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HDC to build 9,000 housing units by 2015

By ANDRE BAGOO Tuesday, July 1 2014

THE HOUSING Development Corporation (HDC) plans to construct more than 9,000 housing units by 2015, in the face of a housing deficit estimated to increase to 225,000, a Parliament committee report tabled last week details.

The HDC plan is disclosed in the Ninth Report of the Joint Select Committee of Parliament appointed to inquire into and report on Government Ministries, Statutory Authorities and State Enterprises (Group I) on the Administration and Operations of the HDC. The report was laid in Parliament last week Wednesday.

“The committee was somewhat encouraged to learn that the Corporation intended to construct 9,000 plus housing units by 2015,” the report states. The document also states that a portion of the figure is accounted for in housing development units under construction and under repair in the areas of: La Fortune, Victoria Keys, Vieux Fort, Chaconia Crescent, Mora Heights, Gomez Trace, Fairfield, Cypress Gardens, and Exchange “among others”.

Of the housing shortage, the report notes the situation is worsening.

“The annual increase in demand for houses was exponentially greater than the existing supply,” the report states.

“With over 214,000 applicants on record which was projected to increase by approximately 14,000 per annum, the committee concluded that there was an urgent need for a more extensive and accelerated housing programme.”

The report continues, “Evidence received also alluded to the fact that the annual housing deficit would increase to approximately 225,000 housing units in the next ten years unless there is a major intervention.” The Committee knocked the HDC for its failure to produce accounts from the period of 2004 to 2007.

“The Committee thought that the failure of the Corporation to produce audited financial statements for the years 2004 to 2007 was unacceptable and a definite red flag given the Corporation’s cash flow,” the report states. “Even more troubling was the revelation that the lack of up-to-date financial statements has thwarted the Corporation’s ability to seek funding in the open market.” As a result the Committee recommends tabling of these reports “as a matter of priority”.

“We recommend that the outstanding audited financial statements of the Corporation be prepared and submitted to Parliament and/or the Auditor General as a matter of priority,” the report states. “The line Minister must be introduce the necessary oversight procedures within his Ministry to prevent lengthy delays in the production of audited financial statements on the part of the HDC and any other entity falling under the purview of his Ministry.”

The report notes that 25 percent of houses allocated are done in the discretion of the Minister of Housing, while the rest is allocated randomly with quotas going to the armed forces and senior citizens. The Committee calls for more accountability on the ministerial power.

“In order to introduce greater transparency and accountability in the process used by the Minister to allocate houses in his own discretion, we recommend that the Ministry document the process and criteria used by the Minister to justify his allocations,” the report states. “A list of names and the location of the houses allocated by the Minister’s and the rationale for his decision should be subjected to public scrutiny.”

The report states that a large number of units were, “near completion but could not be allocated”. This was because, “they lacked certain infrastructural requirements and amenities such as waste water plants which were excluded during the project design phase.”

“The Committee was disappointed with this situation since these delays in the allocation of houses may have been avoided if proper project design and monitoring procedures were in place,” the report states. The report discloses that 465 housing units had to be suspended “due to the absence of a general contractor to manage the projects.”

The report details, “another alarming fact was the unintentional assignment of two contractors to a project in Chaconia Crescent which led to its suspension. This type of disorganisation must be avoided in the future since the unprecedented demand for houses provides the HDC with little to no margin for organisational deficiencies and inadequacies.”

The Committee also calls for fire safety to be dealt with at all HDC buildings, in light of at least one documented instance where “multiple casualties resulted from a fire accident in an HDC building”.

In relation to this particular incident, “The Committee... was not convinced by the evidence received that the Corporation had undertaken the necessary retro-fitting of all HDC buildings, particularly as it concerns the installation of fire escapes and other life preservation mechanisms.”

The report stated there were 81 formal complaints of shoddy work at HDC projects in 2011.

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