Mon | Mar 30, 2020

Gov’t beats drum on housing, water, jobs

Published:Wednesday | February 12, 2020 | 12:28 AM
Governor General Sir Patrick Allen inspects a guard of honour on parade shortly before the ceremonial opening of Parliament on Tuesday.
Governor General Sir Patrick Allen inspects a guard of honour on parade shortly before the ceremonial opening of Parliament on Tuesday.

Jamaica’s current record-low unemployment rate and a 106 per cent increase in the number of youths trained by HEART are among the signal achievements touted as evidence of the Holness administration’s commitment to social and economic growth.

Governor General Sir Patrick Allen, who delivered the Throne Speech in the ceremonial opening of Parliament yesterday, said that the 7.2 per cent unemployment rate, recorded in October 2019, and the closing of the gender gap in joblessness were milestone accomplishments.

More than 20,000 persons have been trained through the Housing, Opportunity, Production and Employment Programme and the Jamaica National Service Corps.

The merger of HEART/NTA, the Jamaican Foundation for Lifelong Learning, the National Youth Service, and Apprenticeship Boards was on target to train 152,000 young people by the end of this fiscal year, more than double the cohort of 74,000 two years ago.

In addition to its focus on employment, the Government intends to have 10,000 housing starts this fiscal year through the National Housing Trust (NHT) and the Housing Agency of Jamaica (HAJ).

“We need to build enough housing solutions at a rate which will prevent informal settling,” the governor general said.

Over the last four years, the two entities, along with private-sector developers, have been credited for more than 30,000 housing starts. Prime Minister Andrew Holness announced, during a groundbreaking ceremony at Rhyne Park Estate in St James last August, that the NHT was on track to build the most housing solutions by a single administration.

The HAJ, which was previously on the cutting block, is set to build 1,650 studios and one-bedroom homes in St Catherine under a joint venture partnership with China Harbour Engineering Company Limited (CHEC) at a cost of approximately $9.5 billion. An estimated 5,031 new housing developments are also expected for the parish of St Catherine alone over the next two years as the demand for affordable housing increases. These projects will be undertaken by the NHT, the HAJ, and private developers.

The NHT, in particular, has widened income bands, increased its loan limit, introduced intergenerational mortgages and reduced mortgage interest rates by one per cent across the board to improve access to loans and support for home ownership.

Significant investment will also be made in infrastructure as the Government is expected to provide water-supply solutions to approximately 180,000 rural residents and improvements will be made to roads, bridges, street lighting, sidewalks and ramps, traffic lights, water and sewerage, fire hydrants, and drainage under the Greater Infrastructure Development Programme.

“The Government’s vision is to create modern, SMART and sustainable urban centres. The aim is to make places that are accessible, secure, clean and connected for the enjoyment of the people and the pride of the nation,” Allen said.