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NHT responds to sugar workers' housing story

Published:Friday | February 26, 2010 | 12:00 AM

WE NOTE an article captioned 'Sugar workers housing dilemma', pub-lished in the Business section of your newspaper on February 24. Apart from its sensational appeal, the article was inaccurate in parts and, in instances, misinterpreted the facts surrounding aspects of the Sugar Workers' Housing Programme (SWHP). The following seeks to clarify the matter in an objective manner and with reference to the agreement governing the NHT's involvement in the SWHP.

Your claim that thousands of sugar workers whose jobs were made redundant in 2008 are "now at risk of losing their homes" is somewhat ambiguous within the context of the story written by your reporter. The article implies that these workers are beneficiaries of the SWHP. We note, however, that this claim is exag-gerated, as the total SWHP mortgage portfolio is just 2,311.

The truth is that despite an increase in the delinquency rate among beneficiaries of the SWHP, the NHT (National Housing Trust) has not submitted any unit for sale through foreclosure since the sugar workers' jobs were made redundant in 2008. And even prior to the redundancy, only six units of persons in chronic delinquency were submitted for sale.

The facts, therefore, do not support your assertion. As we noted in our written responses supplied to you on February 22, 2010, and as you have quoted in your article, "despite the challenges, the NHT continues to work with affected mortgagors to help them retain possession of their properties". As part of this drive, the trust has approved the application of 25 mortgagors who have sought payment relief under the moratorium offered generally to mortgagors.

The Frome development

Your article also quoted a BITU (Bustamante Industrial Trade Union) executive alleging that the trust had placed 114 lots at Frome on the market for sale in November 2009. Additionally, you quoted an NWU executive as saying that this was a breach of the arrangements governing the SWHP.

We deny both allegations. No solution was placed on the market for sale in November, and the trust is not acting in breach of the SWHP in how it is handling the proposed disposal of the remaining solutions at Frome.

The Frome project consisted of 664 lots which were offered for sale to sugar workers on that estate in 2006. Of this number, 549 lots were taken up by the Frome workers, leaving 115, which the trust now has in inventory and which it proposes to dispose of.

The NHT's disposition procedure is being guided by the following in the agreement with the estates and the unions on how the solutions under the SWHP are to be disposed:

1"The housing solutions will be made available to the workers of the estate up to a period not exceeding two years after the completion of the project." We note that the Frome project was completed in April 2006 and the offer for sale to Frome workers expired in April 2008.

2 "The housing solutions that are not taken up by sugar workers of the related estate within this period will be offered to sugar workers on the other estates for a period not exceeding one year at the same price." We note that this condition was met by the trust and the offer for sale to workers of other estates expired in January 2009.

3 "The housing solutions that are not taken up by the sugar workers on the other estates within this period will be offered for sale by the NHT on the open market at market value."

We emphasise that the NHT's holding of the 115 solutions at Frome in inventory since the expiry of the offer to the workers at the other estates is being done at a cost to the trust. This is happening at a time when the national drive is for efficiency and cost-effectiveness in state agencies as part of the Government's efforts to deal with the economic recession.

Your article stated that the NHT and the unions are on 'a collision course'. We beg to differ in the interpretation of the situation. The NHT is quite open to discussion and has been quite flexible in dealing with the challenges facing the SWHP. While the trust is prepared to assist sugar workers to own homes under the SWHP, the organisation must operate in a manner which protects its contributors' resources, which is exactly what we are doing under the SWHP.

Howard Mitchell

NHT Board Chairman