While the aspiration for 180,000 citizens is the security of a home from the Housing Development Corporation (HDC), Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley says that dream may never be a reality for many.
It was because while the Government looks for more money to fund subsidised State-housing, he says there is less than before.
Speaking in the Merikins Village along Samuel Cooper Road, Fifth Company Moruga, on Monday evening, Rowley said it was worrisome that people who cannot pay for a home were confined to permanence in harsh circumstances.
It was for this reason, he said the Housing and Village Improvement Programme (HVIP) was launched. The Inter-American Bank award-winning programme is a village-based aided self-help programme in which low-income earners in rural communities can access low cost but acceptable houses.
Rowley said that he has met and received correspondence from citizens who complained about applying to the HDC for up to 30 years and were yet to be allocated a home.
“A teacher telling me, ‘I am a teacher and I’ve applied to the HDC for 18 years,’” Rowley said.
“Now that is a different kind of story because you just can’t sit back and wait for your lifetime to get a government house. Those people who are prepared to pay a mortgage are ahead of you in the line. And you may never get to the front of the line because given the demand for houses that people are prepared to pay for, those of you who do not have the means to pay for your own home, you seemed confined to a permanence that is worrisome,” Rowley said.
A drive through Samuel Cooper Road would show poor road conditions, houses on the verge of falling apart and children dressed in ragged clothing. The community is comprised of the descendants of former American slaves who won their freedom after fighting with the British against the Americans in the war of 1812. Following the war, these companies of servicemen and their families were resettled in new villages in Trinidad. They called themselves Merikins and were freedmen before slavery was abolished in Trinidad.
Back on the 2015 election trail, Rowley and aspiring MP Dr Lovell Francis toured the community and discovered the squalor that existed. Rowley said on Monday that he was embarrassed as a long-standing politician to see how the villagers lived.
Sharing his story, he said, “I stopped here in 2015 among a dozen or two young men somewhere nearby here. They were growing dasheens and they told me how they made a living, and they showed me where they lived. At least they were trying to make an honest living and they were making an honest living but they needed help.
“They had children and I was embarrassed as a politician of long standing in this country. I would have taken part in probably 20-odd budgets and saw children growing up in those circumstances. I spoke to your MP and said, we will get into government with your support and if we get nothing done at the end of our term, the condition which people live in this street, in this village, will change and it is changing.”
Some 30 families benefited from new homes while repairs were done to 10 houses in the community. There is also a plan to upgrade the drainage and roads in the community. The HVIP is expected to benefit the low-income families of Marabella, St Joseph, Toco and Sangre Grande.
- by Kevon Felmine