Minister of Housing and Urban Development, Penelope Beckles MP. (Image courtesy Penelope Beckles, Facebook)

Minister of Housing and Urban Development, Penelope Beckles MP, has confirmed a probe is underway to determine if any member of staff at the housing development corporation is involved in any of the recent housing scams.

“Since I have become minister, I have received a lot of complaints,” she revealed, “and the most painful thing for me, is that many of the complaints come from single mothers—people who have worked so hard and sacrificed, and borrowed this [down-payment] money.”

Speaking on CNC3’s The Morning Brew show, the Housing Minister says to date, persons fleeced by the scammers have been promised a site visit to their prospective house and even have been told where the house is, which makes them trust the fraudsters.  She points out that many victims have been directed to pay down-payment monies to everywhere else but the HDC—at a special website or to a special bank account—all of which should set off warning bells.

“If you enter the HDC you will see there is a sign that says, ‘DO NOT PAY $ TO ANYONE UNAUTHORISED’. There is a procedure involving an interview and allocation process,” she stresses.  “The only person you should be paying your money to is directly to the HDC and not anyone who calls you on the phone on a Saturday or a Sunday morning.”

As to whether the sophistication of the housing scams is a clue that actual HDC staffers may be involved, Minister Beckles told us:

“I cannot say with any measure of conviction that there are people from within the HDC who are doing it [the scams]. I cannot say that, because we are doing our investigations.”

Minister Beckles reports that she has suggested to the HDC Board they find an improved method of communicating with HDC clients, as one way of making it tougher for the scammers.

She also is advising members of the public that they should follow proper procedure and never pay any money to anyone outside of the Housing Development Corporation’s head office at South Quay in Port of Spain.

Minister Beckles also addressed the issue of the lottery system employed to allocate housing units. She admits to being dissatisfied with it and expresses a desire to see it changed.

“While the intention may be to ensure justice exists in the housing sector, in some cases it could very well end up being a system where people would say that it causes injustice,” the Minister said.

“As I understand it, part of the reason for that procedure is that people felt the need for a fair and just system of allocation,” she notes. “My concern is how to balance everything out for those who have been waiting for decades in the system, against those who have only recently been entered into it.”

“I have been a Member of Parliament for quite a long time and people would come to you with the evidence—from what would have been NHA [National Housing Authority] at the time—showing they would have applied for a house from the 1970s,” Minister Beckles recalls.

She observes the likelihood of someone in the waiting line for so many years getting approval is greatly reduced, as opposed someone much younger, who would have applied six months or even a year ago.