Fri | Mar 24, 2023

Social housing abuse

• Beneficiaries of government-issued houses found in breach of contract; some stealing electricity • Government urges recipients to comply with terms of agreement

Published:Sunday | March 19, 2023 | 12:21 AMAndre Williams - Staff Reporter
Illegal electricity connection was observed at some of the government-issued houses under the NSHP initiative.
Illegal electricity connection was observed at some of the government-issued houses under the NSHP initiative.
A garage was seen at the front of this premises.
A garage was seen at the front of this premises.
Modifications were being done at this property.
Modifications were being done at this property.
Nicole Hall was happy to be a beneficiary of one of the NSHP houses in January. Here Prime Minister Andrew Holness (centre) and Opposition Leader Mark Golding share in the moment. Months later, Hall is still struggling with JPS to connect her to the grid.
Nicole Hall was happy to be a beneficiary of one of the NSHP houses in January. Here Prime Minister Andrew Holness (centre) and Opposition Leader Mark Golding share in the moment. Months later, Hall is still struggling with JPS to connect her to the grid.
Up to November 1 last year, 118 individuals received houses under the New Social Housing Programme (NSHP), set up to improve the living conditions of the needy.
Up to November 1 last year, 118 individuals received houses under the New Social Housing Programme (NSHP), set up to improve the living conditions of the needy.
Audrey Sewell, permanent secretary in the Office of the Prime Minister and the Ministry of Economic Growth and Job Creation.
Audrey Sewell, permanent secretary in the Office of the Prime Minister and the Ministry of Economic Growth and Job Creation.
Sidonie Eldermire is happy to now have legal JPS connection, showing off her pay-as-you-use device.
Sidonie Eldermire is happy to now have legal JPS connection, showing off her pay-as-you-use device.
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A Sunday Gleaner probe has revealed that some recipients of homes issued by Prime Minister Andrew Holness under the Government’s highly celebrated New Social Housing Programme (NSHP) are in breach of the contracts. Some are engaging in electricity...

A Sunday Gleaner probe has revealed that some recipients of homes issued by Prime Minister Andrew Holness under the Government’s highly celebrated New Social Housing Programme (NSHP) are in breach of the contracts.

Some are engaging in electricity theft, while others are remodelling the units.

When the new homeowners were given their keys, they were provided with a raft of stipulations in keeping with the distribution of the multimillion-dollar homes. However, because of a lack of follow-up and enforcement on the part of the authorities, some are not living up to the agreed terms.

Up to November 1 last year, 118 individuals across the island received houses under the NSHP, set up to improve the living conditions of the needy.

Last week, The Sunday Gleaner visited six of the properties across the Corporate Area, finding five of them in contravention of the contract they signed with the Government.

At one of the houses handed over in February 2022, there is no legal connection to the Jamaica Public Service (JPS) grid more than a year after. A garage was also observed operating at the premises, with electrical wires illegally connected.

When The Sunday Gleaner spoke to the recipient, he said “I was wondering if is me suppose to do that part or what (regarding having a contract with JPS). Based off what I heard, they were to come and give me some paper so I could take it up there (JPS). I didn’t get the paper. But I figure I would have to get it regularise.”

He said, over the past year, he and his family have managed by “doing the thing” – extracting electricity illegally.

As it relates to the garage at the front of the premises, he said it was operated by a neighbour but because of a lack of perimeter fencing, it would appear that the government-issued house was part of the operation.

“That’s how we get light. Probably me need to go back go check the MP or his secretary or one of dem and ask dem to get in contact with JPS. We have water but we just a gwan bridge little light ‘til we sort out that part,” he said.

He, however, admitted that one year is a long time to have the matter unresolved, and cited his ailing 10-year-old daughter and mounting medical bills for the delay.

“Me really a wonder if a me afi dweet myself or get an independent person. As mi say, me nuh really do nothing out of the way, a jus the fence fi fix up and the light. Mi daughter ting is like a life-and-death situation or certain things woulda deal wid,” he said.

FEEL GOOD TO HAVE LEGAL LIGHT

Sidonie Eldermire, who resides in the prime minister’s constituency of West Central St Andrew, got her new home on December 14, 2022. She told The Sunday Gleaner that it took her almost three months to get legal electricity.

She is now getting used to the JPS prepaid meter, a pay-as-you-use service.

She admitted that she stole electricity up to a week ago and was also taking steps to regularise with the National Water Commission (NWC).

“I just print the certificate and carry it to them with the documents and they just connect it. Mi did just gwan use the bridge light until me get the certificate and go JPS. One week with the light and I feel very good and thankful,” Eldermire said.

She took The Sunday Gleaner team inside her house to show the device used to obtain electricity.

She hopes to get water by month end.

“I’m not really working now, so I just take my time. When they install the light, it come with $2,000. I don’t really use much, just the fridge and the roof light and charging me phone,” she said.

At another location, The Sunday Gleaner observed modifications being done to one of the houses issued under the NSHP. That recipient was not at home when we visited.

