‘Where are our houses, Omar?’
A promise made earlier this year by Minister of Housing Dr Omar Davies that his administration will do all it can to complete the long-promised low-income housing project for Bernard Lodge Estates in St Catherine has done little to quell the growing discontent among depositors who fear they have been duped.
The project was announced as a public-private partnership that saw the Government allocating 263 acres of land left over from Highway 2000 for construction of 1,584 starter units primarily for civil servants.
The project, which is being managed by the Housing Agency of Jamaica (HAJ), has failed to meet the deadlines promised to depositors who were told that construction would have started in August 2013 and keys would be handed over by March-April 2014.
But 15 months after the planned construction start date, no work has begun and persons who made down payments of $400,000 and $490,000 say the HAJ has been very tight-lipped about when the housing project will finally begin.
Last week, HAJ's managing director, Karl Bennett, refused to provide any update and directed our news team to Davies, who was said to be overseas.
"I can't say anything. It is between him and Cabinet as to what's to be done," said Bennett.
"He (Davies) is the best person to give you an update and give you the latest. I really cannot say much, having made all the recommendations and everything possible to the board and the board has passed it on to the minister, so it would be out of place now for me to say things, while it is in his purview," added Bennett.
In March, Davies told Parliament that the delivery date for the units had to be pushed back to July of this year because significant changes had to be made to the design for the storm water drain.
He added that the private partner, Malphrus Incorporated, was seeking new financing arrangements and that the HAJ was undergoing a restructuring exercise following the loss of three managing directors and 44 employees in an eight-month period.
"I am giving my commitment to this house and I want you to hold me accountable to the promise, that whatever it takes, the project will be completed," Davies said then.
By May, Davies admitted that the proposed July completion date would not be met but he has so far failed to give a new date.
The silence has not gone unnoticed by opposition spokesperson on housing, Dr Horace Chang, who told The Sunday Gleaner that the last he heard was that negotiations with the original partners had broken down.
"The matter was brought to Parliament and the minister assured us that they would have started the work, but nothing has started. What he has said is that they have refunded all the depositors that wanted their refund. I am somewhat disappointed because once people make a down payment, they expect to get a house, but at this point, the minister needs to answer the question, why has nothing started?" said Chang.