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Houses slow in coming for destitute Jamaicans

Published:Wednesday | October 7, 2015 | 12:00 AMEdmond Campbell
Audrey Sewell

The Ministry of Transport, Works and Housing is facing an uphill task to complete 700 wooden housing solutions this financial year, for poor Jamaicans who do not own a house.

At present, the ministry has completed only 79 of the units since April 1.

Yesterday, members of Parlia-ment's Public Administration and Appropriations Committee (PAAC) raised concerns about the slow pace of the programme, which is administered jointly by the ministry and Food For The Poor (FFP).

Seeking to explain why the programme was being imple-mented at a snail's pace, Audrey Sewell, permanent secretary in the housing ministry, said many persons who are trying to benefit under the programme could not satisfy certain criteria such as proof of property-tax payment.

Sewell said the proposed beneficiaries have to first establish ownership of the property.

Committee member Audley Shaw expressed surprise that FFP required "poor people to pay up all the property taxes before they can get a house".




However, Sewell argued that because the ministry is partnering with FFP to build these low-income houses for the poor, it was a requirement for beneficiaries to pay their property taxes.

" ... The ministry could not support any kind of arrangement where benefits are being given and the Government's taxes are not paid," she said.

The ministry provides 50 per cent of the cost and FFP matches that amount to provide housing benefits for the poor.

Caroline Gardner, project director of the Jamaica Emergency Employment Programme, clarified that if the current amount owing for property taxes was paid and outstanding amounts remain, evidence of the latest payment could be submitted to FFP and the individual would be in a position to receive a benefit.

Under the Wooden Housing Initiative, members of parliament are asked to submit the names of 10 persons whom they believe are in dire need of this benefit.

North East St Elizabeth Member of Parliament Raymond Pryce is of the view that the programme presents barriers for the intended beneficiaries, noting that the normal FFP programme is more accessible than the Wooden Housing Initiative.

While conceding that there was the need to review the programme, Sewell said changes could not be made until the five-year programme is completed in the next two years.

PAAC Chairman Edmund Bartlett said the process must be revisited in the context of the issue of ownership of land.

He said the vast majority of persons who need this benefit are not owners of property.