The standard windows were removed and French windows installed. A workman was also on the inside building a countertop, while another was outside putting finishing touches on a perimeter wall.

CONTRACT VERY, VERY CLEAR

Permanent secretary in the Office of the Prime Minister and the Ministry of Economic Growth and Job Creation, Audrey Sewell, was alarmed at the findings and told The Sunday Gleaner that, before the keys are handed over, the recipients know what is required of them.

“That would be a breach of the contract they have with the Government. We make it very, very clear and specific,” she said.

Sewell said that while the new homeowners are solely responsible for connecting light and water, they are not mandated. However, they have a lawful responsibility not to steal the commodity.

“There is an agreement they have to sign before they get the keys. The agreement outlines various conditions and the responsibility of the beneficiary as well as the ministry,” Sewell told The Sunday Gleaner.

“They can’t do any modification without the approval of the ministry, and the property must be used solely for residential and no commercial activities. They are also responsible for their own connection of water and electricity.”

She added, “The ministry would give them a letter to take to the utility companies. That contract is between the beneficiary and the utility companies.”

She said, once persons request letters, they are given in a timely manner.

Asked why legal utility connection wasn’t mandated in the agreement, she said, “It is probably something that we should look at, but, because we didn’t have any issues with it, we didn’t see it come up.”

The beneficiaries also cannot rent or sell the premises.

When asked about follow-up and enforcement, Sewell said, “We really don’t have the manpower at this time to go back to every house and check. We try but we really don’t have it,” adding that random checks are done from time to time.

“We have asked the regional offices to do follow-ups and one of the things we plan to do also is to ask SDC (the Social Development Commission) to help us in terms of the community development component, teaching and sensitising them how to keep the property, how to be good neighbours and what is expected of them,” Sewell said.

She added, “One of the greatest problems we have as a people are the things people do to beat the system. It is very challenging. It becomes a challenge to be there to be monitoring people who can’t be their own monitors to say ‘this is what is required of me to comply and adhere to rules and regulations’.

“People are people and it’s pretty unfortunate. Sometimes some of the very people you try to help to change their circumstances are the ones who really are most challenging to get them to comply.”

Programme coordinator Richard Cargill told The Sunday Gleaner that they are currently conducting an audit of all the locations and will now note those recipients who are not connected legally.

THE PROBLEM IS WITH JPS

Nicole Hall, a resident of Hopeful Village in South St Andrew, is another recipient who is in breach. But, according to her, it is no fault of hers.

Holness and her member of parliament, Opposition Leader Mark Golding, were on hand in January of this year to hand over the keys. However, when our news team visited the premises on Friday, Hall and two others who were presented with houses on the same day had illegal electricity connections.

Interestingly, another recipient nearby who was presented with a home in February 2021 was also illegally extracting electricity.

“Why I don’t connect with the JPS, from day one JPS come and put up light post but, because it run in the middle of homes, they can’t do a connection for us to get proper light over here. And the next issue we are having is they said we are not on the map. Right here you are seeing Greenwich Road and it is Hopeful Village,” Hall told The Sunday Gleaner.

Hall, a fire victim, said she had been communicating with JPS before she got the keys to her house.

“I have tried to regularise but will have to wait on them (JPS) to see what is happening,” she said.

The Sunday Gleaner emailed questions to Audrey Williams, media and public relations manager at JPS. However, a response was not forthcoming up to press time.

IMPROVE LIVING CONDITIONS OF THE NEEDY

The NSHP was established in 2018 by the prime minister as the housing component of the Housing, Opportunity, Production and Employment (HOPE) programme.

The initiative was developed to improve the living conditions of the country’s poor and disadvantaged by providing quality, affordable and sustainable housing.

The NSHP is implemented under the Housing Act and is governed by key pieces of legislative instruments and policies, to include the Financial Administration and Audit (FAA) Act, the Natural Resources Conservation Authority (NRCA) Act, Government of Jamaica Procurement Guidelines, the Building Regulations for the respective municipalities, and the Local Improvements (Community Amenities) (LICA) Act.

According to information The Sunday Gleaner obtained through Access to Information, for the period 2018/2019 to 2022/2023, $856,997,000 was received and $846,100,804.05 has been spent on the social housing project so far.

The method of selection of NSHP beneficiaries entails submission of applications from each member of parliament, who are to recommend five needy applicants annually.

The applicant must provide documentation and preliminary assessments are done in-house, followed by site visits where an interview/social enquiry is conducted.

The houses, which range from one- to three-bedroom units, are built by independent contractors and value anywhere between $5 million and $12 million.

Last December during a handover ceremony, Holness hailed the stewardship of the NSHP under the Ministry of Economic Growth and Job Creation.

He said that the ministry has strong systems and procedures in place to monitor and guide the process.

“We have strong policies, strong laws, and effective management to ensure that any form of state subsidy, any form of transfer, is done on a fair, equitable, efficient, transparent and accountable basis,” Holness said then.

andre.williams@gleanerjm.com