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Kiros Harris, centre, hugs parents Joanna Brewster and Hayden Roberts in their new home at Riverside North Corinth during the HDC key distribution ceremony yesterday.

KEVON FELMINE

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Fifteen years after the Housing and Development Corporation (HDC) began building the Edinburgh Towers in Chaguanas, the Government now hopes to complete the project by early 2022.

Minister of Housing and Urban Development Pennelope Beckles announced the resumption of the project as she distributed keys to new homeowners at Riverside North in Corinth yesterday.

Construction of the Edinburgh Towers started in 2006 at a cost of $140 million but stalled in 2011 due to design flaws and missing approvals.

In 2015, the then Housing and Urban Development Minister, Dr Roodal Moonilal, estimated that it would cost about $200 million to redesign and complete construction of the two abandoned apartment towers.

A 2018 report also stated that the towers were initially pegged at $57 million but incurred a massive $87.7 million in variation. By 2011, the buildings were still without statutory approvals from the T&T Electricity Commission, Water and Sewerage Authority, T&T Fire Service and the Town and Country Planning Division. In fact, at one point the recommendation was to scrap the project because it was too expensive to complete.

HDC chairman Noel Garcia yesterday said there were several issues regarding the tower, including the structural integrity. After an analysis, he said engineers gave the HDC clearance to proceed.

“At that time, we were getting a cost of approximately $700,000 per unit to finish, which worked out to be somewhere in the vicinity of $850 million. Through the efforts of HDC and collaboration with the small and medium-sized contractors, we have gone out for competitive bidding and we anticipate to bring each one of those units at a final cost of approximately $475,000,” Garcia said.

Last year, the HDC initiated a three-stage process for completing the works on the Edinburgh Towers, of which two stages are currently in progress and expected to be completed by June 2021. Once completed, the two 10-storey apartment buildings will have an expected yield of 140 apartments. Garcia and Beckles said the HDC got the necessary approvals.

Beckles said the HDC will hire specialist contractors for the common work. Contractors out of the Small & Medium Contractors (SMC) Project pool will complete the outfitting work.

Despite the significant cost overruns accumulated on the project, Garcia said it should cost successful applicants around $475,000 for the two and three-bedroom units. He said this should cater to people earning a monthly salary of between $5,000-$9,000. Garcia also said the HDC does not consider the project a financial loss, as the aim is to provide affordable housing to low-income earners. The HDC anticipates applicants can acquire these homes on a rent-to-own payment plan, with the two-bedroom units costing $1,200 and the three-bedroom, $1,500 per month.

“The original plan was to have it completed and put on the open market for sale. But as the Minister said, the Government’s focus is on affordable housing reaching that class of workers or clients, who fall into that bracket of between $5,000-$9,000 per month,” Garcia said.

Beckles said the Government realised some people could not pay a mortgage as easily as others and the HDC’s focus on low-income earners was in keeping with the Government’s policy.

“You would have heard the Prime Minister announce in the budget statement about a greater focus on what you call affordable housing. In my speech, I also spoke about us trying to complete several unfinished projects,” she said.

Beckles said based on the ministry’s analysis of the data they collected, it realised that the majority of clients fall within the monthly salary range of $5,000-$9,000, adding the ministry has a responsibility to address the citizens’ needs. She said also many complain about the lengthy waiting time for public housing.

Two weeks ago, Beckles visited Almond Court in Morvant, another construction site left in abeyance. The HDC began constructing 96 units there around 2005 and like Edinburgh Tower, it ran into problems. However, Garcia said the HDC had resolved those issues and is actively negotiating with the original contractor to resume work in July.

He said the average mortgage ranges between $3,500-$3,800, which may be too costly for those in the $5,000-$9,000 monthly salary range. Therefore, the HDC is refocusing its efforts to meet the needs of the lower-income earners.

He said the HDC continues to urge customers to pay their rent or mortgages so it can get money for maintenance and new projects. Garcia said there was an increase in tenants converting their Rent-to-Own and License-to-Own plans to mortgages. He said that those conversions help the HDC pay its small and medium-sized contractors and some larger contractors.