MONTEGO BAY, St James – Prime Minister Andrew Holness said Friday that the mandate of the National Housing Trust (NHT) is that of a business and not a “welfare institution” as it is believed to be by some working-class Jamaicans.
“There is an illogical thinking amongst our people where it is believed that if we run our business as a charitable organisation we will have the resources to be charitable. I want that point to sink in. The NHT, by virtue of Government policy and certainty by the direction that I have given, has a duty to ensure that it can provide affordable housing,” the prime minister pointed out.
“We also use the NHT to assist in social housing, but we don’t take the NHT’s funds – contributors’ money – and apply it wholesale and totally in that way,” he added.
Prime Minister Holness, who was responding to points made by assistant general secretary of the Jamaica Confederation of Trade Unions Clifton Grant, acknowledged that this misconception may have been born of the fact that the NHT was created with the use of funds from the National Insurance Scheme (NIS).
“The NHT was born out of the NIS, the savings of workers, but the NHT is not a welfare institution and I know when I say this all kinds of people are going to jump up. The NHT is first and foremost a financial institution to support the development of housing in Jamaica,” said Holness during the ground-breaking ceremony of the Union Acres housing development in Irwin, St James.
Union Acres, a joint venture partnership between the NHT, the Jamaica Civil Servants Association and the Jamaica Confederation of Trade Unions, is expected to provide 144 two-bedroom units to civil servants.
Pointing out that the project was first announced in 1995 after a discussion between the then Government and the Jamaica Confederation of Trade Unions, Grant said that the Government should do more to hold up their end of the bargain.
“Coming out of the negotiation in the 1990s when the Government could not afford to increase the workers’ needs, we discussed [it] and the idea came out that parcels of land should be identified in each parish to build houses for public sector workers. So today we are here, and we are here because this is the second project coming out of this agreement,” said Grant.
“In 2006, ground was broken in St Catherine and in 2010, over 700 units were completed and delivered to public sector workers. We want to say that 2010 until now is too long to deliver the second set. Prime minister, I am saying that we need to sit down and work out a road map as to how to build out the rest of the units because the lands are there. We have identified them in all parishes. We need…to come up with a timeline as to how we can deliver the units because if we continue like this, every decade we will deliver 100 [and] then none of us will be around for the last set of workers to get their units,” Grant added.
However, Holness maintained that the Government is not “in the business of using the NHT in such a way that it places its balance sheet at risk”.
“What we do is to ensure that the NHT is run properly, like a business, and then the dividends from that proper management we decide how much of it we will use in social housing... how much of it we will use to subsidise housing and how much of it will go back into the market for those people who can afford housing on the market,” said the prime minister.
Grant, meanwhile, called on the NHT and the Government to deliver the Union Acres houses in a timely manner and “within budget”, and that the final price be affordable for the civil servants.
Holness, in response, said the cost of the houses to civil servants could probably be slightly below market prices because the Government had donated the lands which would subsidise the cost of units.