Editorial - NHT and inner-city regeneration
The National Housing Trust (NHT) and potential mortgagors of the trust will be happy that its ailment - previous scary prognoses notwithstanding - has turned out to be fleeting.
So, Prime Minister Golding was able on Tuesday to announce an across-the-board lowering, by one percentage point, of interest charged by the trust to its borrowers as well as formalise a slew of other benefits to contributors.
The PM's decision pushed rates to just shy of where they were two years ago before the Golding administration, new in office, reversed its pre-election reduction by the former People's National Party administration.
At the time, the Golding administration argued that it was forced into the action because the NHT's interest charge was below its cost of funds, placing the trust in danger of financial impairment. Expected lower interest income because of the Government's debt-restructuring programme is likely to have further complicated matters for the agency.
This time, however, the Government, Mr Golding explained, will prevent an impairment risk by cutting interest paid on the three per cent of their wages that employees 'contribute' to the NHT by one one percentage point to two per cent.
Given the history of prime ministerial use of the NHT, there will be cynics who will question the Government's calculation of two years ago, have issues with the remedy that was applied and see Mr Golding's NHT give-backs as a precursor to larger events.
For our part, we are only happy that the NHT is healthy again and in a position to contemplate new, creative ways to deliver affordable shelter to Jamaicans. It is perhaps timely, then, that we repeat an old suggestion that gained no traction when we first raised it.
It is perplexing to many people that despite the efforts, for more than three decades, of agencies like the NHT and private developers, Jamaica seems not much closer to solving its chronic housing shortage. The deficit grows wider.
Part of the answer, we posit, is that the 5,000 or so annual housing completions do not represent net additions to the housing stock. Rather, they are replacements for existing units. This is a factor contributed to, and exacerbated by, the rural-urban drift and our failure to address creatively the regeneration of our run-down urban communities.
This newspaper's proposal, therefore, is for the matter to be given urgent, priority attention. Should anyone look seriously, they would notice that much of housing stock in many inner-city communities, although run-down, and in some cases abandoned, is basically sound. Infrastructure is in place, but requires upgrading.
Early this decade, the NHT attempted to leverage this availability of infrastructure by building new, high-quality homes in some communities. That initiative has been abandoned for being too expensive.
That can't be the end of the matter. It would be better, and cheaper than new developments anywhere, if the trust were to invest in the rehabilitation of existing homes and infrastructure in these areas.
One problem is the uncertainty and legal complication of ownership of some of these properties. Residents often do not own them and don't know who do. Such problems are not insurmountable for the imaginative.
If it comes to it, laws exist for the forced acquisition of property by the Government. If these are inadequate, they can be amended, or new ones passed.
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