Sat | Oct 21, 2017

Gov't was forced to tap NHT for money - Holness

Published:Saturday | September 23, 2017 | 12:00 AMPaul Clarke
From left, Martin Miller managing director, National Housing Trust (NHT); Dr Horace Chang, minister without portfolio in the Ministry of Economic Growth and Job Creation; Prime Minister Andrew Holness; Chairman of the NHT Dr Nigel Clarke and member of parliament, St Andrew South East, Julian Robinson, at the NHT groundbreaking ceremony for Ruthven Towers on Ruthven Road, yesterday.
Jamique ensemble performing at the National Housing Trust groundbreaking ceremony for Ruthven Towers on Ruthven Road yesterday.
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Prime Minister Andrew Holness says that the Government's decision to draw down on National Housing Trust (NHT) money was as a consequence of "circumstances" and not just to use the funds to do other things.

He was speaking at yesterday's groundbreaking ceremony for the NHT's newest project, Ruthven Towers, a four-pillar six-storey modern apartment building complex located at lot 1-3 Ruthven Road in New Kingston.

"It should be clear to the entire Jamaica that it is not the intention of this Government to use up the NHT money to do things other than build houses," said Holness.

"It is just circumstances that made the case why we had to do what the previous Government did. And I see the smile of agreement from Julian (Robinson)," he said, tongue-in-cheek.

He was referencing his decision earlier this year to draw funds approximating $27.4 billion from the highly financed NHT for budgetary support, a move he had questioned while in opposition, when in 2013, the Portia Simpson Miller administration amended the law to take $45.6 billion from the Trust over four years for fiscal support under a deal with the International Monetary Fund.

Holness, who has responsibility for the NHT, said that to compensate borrowing from the NHT, his Government "must show the intent to fulfil the mandate of the NHT, which is to build more houses for Jamaicans".

Ruthven Towers sits on 23,181.75 square metres of land (5.71 acres). Construction will begin in November and is scheduled for completion in July 2019. Phase One will consist of 64 one-bedroom and two-bedroom apartments.

Construction of Phase Two will commence in September 2019 and will comprise 106 one-bedroom units, 56 two-bedroom units, and 12 three-bedroom units.

Donald Mullings, head of M and M Construction, which was selected to lead the construction, told the gathering that his company would deliver on time and within budget.

... Crime affecting construction cost

Prime Minister Holness said that he was well aware of the cost that the country's high crime rate was having on the construction sector, where millions are spent on securing property.

He said: "One of the things I noticed about the development is that is says it will have a concrete wall boundary fence. The cost of construction in Jamaica is higher than most places because we have to build for security. This is one of the ways in which our high crime affects our economic decisions."

 

Reduce level of threat

 

In other places, developments like Ruthven Towers probably would not have a boundary fence, the prime minister said.

"We have to reduce that level of threat. And I want to assure you that this Government is working to make public areas safe and to make citizens feel safe in their homes," he said.

National Housing Trust (NHT) chairman, Dr Nigel Clarke, says that he is envisioning that the soon-to-be-built Ruthven Towers will be the jewel of New Kingston once construction is completed in 2019.

"This development (Ruthven Towers) is the kind of place that young professionals want to be. Indeed, we see this being positioned as the jewel of New Kingston," said Clarke.

Ruthven Towers, which had its groundbreaking ceremony yesterday and which was attended by Prime Minister Andrew Holness and Julian Robinson, member of parliament for the St Andrew South East constituency in which the development is to take place, among other dignitaries, will boast modern amenities, including a jogging trail, a multipurpose court, a tennis court, and centralised garbage collection.

It will consist of Phase One and Two, approximately 200 units made up of one bedroom, two bedrooms, and three bedrooms.

More than 3,000 housing solutions have been built by the NHT since the start of the year, and the Trust is promising well over 15,000 in housing stock before 2020.

paul.clarke@gleanerjm.com