Sat | Aug 19, 2017

Free up government lands for housing, says former NHT chairman

Published:Sunday | April 10, 2016 | 4:00 AMTameka Gordon
Howard Mitchell, former chairman of National Housing Trust.
Warren McDonald, president of the Jamaica Chamber of Commerce.
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Howard Mitchell, a former chairman of the National Housing Trust (NHT), has suggested the Government give over state-owned lands for housing development to help ease the shortage in the housing stock in the lower-income segments of the market.

Mitchell made his call in the wake of suggestions from Jamaica Chamber of Commerce (JCC) President Warren McDonald that NHT contributions refunds be made transferable to the National Insurance Scheme (NIS) to help provide pension benefits for those in the lower socio-economic bracket whose wages do not meet the minimum levels required to access and service an NHT home loan.

Warren has suggested that the Government urgently re-examine the eligibility formulae governing the loan programme to allow lower income earners a greater chance of home-ownership.

He acknowledges that his suggestion for the transfer of funds would not improve access to NHT loans for those groups, but said it would otherwise provide them with financial buffer in retirement.

Even with a restructured NHT programme, the Jamaica Chamber president is echoing a long-held view that some low-wage contributors would still not be able to benefit from the state agency's benefits, so "rather than refunding the NHT contributions after a seven-year period, those contributions be put into their NIS accounts, which would present them with a better chance to benefit from a sustainable pension when they reach retirement age", Warren said.

NEED TO PROVIDEHOMES

Mitchell said the suggestion was a "good interim" fix, but charged that the State and the NHT need to fulfil their obligations to providing homes for contributors with the monies that are collected at source.

"Too many people are squatting, and there are too many homeless people. So while the JCC's suggestion is a good interim suggestion to bringing equity into the things, the original purpose of the NHT was to provide homes for those people who needed help to acquire a home. It has failed in that respect, and we need to fix it," Mitchell charged.

The JCC's suggestion to shore up pensions is a "good idea, in that people would see more of a benefit for their compulsory savings", Mitchell said. The Government, he suggested, has to tackle the housing crisis for low and middle-income earners more aggressively.

"Let us not lose sight of the fact that Jamaica has a housing crisis. Too many people have no hope of owning or even having equity in a roof over their heads," the former NHT chairman told Sunday Business.

"Land has to be made cheaper for low-income housing and the only place that land is going to come is from is the State. The State has to give up the land for nothing," Mitchell said.

With more lands at the NHT's and developers' disposal, cheaper building options could then be pursued. And standards for housing development have to conform to the realities of what persons can afford, he added.

"Building standards for low-income housing must be lowered. We cannot have first world standards and you have several hundred people living in fourth-world conditions. They have to reduce the infrastructure cost by lowering the standard of development, thereby making it cheaper to build and cheaper to own," he said.

A programme to upgrade the housing infrastructure could then be developed over time, he told Sunday Business.

Mitchell believes homeownership is uplifting to the spirit, saying there should be acceptance that "if a man has a home his whole life changes - if he has a place that he feels comfortable, that his family is secure and his children will have something with their name on it - it puts him in a better place," he said.

tameka.gordon@gleanerjm.com