Tue | Apr 7, 2020

HAJ investing billions but getting only token returns – Howell

Published:Tuesday | February 25, 2020 | 12:18 AM
Rhyne Park with the ocean in the background.
Rhyne Park with the ocean in the background.

Gary Howell, managing director of the Housing Agency of Jamaica (HAJ), says that while the agency is investing billions of dollars to improve St James’ informal communities, he doubts the agency will ever be able to recover the funding from the beneficiaries.

In an interview with The Gleaner, Howell said the challenge in recovering the expended funds stems from the reluctance of residents to meet their obligations. Last January, the HAJ went public with its appeal for residents of Norwood to complete outstanding payments for their lands in order to collect their titles.

“For a community like Norwood, to put in all the required infrastructure and make it a completed community that could be handed over to the St James Municipal Corporation, it would run into several billions of dollars. But the reality we face is that in some communities, you put in $50 and get back $20 dollars,” said Howell.

“If we should spend $100 million in a community, our experience has shown that at best, we’ll recover $20 million because for whatever reason, the people are hesitant to pay or they can’t afford it. What we look at instead is what the money does in that it enables the Government to deliver titles to the residents and to cover property taxes,” he explained.

Howell further noted that the HAJ is totally saddled with the cost of funding the infrastructural developments in the informal communities as the organisation’s work is hindered by a lack of outside funding.

“The HAJ is a government entity, so we don’t get an allocation from the State. We’re self-funding, meaning we have to earn our way,” said Howell. “We would love to access more funds to improve these communities. When we make a profit, we spend it back in the informal communities, but the needs are so great that another strategy is needed to help us with funding.”

Last May, the HAJ launched a campaign to get residents of St James to take advantage of the entity’s mortgage discounts so that landowners could receive the approximately 8,000 property titles in the HAJ’s possession.

The HAJ’s current housing projects in the parish include the construction of an $8.4 billion housing development with 754 lots in the Rhyne Park community, for which ground was broken by Prime Minister Andrew Holness last August.

At the ground breaking, Holness described the project as evidence of the Government’s commitment to providing affordable housing solutions for Jamaicans.

“So we are not just talking about it. We are building the houses, we are providing the financing, and we are reducing the transaction costs to allow you to own your own home. Owning your own home in Jamaica has never been easier,” Holness said.

Christopher Thomas