After a dramatic fall in the number of homes constructed last year, the financially strapped Urban Development Commission (UDC) has been forced to rethink its strategy.
Director of the state agency Derek Alleyne has revealed a 25 per cent decline in home construction activity, which he blamed on a lack of funds.
“Money [was] tight last year. What we would have to do is engage in a lot of sharing of projects, encourage the public to meet some of the costs and to reduce the amount of new houses that we built. Although our number of projects declined by about 24 or 25 percent, I would say that we were still active,” Alleyne told Barbados TODAY in an interview.
He said the commission, which provides housing solutions, repairs and upgrades for clients in urban areas, was banking on a fresh cash injection from Government to put things back on track in 2016.
However, while predicting greater activity this year, the UDC boss said the change in approach, which included cost sharing and the construction of fewer new houses, would continue.
“I anticipate that [in] 2016 we will see an increase in activity. A little bit more money [came in] towards the end of [last] year, and I expect to get a little bit more. In the new year, we will start to stretch back out our programme, but to keep the emphasis on doing shared projects, rather than us building all the units.”
Alleyne suggested that the commission would not abandon its mission to eradicate poverty and improve the quality of for the urban population, promising that it would continue to provide solutions to alleviate the “bad” housing situation.
However, the UDC director emphasized that it was a lack of money that was hindering the agency from assisting more low-income people.
“We got to get some funding in; that is my major challenge. We have done the assessment of a lot of the projects out there that we need to do. In the worst-case scenarios . . . we definitely have to build new houses because the situation with the houses was that bad. We have to build them . . . so as long as we get the money, we will.”
Alleyne would not say how many new homes the UDC intended to build this year, preferring instead to concentrate on the possible available resources. In the past, he said, the UDC constructed about four per month.
“But that again is contingent on how much money we get. Let me give you an example. If I get a million dollars, I probably would just do four new houses and do 70 small projects. That would be 74 people, rather than 15 new houses and make 15 people happy,” he explained.
The director reported that the UDC carried out mostly small projects last year in the $24,000-$25,000 price range. They included roof and ceiling repairs, construction of bathrooms and the sinking of a sewerage well. “We did a lot of [those projects] rather than a lot of big projects like $80,000 and $60, 000,” he said.
He also spoke about the agency’s programme of ongoing sewerage connections targeting inner city, lower income residents. “That continues. The only thing [is] that we did not do any sewerage connections last year . . . because those are fairly expensive, depending on how close they are to the sewerage system.”
Alleyne said sewerage connections involving homes on Chapman Street, The City were earmarked to be done this year. He specifically identified two gaps adjoining Kings Street.
“The problem with the connections is that we don’t do [them] unless the owners approve because somebody [has] got to pay the water bill. So we do a survey and then we work it out. I think there are about 30 somebody in one avenue and I think the next one is about 20 somebody . . . about 50 connections in all.”