NHT not a charity says Holness
Prime Minister Andrew Holness has insisted that the National Housing Trust (NHT) is a financial institution to support housing development and not an institution for charity.
He made the comment while addressing the groundbreaking ceremony for the Union Acres Housing Development in Irwin, St James on Friday.
Holness said although the NHT was born out of concerns emerging from the labour movement, and was initially capitalised by funds from the National Insurance Scheme, it is not for welfare.
"I know when I say this, all kinds of people are going to jump up," he said. "The NHT is first and foremost a financial institution to support the development of housing in Jamaica. There is an illogical thinking amongst our people, where it believed that if we run our business as a charitable organisation, almost, that we will have the resources to be charitable. I want that point to sink in."
He said, in policy, the NHT has a duty to ensure that it provides affordable housing to its contributors, but the Trust has been used to provide social housing.
"But we don't take the NHT's funds- contributors' funds- and apply it wholesale in that way," he explained.
Holness said government has to ensure that the NHT is properly managed, similar to any other business, and the surplus from the operations used to develop social housing, subsidise housing, or offer solutions on the market to persons who can afford housing at market prices.
"So we are not into this business of using the NHT in such a way that it would place its balance sheet at risk," Holness insisted.
The prime minister, who has direct oversight of the NHT, noted that since the entity was brought into the Office of the Prime Minister, there have been no issues concerning its business operations. He commended the chairman and board for their governance, and the management for their running of the entity.
The NHT had come under harsh criticism from the public late last year for the prices of its development located on Ruthven Road in New Kingston. The prices for the high-end apartments range from $27.7 million to $37.7 million, up from the $16 million to $22 million it had announced in 2018. In its defence, the housing agency had blamed the price increase on the movement in inputs over the period.
70,000 units on track
Holness maintained that the government remains cognisant of the housing crisis in the country and is keen on providing the promised 70,000 units it had committed to in the lead-up to the 2020 general elections. The units were to be delivered in five years, or by the end of its term.
"Where that hat is hung, we have to tip to reach it. We have to stretch, but it is within our reach. It is something we can do. The NHT plays a critical role in that," he assured.
He noted that the NHT will be providing 43,000 of those units, and another plan, which will see the government providing the land for housing, will be implemented to supplement the cost of the development and deliver the projected number of units.
"So we have been going across Jamaica through all the agencies of government, identifying lands that can be put into housing. Now we have identified a certain acreage and we are going to make that acreage available, some of it to the NHT to develop," he informed.
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