The government will not condone favoritism with regard to the provision of housing to Bahamians, and will deliver for the people of The Bahamas hundreds of service lots where they will be able to build their own homes, Prime Minister the Rt. Hon. Hubert Ingraham told parliamentarians this week.
In addition to its plan to build homes, Mr. Ingraham added that the government will also facilitate aspiring homeowners in securing mortgages to build homes on the lots should they require such assistance.
The Prime Minister’s remarks came as he wrapped up debate on a Resolution for the conveyance of 88.279 acres of land in Spring City, Abaco as part of the government’s housing programme. Housing demand is Spring City is said by Mr. Ingraham to be considerable.
“We are going to deliver for the people of The Bahamas hundreds and hundreds of service lots where we are going to sub-divide the lots, put in the utilities and make available to hundreds of people the opportunity to be able to buy a lot, build their own homes and facilitate them in terms of getting a mortgage to do so where they need such assistance,” Mr. Ingraham noted.
“We are also going to build some homes.”
The Prime Minister went on to condemn the practice of favoritism with regard to the granting of housing by the government, pointing out the level of unfairness created by the practice.
“People are standing in line, hundreds who have their deposits, who have needs and children and they cant get [housing], and because of favoritism, because of politics, this family or this individual is picked out, taken and told ‘you have the key for this house and you go in and pay nothing.’ That is wrong and we are not going to condone that.
“These are favoured people,” Mr. Ingraham continued. “It has nothing at all to do with poverty. You have no argument with me about poverty, but you do have an argument with me about favoritism. We just want the similar rules to apply.”
During his contribution, the Prime Minister put into perspective the matter of government housing and its indicators when viewed in the context of the state of the nation’s economy. He also touched on historical challenges and present day realities in the government housing sector.
“The principal impetus for improved housing in a society is employment,” Mr. Ingraham pointed out. “Once you get the economy right, lots of people will buy and build their own homes. Governments have been helping a minority of the people in terms of housing.
“In fact, when you look at the statistics produced for housing construction during the period when the PLP was at its peak in terms of home construction, you will find that the numbers do not exceed the numbers of new home construction during the 1990’s when the government was not building as many homes. But there were more jobs, and people were making more money and they could therefore build their own homes.”
While government housing programmes continue to be a fixture in the platforms of successive governments, Prime Minister Ingraham indicated that home construction is one of things governments are not good at.
“What we find is that governments are not very good at building homes,” he said. “[Of] all of the problems that have been talked about in terms of houses built over the last five years, the same thing can be repeated 10 years or 15 years ago on a larger scale.
“When I became Minister of Housing in 1982, the member for Farm Road and Centreville (the Rt. Hon. Perry Christie) had been Minister of Housing, and he left 100 incomplete houses in Yellow Elder Garden on which no work was taking place. The contractor had forsaken the job for probably very good reasons. And before then there had been another period of time when a similar situation had arisen all because of differences between the contractor and the government.”
Mr. Ingraham additionally pointed to rental unit programmes in Nassau and Exuma that experienced success in one location, but not in another, or where the programmes were not utilized by residents over time.
As the government seeks to progress with its housing programme, it is currently cleaning up the “mess” Mr. Ingraham said it met in place in Housing when it came to office last May.
“We met a mess when we came in, we are cleaning that mess up,” he assured. “One of the great differences between ourselves in coming to office and the other side was that in 2002 they met the ability to have $45 million in cash for housing, they met subdivisions already planned by the FNM and they were ready to go.
“We met no such thing,” Mr. Ingraham added. “We met a broke entity, hundreds of houses that are incomplete, the government’s programme of housing had come to an end, whether in San Salvador where they left houses incomplete, in Exuma, Nassau, Grand Bahama and in Abaco where there were a few.
“And so we are starting from a different base than they did. Notwithstanding we make no complaints, we merely say what the reality is.”
In keeping with reality, the Prime Minister emphasised that longstanding problems with regard to housing do not have a quick fix, noting that deterioration in housing conditions have taken place over the last 40 years.
“Over the last 40 years, we have been in office for 10 of those years. We have our share, but our share is a minority share. As a minority shareholder in this problem, we shall do all we can to help to alleviate the problem, but we make no promise that we can solve the problem.
“It is not a soluble problem and we are not seeking to announce any grand scheme of things that says we will do any such thing,” he said.
A factor in challenges encountered within the government’s housing programme is the number of persons in default to the Bahamas Mortgage Corporation.
As the Corporation seeks to decrease its number of loans in default, Mr. Ingraham reminded parliament that the government has the means by which to deal with persons who by reason(s) beyond their control, are unable to make good on their mortgage payments.
“That’s what the Housing Guarantee Fund is [for] that was established by the UBP back in the 1960’s. It probably has $10 million or more in it,” he explained.
“The Minister of Housing has the ability under the appropriate circumstance to be able to pay a mortgage company off, take ownership of the house, lease the house back to the persons who are occupying it and make arrangements with them so that over a period of time, they too can become an owner of that same house.”
But the Mortgage Corporation is not a social institution, the Prime Minister stressed.
“It is a lending institution so to that extent they have to apply normal, prudential rules. But that doesn’t mean that the person is necessarily put on the street.
“I am not talking about those who refuse to pay – that is a different story.”