Saturday, January 20, 2018

Good move, flawed strategy


THE only question to be asked about the Housing Development Corporation’s (HDC) planned crackdown on tenants who sub-let houses in contravention of their rental and licensed-to-own conditions is: why wait until next year?

In calling attention to the problem on Saturday, Housing Minister Randall Mitchell rightly condemned the practice by some HDC tenants of renting out their State-subsidised houses, acquired at rates as low as $500 and $800 a month, for as much as $3,000.

Such profiteering is not only unconscionable but defeats the very purpose of subsidised housing for low income families.
Such evident corruption begs the question of why, given the long-standing nature of this illegal practice, the HDC does not already have a mechanism for ongoing monitoring designed to weed out tenants who disregard the terms of their contract.

In any case, we have to wonder how serious Minister Mitchell could be about solving the problem if he is willing to signal the intended crackdown and give wrongdoers a head start.

Further, unless he is completely na´ve about the age-old housing rackets run by tenants of the HDC and its predecessor, the National Housing Authority, he should also know that his proposed solution has next to no chance of success.

Getting those who rent from HDC tenants who are profiteering off their desperation for housing will not only prove to be difficult; it may even be dangerous to those who risk reporting their exploitation.

Let us not fool ourselves about what is really going on in State housing. The people who are renting $800 HDC houses for $3,000 are under no illusion. They are aware of the HDC rate but are willing to pay because they believe they have no chance of getting State housing and the $3,000 they are paying for a two and three-bedroom house is still cheaper than housing on the private market.

They are also aware that the person who has an HDC house to rent because they have another home, is a person who is also likely to have good political connections or is protected by an enforcement system rooted in violence.

If Minister Randall believes such persons would be willing to report unscrupulous HDC tenants in the hope that, following some bureaucratic investigation, they may have a chance of getting the house, then he is woefully out of touch with both the impact of the politicisation of State housing and the desperation that drives people into their own exploitation.

While we wholeheartedly applaud his stated resolve to bring this racket to an end, we have no reason to be confident in the approach he proposes. The corruption in State housing is multi-layered and networked in and out of the corridors of powers, whether the State or the underworld. It exists and has survived through all administrations because of the unmet demand for housing.

If Minister Mitchell is serious and intent on making even a dent in the problem, he has to go back to the drawing board and find additional strategies.