The Housing Development Corporation (HDC) currently owes contractors $1.3 billion.
This was revealed by Minister of Housing and Urban Development Camille Robinson-Regis yesterday.
“We have been tardy in our payments, our contractors are upset,” Robinson-Regis said during the launch of an updated online portal called the Housing Application Fulfilment System (HAFS), which is designed to make it easier for applicants to apply for HDC houses.
However, the Minister blamed the overall HDC debt partly on errant tenants, in particular those who live in rent-to-own, license to occupy and rental units.
“I know of people in my own constituency whose rental may be in the order of $100, $250 and yet they owing $50,000, which means from the day they got the unit they have not paid,” Robinson-Regis said.
According to the HDC, rent for these units costs between $100 to $500 monthly but not all the errant tenants live in older units.
Tenants of new properties owe the HDC approximately $22 million. They live in communities such as the Lion’s Gate Housing Development in Enterprise, Real Springs Housing Development in Valsayn South and the Vieux Fort Housing Development in St James.
Overall, delinquent tenants owe the HDC approximately $151 million. Rounded off in 2021, that debt was $143 million, 2020 - $139 million and in 2019 $103 million. In 2018, close to 160 million was owed by tenants and $157 and $159 million respectively was owed for 2017 and 2016.
At the event, Robinson-Regis said the HDC was owed a total of $1,012,393,557.36 in arrears from delinquent clients for a six-year period.
She got this number when she added the annual delinquency debt from 2016 to the present.
However, HDC managing director Jayselle McFarlane explained to Guardian Media that was not how the debt is supposed to be calculated because it’s a running debt and not an accumulated total.
“The figure, as of now, based on what people should have paid for the year or paid on their portfolio is $151 million,” McFarlane said.
Nevertheless, Robinson-Regis noted during her presentation that the debt owed by tenants was not only hampering the payment of contractors but also preventing repairs to units and the expansion of the accelerated housing programme. “We have been providing this facility even though we do have such a high delinquency rate and some of the people who owe the HDC are some of the people who complain the most,” Robinson-Regis said.
She added while they have a duty to people, it goes both ways. She said during the pandemic, the HDC issued a moratorium on payments to help ease the financial strain on many of its customers but now that the country is reopening, she encouraged them to pay what is owed.
“I’m hoping that people will understand the situation in which we have found ourselves and they will, in fact, do what they have to do,” she said.
To make the payment process easier, the HDC has created an Omni channel for customers to make payments, which includes bank transfers, bank deposits, payroll deductions and via Sure Pay.
It will also resume its public education campaign.
In 2016, Robinson-Regis said the HDC was owed $111 million by tenants and through the same education campaign, the corporation was able to collect $72 million in arrears.
Current Minister of Tourism, Culture and the Arts Randall Mitchell, who was present at yesterday’s function, was the Housing Minister then
“We want to ensure that people feel the commitment to pay and also that it is not a difficulty to make their payments,” Robinson-Regis said.
She said the HDC was also reorganising so it can achieve its mandate of providing affordable housing, a goal it had moved away from over the years.
Over 200,000 citizens are awaiting placement and the Minister encouraged them to visit the online portal HAFS and update their applications. By logging in or registering on http://hafs.housing.gov.tt/, applicants can conduct self-assessments, obtain pre-approvals via the mortgage calculator, check the status of their application and obtain a reference number. There is also an option for help and support online.
McFarlane said this was just one of the many information and communications technology projects the HDC had embarked on. It has also updated its phone lines.