Thu | Jun 30, 2022

Housing weaponisation a key challenge for NHT – Golding

Former PM says agency lacks ‘focus and steadfastness’

Published:Wednesday | May 25, 2022 | 12:10 AMKimone Francis/Staff Reporter
The head office of the National Housing Trust in New Kingston.
The head office of the National Housing Trust in New Kingston.
Former Prime Minister Bruce Golding
Former Prime Minister Bruce Golding

Former Prime Minister Bruce Golding says the weaponising of the provision of housing solutions by successive administrations is one of the key challenges facing the government-owned National Housing Trust (NHT).

Golding said as a result, the NHT, which has been a cash cow for the government, “has lacked focus and steadfastness” in fulfilling its mandate.

Approximately $145 billion has been diverted from the trust for budgetary support in the past few years, a decision Golding said has flagrantly disregarded the NHT’s mandate.

He said, too, that very often, the state agency, under varying administrations, abandons one policy to embark on another while failing to learn from the pitfalls of the previous.

“We pontificate from the political platform about who has provided more housing solutions when the truth of the matter is neither of us has provided anywhere near enough,” said Golding, who was the main speaker at the E Nadine Isaacs Memorial Lecture held recently at Jamaica College in St Andrew.

The governing Jamaica Labour Party, in 2020, said that it would provide 70,000 housing solutions if returned to government, on the back of a reported 20,000 housing solutions it said it had provided in its previous term.

The Opposition People’s National Party (PNP), meanwhile, said that it would provide 130,000 housing units in five years when it campaigned to form the government.

The PNP said that it would undertake a rent-to-own programme, where individuals would pay rent for a consistent period. A portion of this would go towards the down payment, later transitioning to ownership through a mortgage.

On Friday, Prime Minister Andrew Holness touted a similar solution to the housing woes in the country, promising to ease the demand by allowing Jamaicans to acquire their homes in a similar rent-to-own arrangement.

“We’re going to develop housing, that we can lease the persons, that pay for it over time and then eventually, they can have it,” he said while speaking at a handover ceremony for two, two-bedroom houses in East Central St James, under the social housing programme in the Ministry of Economic Growth and Job Creation.

However, Golding had before contended that even if the government of the day is able to build and deliver units in large numbers, they remain out of the reach of the two lowest quintiles of the housing market.

He said for more than 60 years, successive governments have undertaken several projects targeting lower-income groups but have never been able to meet the demands.

The housing needs of as much as 40 per cent of the country’s population, Golding said, are not being addressed.

He said that the 2019 National Policy document concluded that some 15,000 houses per year, over 10 years, are needed to fulfil the current housing demand.

Golding said in the last 60 years, only 221,000 houses were built at an average of 3,700 units per year.

He said 70 per cent was done under the aegis of the government and 30 per cent by the private sector, inclusive of individuals who built their own homes.

The former prime minister suggested that government land, equivalent in value and suitable for housing, be transferred to the NHT to make up for the funds pulled.

“Find a way so that you don’t impair the balance sheet of the trust or the ability of NHT contributors, maybe not immediately but certainly in the future, to get the benefit to which they have contributed and to which they are entitled,” said Golding.

He said that the NHT must tailor its approach to suit the ability of those in the lower cohort of beneficiaries, noting that those who hustle may not be able to afford a monthly mortgage, but perhaps a three-four-month payment plan.

Additionally, he said that the private sector must continue to be relied on to be the primary housing solution provider for the middle-income segment of the market.