A sound infrastructure base driven by a dynamic construction sector is a critical pillar on which the PNM Government will anchor sustainable growth, job creation and accelerated national development in the post Covid-19 environment.

To achieve this the PNM will transform the existing legislative, regulatory and operating construction framework to improve quality, faster delivery, lower construction costs, value for money, better procurement, improved land use and a modern built environment, while providing incentives to optimise and encourage local content in labour, services and materials.

The PNM will simplify the procedures for obtaining planning, building and regulatory approvals, including EMA approval, construction permits, licenses, construction tax incentives, trading in housing, home improvement grants, housing construction, land settlement, squatter regularisation, village improvement and land and building development, among other related matters. The objective is to eliminate the red tape that currently hinders construction projects.

The strategy will facilitate investment in construction, particularly housing development, by the private sector and make it much easier for the private sector to access tax incentives for private building and housing development. The objective is to reduce the time for the entire building approvals process to 6 months and the time for obtaining approval for tax incentives to 3 months.

The construction sector is a key sector of the economy, contributing significantly to employment generation and social stability and capacity expansion. It comprises a wide range of small, medium, and large firms and individuals egged in a variety of activities, including the building, repair and maintenance of houses, commercial/industrial buildings, schools, hospitals, ports, airports, energy plants, roads, bridges, dams, and sewer systems. It also includes such secondary services as the mining, manufacture, and transportation of construction materials.

The human resource required is a complex combination of professional, academic, technical, and vocational skills all collaborating to develop essential infrastructure for national development. The sector impacts large sections of the population in a positive manner, but sometimes the impact is adverse on account of the absence of appropriate regulations.

In particular, the residential housing sector has tremendous unrealized demand, especially in the lower and middle-income segments of the market. This is one of the most pressing issues of our times and in focusing on this sector, the PNM will not only address the acute demand for housing but will quickly generate new jobs, revive the construction industry, and stimulate the building materials manufacturing, distribution and transportation sectors.

Although the HDC over its life has delivered over 50,000 housing units, the number of applications over time for residential housing is over 175,000. 80% of the applicants earn $12,000 per month or less and most of them can only afford a house costing between $350,000 and $650,000. In fact, many applicants can realistically only afford a house costing $250,000. The remaining 20% of applicants in the income range $12,000 to $25,000 per month can afford a house valued between $700,000 and $1.5M. The drive must be to promote housing construction in both the public and private sector.

The individual needs for housing also vary from basic upgrades, repair and replacement of roofing, plumbing, electrical wiring, doors and windows, site drainage, site access and addition of rooms and bathrooms, to village improvement, construction of starter homes and middle-income homes, and development of serviced residential building lots. All of these issues will be addressed with innovative and progressive incentives and stimuli.

The PNM will implement a number of policies to address this burning issue, including the accelerated construction and delivery of 25,000 new homes on state lands over a period of 10 years in the following cost brackets.

  • Starter Homes (target 10,000 units): $250,000
    • A monthly payment of $925 with a zero downpayment
  • Affordable Homes (target 5,000 units): $350,000 to $500,000
    • A monthly payment of $1,164 to $1,756 with a 5% downpayment
  • Middle Income Homes (target 5,000 units): $650,000 to $900,000
    • A monthly payment of $2,283 to $3,161 with a 5% downpayment
  • Young Professionals Housing (target 5,000 units): $1,000,000 to $1,500,000
    • A monthly payment of $3,512 to $5,360 with a 5% downpayment

With appropriate incentives, it is expected that the private sector can contribute a further 10,000 units over 10 years. Together with the planned public sector housing programme this will stimulate the creation of 20,000 jobs per year and contribute $2 Billion to the economy.

The PNM will provide the enabling environment and necessary subsidy for all state-supported housing mortgage loans to be at a subsidised interest rate of 2% over 30 years, with a downpayment of just 5% in the higher income brackets.

The PNM will also implement a state-sponsored programme to allow first-time homeowners with existing mortgages to refinance their housing mortgage loans at concessional rates under prescribed conditions.

Fully developed land for housing will also be provided at $10 per square foot or $50,000 for a typical house lot.

Subsidised rental units will be built for low-income earners, the elderly, the physically challenged and the indigent. However, the focus will be to encourage home ownership, hence the affordable monthly payments.

In addition, the following programmes will be intensified and accelerated:

  • Housing Improvement and Repair Grants up to $35,000
  • Aided Self Help
  • Squatter Regularisation and Land Ownership
  • Serviced Building Lot Development and Distribution
  • Village Improvement
  • Infrastructure Development and Upgrade in Unplanned Communities
  • Concessional Home Construction Loans with a 2- year moratorium on payments
  • Concessional Land Purchase Loans with a 2-year moratorium on payments
  • Housing Start Grants up to $35,000

The PNM will also establish a transparent and easily accessible online application and allocation tracking system, so that applicants will have a better understanding if their place in the queue.

With respect to the development of an indigenous building industry, the focus in the past has been for too long on mega contractors, leaving many of our small builders out of the picture.

The PNM has already moved apace to redress this imbalance with the introduction in January 2020 of the Small and Medium Contractors (SMC) Housing Initiative, whereby basic 3-bedroom 2-bathroom homes at a cost of less than $500,000 are being constructed by SMCs for families earning less than $9,000 per month in North, East, Central and South Trinidad. See here: hdc.gov.tt/2020/07/22/small-medium- contractors-smc-housing-initiative-moving-full- steam-ahead/

The PNM will thus ensure that at up to 20% of all state housing construction projects will be reserved for small and medium housing contractors in the future. House plans will be standardised, and contracts priced to ensure that a suitable profit margin will be available for small builders while maintaining affordable prices for housing applicants.

In addition, qualified small and medium contractors will benefit from the following targeted state- provided incentives, technical assistance, and support:

  • Advance payments and prompt interim payments
  • Training in the valuation of work in progress
  • Government guaranteed start-up and working capital loans
  • Centralized equipment and materials storage facilities for rental
  • Training in accounting and finance, basic contract law, project management and resource allocation
  • Quality control and quality assurance programmes
  • Basic Construction Techniques
  • Advice on labour relations and contracts of employment
  • Design engineering
  • Alternative dispute resolution and mediation of disputes
  • Occupational health and safety
  • Report writing

Tax incentives will be provided to encourage and stimulate the manufacture of building materials and components locally, to reduce the demand for foreign exchange for imported building materials.