The National Housing Trust (NHT) has the budget to finance housing solutions for low-income earners who are not NHT contributors, says former Prime Minister Bruce Golding.
He made the remark while delivering the main address at the E Nadine Isaacs Memorial Lecture, which was held last week at Jamaica College in St Andrew.
In discussing the Gore Developments Limited’s legacy in the conceptualisation of housing solutions for the underserved population of Jamaica, Golding noted that, “Land ownership is an emotional issue in Jamaica,” pointing to housing challenges when it comes to securing land and land titles.
“Inflows to the NHT are robust enough to allow some leveraging to finance solutions for non-contributors. The NHT pulls in each year around $30 billion of mandatory contributions. Especially after the annual drawdowns for budgetary support come to an end in 2025, some NHT funds could be leveraged with an appropriate guarantee and treated as an investment no different from the range of instruments in which the NHT normally invests to finance housing solutions to those low-income earners who are not NHT contributors. The repayments would return the funds to the rust,” he explained.
Golding’s comments were made on Friday before employees of the State-run institution took industrial action over what they claimed was the slow pace of salary negotiations.
Golding called on the Government to put underserved populations on a path to achieve their earnest desires of having a place to live and call their own, where they can raise their families and try to better their lives.
“Yes, we must continue to provide the $16-million and $17-million two-bedroom house for those whose incomes can afford it – the teachers, nurses, mid-level managers, supervisors, and technicians. We must encourage Phillip and Chris Gore and others like them to continue to produce the quality houses they are building, which have brought so much satisfaction and made such a difference to the well-being of the thousands of their purchasers. We must salute and encourage Food For the Poor to continue to provide their modest but oh-so-welcome houses for those who are living in squalor and are unable, on their own, to do otherwise,” emphasised Golding.
The former prime minister pointed out that the Housing Act, which was introduced in 1968, empowered the minister of housing to allow private developers to bypass the approval requirements of the planning authorities, fast-track their projects, and save costs.
“These projects did much to address the needs of the growing urban middle class, a segment of the market for which the private sector, operating alone or in partnership with the Government, has amply demonstrated its capacity to satisfy. Gore Developments has been a stellar performer in this regard. It has been in existence for 50 of the last 60 years, over which time it has built over 16,000 houses in 19 schemes across four parishes. It has been able to deliver these units at competitive prices by maximising the economies of scale and its meticulous attention to coordinated planning and project management,” Golding said.
“I believe that projects like the NHT’s Ruthven Towers, with unit prices averaging over $30 million, should have been left to private sector developers. Not that the NHT should not finance mortgages for that type of project, because eligible purchasers are among its contributors and they are entitled to receive mortgage benefits like any other contributor, but the time and effort it spent on Ruthven Towers would have been better spent delivering housing solutions to its underserved cohort,” Golding continued.
While noting that Gore Developments Limited and the Gore Family Foundation are the masterminds behind the completion of residential projects such as the Phoenix Park Village in St Catherine and the Camelot Village in St Ann, Golding said that appropriate housing for lower-income groups remains a big challenge in Jamaica.
“The limit to what they can afford makes this group unattractive to private developers and unbankable to private sector mortgage lenders. Their prospects of owning a home depend largely on the Government, and enabling our people to own a piece of this rock should be their birthright,” said Golding.
The memorial lecture was held in honour of architectural pioneer E Nadine Isaacs, who would have celebrated her 80th birthday on the day.
According to Golding, Isaacs was persistent in her advocacy to establish an appropriately accredited school of architecture in Jamaica to enable Jamaican architects, similar to training done in respect of doctors and lawyers.
“That dream was realised in 1988 with the establishment of the Caribbean School of Architecture to serve Jamaica and all the small island states of the Caribbean with their peculiar sociological characteristics and environmental vulnerabilities. Quite fittingly, she subsequently served as head of the school,” Golding said of the honoree.
“I am, therefore, honoured to have been asked to participate in this annual lecture series and to join with the Gore Foundation in invoking Nadine’s legacy in the continued search for solutions to the housing needs of the majority of our population. I commend the foundation, as well, for awarding a scholarship in the field of architecture each year in her memory.
“I congratulate the 18 scholars who have been chosen over the years. Nadine is not here to mentor you, but she has left a template to guide you to even greater achievements,” Golding concluded.