Declaring that more must be done to make housing more affordable, several Members of Parliament today called for special funds to be earmarked for lending to would-be homeowners.
The MPs were contributing to the House of Assembly’s debate on a resolution for the acquisition of land at Harrismith, St Philip, which will be used for housing purposes.
Minister of Education Santia Bradshaw and Minister in the Ministry of People Empowerment and Elder Affairs Neil Rowe spoke on the high rise units at Valerie in Brittons Hill and the Grotto at Beckles Road – both projects of the previous administration.
Bradshaw said the high cost overruns on both projects made them unaffordable to the people who would have benefited the most from them.
She said: “A number of procedures were not followed in terms of how those projects were dealt with, so we had serious cost overruns.
“’Valerie’ had over 70 units, while ‘The Grotto’ had 76-80 units, but as excited as I got and others did, the reality is that many people were not able to acquire the units available, because we had a situation where the ‘Valerie’ project that started at $15 million, ended up costing an additional $7.7 million, while ‘The Grotto’ started at $18 million, but eventually cost another $9.8 million.”
Rowe said the high costs of the project resulted in tenants paying high rents. He queried: “How can people working for $250 or $300 a week, pay rent at $700 and still meet their other living expenses?
“We have seen people in these units going to the National Housing Corporation (NHC) and reaching out to MPs for transfers so they can get into the cheaper units for $35 a week, a clear indication that they are renting units above their means; I trust this Government and the MP for St Andrew (Minister of Housing George Payne) will address the situation.”
St Michael West Central MP Ian Gooding-Edghill called for the re-establishment of a financial institution similar to the now defunct Barbados Mortgage Finance Corporation, which made it easier for Barbadians from all income levels to obtain “a piece of the rock”.
He said: “With the Barbados Mortgage Finance Corporation, Barbadians could get loans from this facility for themselves and their families, some people had 20-year mortgages, while some got them as high as 40 years.”
He also suggested another facility, which he called a Provident Housing Fund. “This fund that will support low income development and housing, in that it will accommodate people who may be able to pay a rent of between $800 to $1,200, but don’t earn enough to make a deposit towards a mortgage. Poor people are often denied because they cannot source the initial deposit.
“Clients 50 years and older can take a mortgage at their current rental rate or equivalent for the remaining years of their work till retirement.
“After that, it can be renegotiated at a different rate. But if you are living with a spouse or child who can contribute, it can be adjusted so they can afford it.
“And if anything happens to the initial mortgagee, it will be bequeathed to the family and they will continue paying.”
Minister of People Empowerment and Elder Affairs Cynthia Forde called for the return of a General Workers Fund so lower income people could maintain their properties.
She said: “The General Workers Fund allowed people working for lower wages to borrow money for home improvement purposes.
“These days, such people are finding it hard to source funding for this purpose, and they are reaching out to other ethnic groups for assistance in purchasing building materials.
“I hope that when the economy improves we can bring this back, as well as the Housing Credit Fund.”