INDUSTRY COVE, Hanover — The Government is to put in place standards and training for private contractors of housing developments as it moves to meet housing demand, according to Prime Minister Andrew Holness.
"The Government is contemplating how to regulate that sector to ensure that we get quality," he said while quickly giving the assurance that the goal was not "another bureaucratic constraint being placed on an economic agent".
It is not unusual for homeowners to complain about substandard work after they have received the keys to their houses.
Two weeks ago the Jamaica Observer reported that new homeowners at Edmund Ridge Estate in Montego Bay, which was recently built by the Housing Agency of Jamaica (HAJ), were frustrated about the quality of work on the units.
"Keys were handed over to me for a dirty house; the yard was bushy and there was a lot of garbage in the front yard. While doing the defect walk-through I realised that the whole house was covered in the glue that they used to do corking. What is also strange is that the same type of glue they used to cork the windows was used to do even the ceiling and it has a very messy finish," said a homeowner who requested anonymity.
However, HAJ Managing Director Patrick Thelwell said the agency has has already started the process of rectifying the defects.
"We are working with our partner and contractor to remedy those defects over a six-month liability period. We have started rectifying those defects, however, we understand the impatience of our residents, given that these are new homes and their expectations might be different from what is really on the ground," said Thelwell.
On Friday, Holness indicated that he is banking on Government support for, and increased scrutiny of, contractors to improve the quality of work being done.
"The Government has to take a development and supportive role with our contractors. Our contractors need training, they need exposure and they need standards to which they should adhere. Now, there are some standards set by, for example, the National Contracts Commission and other entities — mostly related to financial and integrity issues. But I think we need to pay close attention to actual output and quality issues if we're going to really meet these 70,000 housing solutions without having an article per day about the quality of the output," he explained.
His Administration has given a commitment to providing 70,000 houses during its ongoing five-year tenure. The plan was to distribute about 10,000 by the end of 2022, but that was impacted by the novel coronavirus pandemic.
"In doing the 70,000 you know there are many issues we have to resolve and I think we have resolved most of them. The one that we are working on now is to get the contractors in place. I am fairly confident that we have capacity here. If we engage them properly and we start to set standards for contractors… we can get the level of work and the quality of work that would be required," the prime minister said.
His comments came on Friday during a handover ceremony for Industry Cove Manor near Green Island in Hanover. Almost 600 applications were received by Jamaicans eager to own one of 63 units up for sale, yet another indicator of the huge demand for housing in the country. The development consists of 23 detached two-bedroom houses and 40 two-bedroom townhouses on 12.21 acres of land.
The two-bedroom units were sold for $17.89 million while the townhouses were $18.72 million each. Forty-six of the 63 units were sold on the open market while 17 were allotted to civil servants and other selected groups.
In addressing the high demand for housing, the prime minister gave an update on two ongoing National Housing Trust (NHT) projects that will provide 1,235 houses in Hanover. This includes the 1,100-unit Winchester development where 678 houses have already been completed.
"When I come to Hanover the next time I will be handing over 10 times more units than I am doing now and then we have another project with 135 housing solutions, which I'm hoping will be ready by 2023. So, there are huge projects here for this parish, which will have an impact on the number of houses that we have promised," said Holness.
He noted that although the Government has ramped up efforts at supplying housing — providing about 6,000 units each year, three times the amount it once did — there is need for private sector involvement, especially in the affordable and low-income segments of the market where there is strong demand and where the Government has "not been very successful".
"The NHT have stepped up to the plate and say we are going to do 43,000 houses in the next five years. That is really going to stretch them and is going to stretch the resources… We have some private contractors who are coming on board, but we just don't have enough…The demand is good and we have the facilities for mortgages. What we don't have on the construction side is enough contractors...It's not just having the contractors but it is having the contractors that can deliver the quality of work," stated Holness.
Turning his attention to the higher end of the market, he said an Act that governs gated communities will be implemented shortly. He said it is in its final stage of drafting and is aimed at protecting property value for homeowners. He called on residents of gated communities to follow the rules outlined by their respective community groups.