Artist impression of Port-of-Spains development. As UDeCOTTs chairman, Calder Hart is at the helm of this project which includes the headquarters for ACS as well as the proposed site for FTAA headquarters.
BY SHERRY ANN SINGH
Governments housing programme is on schedule and within budget, UDeCOTT Chairman Calder Hart insists.
Despite labour and material shortages in the construction sector, he said the plan to build 100,000 houses over a 10-year period was proceeding as planned.
We are continually tendering and awarding projects and theyre getting underway. We dont see anything that is going to slow us down.
He said UDeCOTT had only observed very marginal variances in cost since the programme started, certainly nothing that would give us any indigestion at this juncture.
UDeCOTT and the National Housing Authority have been jointly charged with delivery of new homes, with UDeCOTT concentrating on urban development and the East/West Corridor.
Hart said his organisation recently completed the Oropune project making 54 homes available. It has also laid the infrastructure for another 700 units west of the existing site.
He acknowledged that availability of materials and labour will always be an issue whenever the economy kicks into high gear.
The rapid draw down of the stock of skilled labour merely reflected T&Ts need to constantly ensure that we are training people he said.
He said Governments vocational programmes were working well.
I havent heard of a shortage of people yet, Hart said, contradicting information coming out of the construction and energy sectors.
Furthermore, neither the raw material scarcity nor the accompanying increase in prices are on Harts mind.
He concedes there is a lack of reasonable prices because China is sucking up most of the structural steel around the world, but says this is not an issue.
This is not the early eighties where we had material shortages and ran under exchange control mechanisms, he said. Any difficulties on the material side Im really not worried about because I think we can solve those problems relatively quickly.
Hart said UDeCOTT would continue to monitor the market for any developments to ensure that it continued to get value for money.
The more pressing issues he feels are identifying sites for housing developments and the kind of communities that are to be developed around them.
Unlike the Oropune development, which consisted of mostly single family homes, UDeCOTT is building in areas where land is at a premium and turning them into multi-family solutions such as gated communities.
Hart denied that it was ever Governments stated intention to build 10,000 new housing units a year. He said the project will start off slowly because the infrastructure has to be in place, then it will accelerate to the extent that 100,000 new homes will be delivered at the end of the 10-year period.
It is the most comprehensive housing policy in the Caribbean and talks about a whole range of things from single person houses, granny suites, rental housing, home ownership housing, rent owned mortgages and it therefore reflects a high degree of understanding of the consumer issues.
Falling into place
Hart brings to bear on the programme his experience in low-cost housing in the Canadian market. He is a former director general of Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation as well as president of the Saskatchewan Housing Corporation.
In Trinidad, he has gained prominence in recent years since he sits on several boards connected with the housing thrust. These are: Home Mortgage Bank which he came to Trinidad to set up; T&T Mortgage Finance, a subsidiary of National Insurance Board; and UDeCOTT which he has sat on since inception.
Hart was also part of the housing taskforce which produced a report and made recommendations on housing policy bank in 1992.
So Im not a Johnny-come-lately from that standpoint. I have a relatively low profile and Ive kept my profile rather low because I come from a technocratic background, he said.
If it seems Harts profile has been raised somewhat in recent times, he says thats because things are finally taking place in housing.
Much of the work were doing has evolved in terms of increments moving the process forward. I think that one of the things is that we seem to move too slowly on too many things but what has happened in the last couple years is things have accelerated quite rapidly.
Some aspects of his Canadian experience is filtering down into the domestic housing thrust. The housing programme incorporates the North American practice of including appliances in the home owners mortgage.
At six per cent interest, financing of this nature makes more sense for low and middle income home owners.
The policy is very comprehensive and precise and makes the achievement of home ownership much more affordable.
As for funding the programme, Hart said the local banks and the T&T Mortgage Finance Company of which he is managing director are together providing the $1.2 billion required.
Banks which were previously reluctant to get involved in a project with low returns are now fully on board, Hart said.
Money is not going to be a problem. Because the programme makes a lot of sense we have the full support of all stakeholders.