BY INGRID BROWN Associate editor — Special Projects firstname.lastname@example.org
BOARD Chairman of the National Housing Trust (NHT) Easton Douglas said Jamaica does not currently have the capacity for the entity to build the 400,000 housing units which are currently needed.
This is the case even if the Trust still had at its disposal the $44 billion which Government will be taking over the next four years to pay its debt.
Douglas said there simply aren't enough trained contractors to take on some of the developments that the Trust would need to undertake.
"What we are trying to do in NHT is to build that capacity... because developers have to be competent," Douglas told journalists at the weekly Jamaica House press briefing held at the Office of the Prime Minister in Kingston last Wednesday.
According to the NHT board chair, the Trust is focusing on creating a core group of medium- and small-sized contractors at its disposal for housing projects.
"We have about 16 such we want to put to work, but we have to be awaiting certification from the National Contracts Commission and from the Contractor General to make sure we can contract with them to build houses," he said.
The board chair said if these contractors were available they could assist with building smaller developments of 10-30 units, while leaving the bigger contractors to concentrate on larger housing developments.
"In any one year if you don't have the level of contractors or the amount of people to build, such as the plumbers, masons, sewer disposal persons, engineers and so on to do planning, developing and designs, you won't be able to spend more than a certain amount of money. So we are trying to develop that capacity so that we can spend as much money as required," Douglas said.
Pointing to the NHT's $10-million contribution to train a number of youth for jobs in the construction industry, Douglas said this will be an ongoing programme as the Trust moves to increase its capacity to produce more houses.
An arrangement, he explained further, had been made with the charity organisation Food for the Poor (FFP) to construct a number of low-income housing units at a cost of $1.77 million each.
Each of these units -- which are already being erected as part of a pilot project in Hamden, Trelawny -- is said to consist of 320 square feet of concrete floor, with a zinc roof, bathroom and dining room.
"It can be separated into a small dining room, two bedrooms, one with a double bed another with a bunk bed, and can comfortably hold a fridge and stove."
Beneficiaries, he said, are given a grant of $1.2 million to further upgrade these units.
"We had two of those units constructed and we upgraded one of them to see what it would cost and how it could be finished, and it cost $500,000 to tile, put in electricity and ceiling throughout," Douglas said.
FFP, he said, is expected to construct some 600 such houses per year, at a rate of 50 units per month.
Food for the Poor, Douglas said, is prepared to go across the island to construct the units for NHT beneficiaries on their own land.