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Brent Lyons, Managing Director HDC at the JSC yesterday.

The Housing Ministry recently began to examine revamping the Rent Assessment Board which lapsed years ago and the private sector has to participate in any talks on this.

This was indicated yesterday by officials of the Housing Ministry and Housing Development Corporation who appeared before a Parliament Joint Select Committee (on Social Services and Public Administration). The JSC headed by senator Paul Richards questioned the officials on rent regulation and HDC issues.

After Richards asked about the status of the Rent Assessment Board (RAB), Housing Ministry legal representative Alvin Pascall said currently there’s no regulatory framework concerning rentals.

He said the Act concerning this and rent restrictions lapsed years ago after it was due to be extended and wasn’t.

Pascall said little was done to re-enact the law to date.

But he agreed there’s a need for a regulatory framework to deal with tenants and rents.

HDC managing director Brent Lyons said re-establishment of the RAB was part of strategic plans. The ministry’s permanent secretary Simone Thorne-Mora Quinones said the ministry’s 2018-2023 plan involved reviewing policies and regulatory environments.

This extended to the affordability of rental housing, legislation and a rental board. The Ministry had no timelines for this, however.

She said discussions were held with the Attorney General’s office and an inter-ministerial team (comprising Finance, AG’s office and Legal Affairs) which examined the issue in terms of existing policy and the rental Act which expired. She said the Act didn’t reflect the current situation.

“We got a very, very rough working paper on it, but the head of our unit left and it wasn’t put on the front burner,” Quinones added.

The ministry got a new department head in December and while the issue is still “live” it hasn’t reached far, she indicated.

But she assured it hasn’t lapsed.

Pascall said the big question on the issue would be consultation, “We can’t go further without this. The private sector has to participate in any talks, they’ll be able to tell us if we need a tribunal or other aspects,” Pascall added.

JSC’s Richards agreed consultations are needed since the private sector might be “kicking and screaming” about dropping rents.

He added the interest of public and private sectors must be considered on this, “It’s unfortunate the Rent Assessment Act has lapsed since it’s important in protecting the public.”

HDC has information on the issue in other countries including on price caps. JSC member Ancel Antoine also said many of his constituents pay high rents to private sector quarters and he felt HDC should have a policy to build more rental developments.

Lyons said however, rentals didn’t cover construction costs. Quinones said the emphasis was on homeownership particularly since rental was seen as “dead money’. She noted in 2018 the ministry sold homes to people in Toco, Sangre Grande, D’Abadie, Marabella, Moruga for $130,000.

Lyons added that the HDC is owed $45 million by tenants over several years. He explained the HDC offers payment plans and hasn’t evicted anyone.

HDC’s database comprises 186,000 and 82 per cent earn under $9,000.

HDC rentals range from $100 to $2,200.

Officials at the JSC said HDC does continuous client assessment and those earning over $7,500 are encouraged to shift from a rental property to a mortgage.