Jobseekers creating housing crisis in MoBay
Robin Russell, chairman of the Montego Bay Chapter of the Jamaica Hotel and Tourist Association, has admitted that Montego Bay’s housing crisis has come about as a result of the vast number of persons migrating from eastern, central and other parts of Jamaica in search of jobs in the expanding tourism sector.
According to Russell, given the high levels of employment being provided in the tourism sector as a result of its robust growth, there is a need for more affordable housing solutions for persons coming in St James to seek jobs.
“There is a need for significant investment in low- to medium-priced housing solutions. The tourism industry has steadily created more jobs in Montego Bay and persons from all over Jamaica migrate to our parish to seek employment,” he said.
According to Russell, unlike in the days when the sugar industry would help to provide affordable housing for sugar workers, the current climate does not offer that kind of scope in tourism.
“Tourism is based on a free market and there needs to be continued collaboration between the Government and private sector to provide the well-needed, affordable housing solutions,” said Russell, who is the managing director of Deja All-inclusive resorts in Montego Bay.
While noting that in recent times, housing projects such as Green Pond, Friendship, Grange and Spot Valley housing developments have provided up to 5,000 housing solutions, the need for more houses remains very high.
Russell strongly opposed the view that a house that cost between J$7 million and J$11 million is outside the range of the average tourism worker.
“No, it is not. Buying a house will be the most expensive thing anyone will do in their lifetime and it will take sacrifice and collaboration,” he said.
“The National Housing Trust (NHT) has excellent rates to assist persons who are not making enough money, but the option of joining with someone to assist with this investment is sometimes needed, as no longer can one partner be carrying the entire household,” the businessman noted.
Meanwhile, Tourism Minister Edmund Bartlett said urgent and continuous discussions surrounding the affordability of housing for workers, especially those attached to the hotel industry, have been ongoing for some time and that the formula to fix the housing crisis in Montego Bay is embedded in the policy shift announced by Prime Minister Andrew Holness in the 2019-2020 Budget as it relates to how NHT contributors are to benefit going forward.
“We have searched long and hard for a formula that can provide affordable housing for our workers, and we are proud of the policy shift that the prime minister has announced with regard to the NHT menu of benefits, which will see an increase in loan limit, reduced interest rates on NHT mortgages, intergenerational mortgages, and an increase in construction loan limit for NHT lots,” Bartlett said.
The tourism sector provides direct employment to over 117,000 Jamaicans while also generating indirect jobs for another 250,000 Jamaicans.
Citing a recently commissioned survey, Bartlett said almost 90 per cent of the country’s tourism workers are struggling to meet the criteria for a housing solution through the NHT.
“The housing condition of hotel workers is of particular concern to me. In fact, a recent survey indicated that over 88 per cent of the workers in the sector cannot even access NHT housing solutions,” said the minister.
Bartlett said a new window has been opened for hotel workers seeking homes, as J$1 billion has been set aside by the Tourism Enhancement Fund (TEF), which, along with the Housing Agency of Jamaica (HAJ), will be creating housing solutions for tourism workers.
“Our tourism workers deserve to live in clean, orderly, structured and safe communities with appropriate infrastructure. We will go beyond the call of duty to make this a norm across the island,” he added.
On May 1 last year, interest rates for all NHT beneficiaries decreased by one per cent; which saw the trust’s loan limit jumped by 18 per cent from $5.5 million to $6.5 million. While construction loans will be set at the value of a two-bedroom house in the scheme where the serviced lot is purchased instead of the difference between the cost of the lot and the NHT loan limit.
Along with that adjustment announced by Prime Minister Holness, the NHT’s minimum income band increased from $12,000 per week to $15,000 at the same zero per cent interest rate, which allowed more persons to access the home grant.