Tue | Feb 25, 2020

Holness plans to ‘go big’ on housing solutions next year

Published:Monday | December 23, 2019 | 12:05 AMPaul Clarke/Gleaner Writer
A crew completes work on the yard of a housing unit at The Orchards in St Catherine. Prime Minister Andrew Holness says the Government will be seeking to invest heavily in addressing the need for housing in 2020.
A crew completes work on the yard of a housing unit at The Orchards in St Catherine. Prime Minister Andrew Holness says the Government will be seeking to invest heavily in addressing the need for housing in 2020.

The incremental way of building out the country’s infrastructure, including the housing sector, must change to reflect Jamaica’s push towards equity, Prime Minster Andrew Holness has said, adding that the administration he leads will be “going big” on housing solutions, starting in 2020.

He was addressing the issue of informal housing at a Housing Agency of Jamaica (HAJ) title handover ceremony in Greater Portmore, St Catherine, last Wednesday, where approximately 70 homeowners received certificates of ownership after a 25-year wait.

Holness said he has been listening to concerns, including those from the leader of the Opposition, Dr Peter Phillips, relating to solving one of the country’s most chronic social problems.

“We know that every year, we have a deficit of 15,000 new housing solutions. The leader of the Opposition has been raising concern and making suggestions about how to treat with squatting, and I have listened very carefully to what is said,” the prime minister said.

“But the informal settlement and illegal occupation of land is not merely that Jamaicans don’t want to follow the law. It is not that we are undisciplined and just ignorant in ourselves, it’s not the case. But there is a genuine need for affordable housing solutions, and if people can’t get housing, they find their own means of survival,” Holness said.

BETTER INVESTMENT IN EFFECTIVE HOUSING MARKET

Holness argued that the matter is not just that people cannot get land or that the system of land distribution is unfair and is skewed towards the elites.

He said, as a nation, successive governments have not invested enough in an effectively operated housing market.

“If we had the market that could provide solutions for every income level of persons, then there would be no need for someone to say, ‘You know what, let me go and occupy that piece of land because I don’t see anyone using it,’” said Holness.

He said that the practice has to end, noting that land settlement within itself is a strategy, as are regularisation and greater access to land, which he stated are decent strategies. But the real solution, according to the prime minister, is to empower the Government’s housing arms – the National Housing Trust (NHT) and the HAJ – to build more solutions that are affordable for all income brackets of Jamaicans.

MORE CREATIVE FINANCING METHODS

Holness added that more creative methods of financing for the sector are needed to increase the affordable housing stock.

He cited the Programme for Resettlement and Integrated Development Enterprise (Operation PRIDE), initiated under the People’s National Party (PNP) administration of the mid- to late-1990s as an example. The programme was launched in 1994 to address several issues, including informal settlements. Holness said while the initiative had its merits, Jamaica must now chart a different course in how it plans to build out future housing infrastructure to put a dent in the numbers of unplanned settlements across the country.

“We have to get out of that model and we have to find more creative financing methods that build. So when you occupy it, you don’t have to live and build and pay mortgage at the same time, because in some point in time, something has to be sacrificed … . Is either you pay the mortgage, or you put on the little room,” Holness said.

The prime minister said the Government’s strategy to meet the need of 15,000 housing solutions per year must consider that Jamaica should not become one big sprawl of development, and that areas in which billions have been invested must be revitalised and upgraded to make sure those developments are balanced.

In September, Finance and Planning Minister Dr Nigel Clarke tweeted about housing starts under his watch as the NHT chairman, showing the number of starts by each financial year. The chart he used showed that at the start of the Jamaica Labour Party’s tenure under Holness in 2016–2017, there were some 3,010 housing starts. That number increased dramatically each succeeding year. During the period 2019–2020, the NHT is expected to build approximately 8,600 units.

In comparison, there were 1,897 housing starts in the final year (2015–2016) of the Portia Simpson Miller-led PNP’s tenure.

paul.clarke@gleanerjm.com