THE EDITOR, Madam:
It is indeed good news to read that Minister Robert Montague will lead a housing campaign, in line with the Jamaica Labor Party’s 2020 election promise of 70,000 affordable housing solutions. This objective must be achieved before the next elections.
I hope ‘affordable’ means something that those on minimum wage can afford through National Housing Trust (NHT) loans. Otherwise, a large part of our population will continue to feel excluded and therefore more prone to antisocial activities. Owning a home, we know, is a powerful source of self-respect. The NHT is in the Prime Minister’s Office, where Mr Montague was recently posted. As such, the NHT will now be subject to “heavy manners” of delivering. Recall that there are approximately 900,000 Jamaicans currently living on “capture lands”, many of them on precarious riverbanks etc.
Funding 70,000 solutions shouldn’t be a problem for the cash-rich NHT. All the more so if the extraction of $11.4 billion annually from the NHT, begun in 2013 by the National People’s Party to help service the national debt, can now end. The law that belatedly legalized (without legitimizing) the theft of people’s contributions, supposedly held in trust, should be repealed. Even better if the 102.6 billion dollars collected so far were returned.
LAND IDENTIFICATION CHALLENGE
Mr. Montague spoke of the challenge of “identifying” land for low-cost housing. Well, here in St Mary’s alone there are 4,329 plots of government land, as listed by the National Land Agency. Some of this land should be made available at zero cost (with caveats) for low-cost housing solutions – it is, after all, the land of the people – if emancipation is to mean anything real .
If this were done with 12×12 starter homes built at a cost of no more than $1 million (perhaps less with contributed labor, habitat-style), the 70,000 solution goal could easily be hit. If an additional $500,000 is added per unit for infrastructure, the cost of $14,000 per year (70,000 in five years) would be $21 billion, roughly equal to the annual housing expenditures of the NHT (which are mentioned in their annual reports). Mortgage costs on a $1.5 million loan, over 30 years at zero percent interest (which is the NHT rate for low-income people), would be just $4,166 a month, surely less that many pay in rent. If payments are missed, there’s no reason mortgages can’t become cross-generational.
As for what is sometimes described as a lack of ability of entrepreneurs to achieve such results, I don’t quite believe it. There are several thousand people in Jamaica with some level of construction skills and experience. All it takes is HEART/NSTA Trust (also in the Prime Minister’s Office) to step up and offer short courses and certification, perhaps apprenticeship-type, on-the-job training.
Hopefully in a few years we are not told that the plans for genuine low cost housing solutions by the thousands have been stalled by another round of excuses.