(Trinidad Guardian) For the past few years residents of Clifton Towers have been living in an environment of extreme discomfort and fear at their Housing Development Corporation (HDC) apartments.
It isn’t the regular complaints of faulty plumbing, deteriorating buildings or electrical problems that bother residents of St Paul Street, Port-of-Spain.
The discomfort stemmed from shootings and other criminal activity, not just in the surrounding community of East Port-of-Spain but in the halls and steps and elevators of their apartment buildings, where illegal tenants, gangs from the neighbourhood, have moved in and staked their claim.
When the HDC attempted to evict these tenants on September 22, they were met with resistance.
Employees of the corporation were later “evicted” by the very same gang members and told not to return.
Graffiti containing obscenities was sprayed on walls and the HDC’s offices were ransacked and emptied to make further room for illegal occupants.
While Managing Director of the HDC Brent Lyons subsequently visited the site with police, residents are afraid a situation already fraught with danger will get much worse.
“They told us if the HDC doesn’t give them what they want, every one of us will be forced at gun point to leave the building,” said one of several residents who reached out to the Sunday Guardian last week.
“We saw people from the HDC came on Monday and spoke to the gang members but no one spoke to the actual residents. It seems like they are bargaining with these criminals and not with us.”
Another resident said gang members broke into rooms and apartments and had, in the past, threw people out of their own homes.
“They blast music whole day and whole night. We don’t feel safe. Our children do not feel safe. We are under a lot of stress right now. I did not sign a contract with HDC to come live under this condition,” one resident said.
“We the legal tenants who are paying rent are at risk. We do not feel the HDC is taking it seriously. We do not feel they are sensitive to our situation. They took over the apartment building. We are surrounded with an influx of gangsters. People cannot sleep in the night. Our children cannot come outside. They have it as a drug trading and gambling spot. People are terrified,” added another resident.
Residents: We need help
Residents are calling on Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley and Housing Minister Randall Mitchell to make some sort of intervention on their behalf.
They recalled that it was Rowley who piloted a programme, as a former housing minister, to rebuild East Port-of-Spain.
Rowley did not respond to a question sent via text message to his mobile phone, however during a PNM political meeting in 2013, he was quoted by media as saying as a PNM leader “we have a particular responsibility to the people of East Port-of-Spain for they have a particular problem”.
At the time, he said, “This problem is not new, the festering of East Port-of-Spain, the inhumane conditions they live in, the hopelessness that ran down the drains, it was there before and the head of the HDC (Housing Development Corporation) and I, as Minister of Housing, we embarked on a programme to rebuild East Port-of-Spain.”
In the past, Rowley has laid the responsibility for dealing with crime squarely on the shoulders of the T&T Police Service.
Senior Superintendent at the Port-of-Spain Division Floris Hodge-Griffith said the situation at Clifton Towers had not been brought to her attention as of Friday evening, but she said she will make queries about the matter.
Hodge-Griffith did not answer multiple calls to her mobile phone yesterday.
Lyons: We will not yield to threats, extortion
The illegal occupants are attempting to negotiate with the HDC.
They are saying: “Give us contracts or else…”
The first act was to evict workers.
Last week, the HDC managing director said the corporation faced similar threats at its East Port-of-Spain offices on St Joseph Road by gang members demanding contracts.
At Clifton Towers, gang members removed property from the HDC office and warned workers of their takeover.
At St Joseph Road, HDC workers were chased off the corporation’s property, as gang members forcibly took keys to the HDC’s office on the premises.
Lyons, during interviews with the Guardian said the HDC will not bend to thuggery, banditry or what he considered “threats of terrorism”.
Lyons said he had been informed that the gangs were demanding contracts for work in their areas but the HDC would not tolerate the abuse of its employees or any sort of thuggery.
“If they are serious about wanting work then they are free to apply for work if they are law-abiding citizens.”
He said the HDC had a pre-qualification exercise ongoing for petty contractors.
“Anybody interested should go through the well established procedures because we are saying we will not stand for that and we will not give into that kind of behaviour.”
Told of the concerns raised by residents, Lyons said he did have a conversation with the men who evicted the HDC tenants, along with police, but that he had no intention of negotiating with gangsters.
“We are working closely with TTPS on that matter of criminals and criminal activity. I make direct contact with the police and they respond immediately. We will not yield to thuggery, gangsterism and extortion.”
He said while the HDC did not provide security to the communities as HDC communities were public spaces, the corporation relied on the residents “looking out” and the TTPS providing as much support as possible.
“It is a challenge. We went in and dealt with that (Clifton Towers illegal tenants) and as soon as we left they moved back and vandalised the space.”
Lyons said the HDC was still working with the police to deal with the matter.