (12,000
empty homes), given that only 18,000
HDC homes have been built since
2002---drastically short of the 100,000
target which the government housing
policy set out to achieve 12 years ago---
it means just a third of the HDC s
output within that time has been ade-
quate. It means resources have been
wasted and that the people who really
need housing (ie poor people) have
been left short.
The HDC will, no doubt, dispute
these statistics. They are good at dis-
puting things. Occasionally, too, they
are good at actually building homes.
Dropping friends home after a party
at an HDC housing development near
Curepe Junction (what we in England
might call a "council estate") I was
impressed with the way it had been
completed like a modern village with
a mix of cosy-looking family-sized
units with front yards and taller "mid-
rise" apartment blocks.
Most importantly, there was a large,
open, green space in the middle with
football goalposts and other facilities
for young people. It vaguely resembled
the community-oriented planning that
former TTIA president Jenifer Smith
urged architects to build in part one
of the series.
I asked my friend what the quality
of the Curepe buildings was like and
she told me they were good but said
some apartment blocks had remained
empty for a long time after the ribbon
had been cut because of plumbing and
These are typical delays, which is
why there are so many empty homes
Perhaps the HDC shouldn t be
entirely blamed for construction prob-
lems. The inability to get things done
on time and to specification in T&T
is a general malaise which affects
almost every industry.
Also, the problem of empty houses
is not unique to T&T. The UK cur-
rently has 700,000 empty homes,
according to Rupert Neate, writing in
the UK Guardian in February. In Spain,
the figure is 2.3 million. France and
Italy both have over two million vacant
homes and Germany has 1.8 million.
"More than 11 million homes lie
empty across Europe," writes Neate,
"enough to house all of the continent s
homeless twice over."
London (a smaller land area than
T&T) has 60,000 vacant properties,
according to emptyhomes.com. In
Manchester and Liverpool the situation
is more acute and long-term.
In the past, these vacant properties
(some of them huge houses) would
have been squatted in. Nowadays
Britain is too much of a police state
to allow that to happen.
Driving through Mayaro I saw pri-
empty homes. It reminded me of the
coast of the Sinai peninsula in Egypt,
where holiday homes were built but
not finished, leaving behind skeletons
of houses. When I reached the colour-
ful Coconut Grove HDC development
there were few signs of life. Its loca-
tion, by a swamp, put local people off
living there when it opened in 2009.
The HDC may be about to make
another mistake in D Abadie, but for
different reasons. People want to live
there on the Trestrail estate---indeed
70 per cent of the country s population
wants to live along the East-West Cor-
ridor---but the locals don t want an
HDC development or the tenants it
The locals are "NIMBYs," says Ray-
mond. They support initiatives for the
poor, just "Not In My Back Yard."
It s a thankless task for Jearlean John
and company, but engaging with the
bright, productive and innovative plan-
ning professionals I interviewed could
help them, as could more transparency
and frankness. I enquired whether
John would do an interview but was
told by her communications team to
submit the questions by e-mail: "Then
we ll see if we ll answer them." I
declined their offer.
So, what solutions are here to filling
empty properties, housing those in
need and easing the HDC s burden?
Well, perhaps it s not so difficult.
As Raymond says, "The vast majority
of buildings built by Patrick Manning s
administration, the government Cam-
pus Plaza, remain unoccupied.
There s 1.3 million square feet of
unoccupied space downtown. They
may have to be repurposed so that
parts of the buildings may be resi-
With election year rapidly approach-
ing, parties would be wise to heed the
advice: waste not, want not.
This is a sample of houses that have been left unoccupied.
The vast majority of buildings built by Patrick Manning's administration,
the government Campus Plaza, remain unoccupied.
There's 1.3 million square feet of unoccupied space downtown. They may
have to be repurposed so that parts of the buildings may be residential.
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