Letter of the Day | Plundering the NHT
THE EDITOR , Sir:
This is an open letter to PM Andrew Holness.
Dear Prime Minister,
When we began to write this letter two weeks ago, it was to present the truly horrific facts about the National Housing Trust (NHT) and to urge against a raid on its resources. Previously, as leader of the Opposition, you had articulated it very clearly: Taking NHT funds to prop up the Budget is a bad policy translated into a bad practice.
Then a week or so ago, you repeated that position and came out with a very strong call on the NHT to "BUILD HOUSE". Although speculation continued that NHT funds would be raided, we took courage from your words. We began to have hope.
There was good reason for hope. In your 2016-17 Budget presentation, PM, you made more funds available to more low-income, first-time homeowners at 0 per cent interest, and other low-income earners received an appreciable reduction in their borrowing rates. Among other offerings, the loan limit for lot purchases was increased by 33 per cent. You told the country: "If you were not thinking of owning a house, or building a house, now is the time."
Breakdown of trust
But then on Thursday, March 9, came Minister Shaw's Budget announcement that the NHT would be plundered to the tune of $11.4 billion. Yes, of course, we know why this is being done - to keep an election-winning 'promise' of a $1.5-million tax break, even as you break that other 'promise' of no additional tax.
We don't need to remind you, Prime Minister, of what this behaviour does to public trust. It undermines it grievously. What can we believe when you make such a powerful and memorable speech as your very recent "BUILD HOUSE" and within days we see the very opposite action taken by your minister of finance - a financial decision that will NOT build house?
We will not cease reminding you of the facts that imperiously DEMAND that the NHT take immediate and sustained steps to BUILD HOUSE:
Fact #1: Only 23 per cent of mortgages go to lower-income householders.
Fact #2: 340,000 NHT contributors, 75 per cent of total number, receive no housing benefit.
Fact #3: Adding those outside contributor ranks pushes up the number of homeless.
Fact #4: There are about 700 informal settlements, populated by some 900,000 Jamaicans, some on dangerous gully or riverbanks.
Fact #5: Against annual housing need of between 15,000 and 20,000, NHT housing solutions for the year 2015-16 was a mere 1,254, which includes not just new housing units, but also home improvements via NHT loans.
We call on you, Prime Minister, to insist that our housing experts and industry partners listen to the recommendations of existing reports on NHT performance. These include performance audits conducted by the auditor general. We await the findings of the institutional review that you ordered. These must be made public. We call for commitment to good stewardship of the NHT and to fulfilment of its purpose to "BUILD HOUSE" and to provide a range of solutions for shelter for the Jamaican people.
Jamaica Network of Rural Women Producers; J-FLAG; Stand Up for Jamaica; WMW-Jamaica (formerly Women's Media Watch); Women's Resource and Outreach Centre; Jeanette Calder; Joan French; Susan Goffe; Joan Grant Cummings; Jennifer Jones; Horace Levy; Howard Mitchell; Carol Narcisse; David Silvera; Robert Stephens; Judith Wedderburn