Speech by the Prime Minister

Handing Over Ceremony Friendship Oaks Phase 1, St Elizabeth

Handing Over Ceremony Friendship Oaks Phase 1, St Elizabeth

Keynote Address


The Most Honourable Andrew Holness ON, PC, MP

Prime Minister of Jamaica

At the

Handing Over Ceremony Friendship Oaks Phase 1, St Elizabeth


May 17, 2024



It is so good to be in my second parish of St Elizabeth. I have roots not too far from here and I spent many summers in this community so this is a place that’s near and dear to me.

Let me thank Pastor Kimoy Allen for the prayers.  And you know today is National Children’s Day and so let me thank the students who performed from the Goshen Primary School Culture Club; thank you very much. And the teachers who are here, the proud teachers, I could see them beaming with pride as the children sang and I too. I recorded it because I may make a little message to say here is what the children are saying.  We must rely on the mercy and the goodness of God so thank you so much for that message. And I am a fan of mento music, and I must make a commendation for the NHT that whenever we put on these ceremonies to mark the handing over or opening of our housing estates that they have sought to use local talent but more than that, they have sought to use our local talent that preserve our culture and heritage.  And I’ve gone to so many of these events where the entertainment is either from one of the cultural dance groups or a mento band and it is just always so relaxing. There is something about our music, our heritage that when it is performed as it was today, it gives a sense of calm. It takes us back to a period of time when we were gentler with each other, we were more emotionally sensitive about the content of the music, it was just a better time; and so, I want to commend the NHT and to commend the group for the performance. Thank you so much.

Let me officially acknowledge your Member of Parliament, Mr Delroy Slowley, who is doing an amazing job as your representative. He holds no punches in bringing the issues of concern of his constituents to the fourth and the issue you raised regarding delinquencies; I have had a word with the chairman who is having a word with the managing director so it is a matter that will be addressed at the board level of the NHT. But Duane was quick off the draw to point out that the NHT is a customer centric institution. It’s entire organizational structure and support is around satisfying the needs of the customers. That’s, that’s what it is and I’m very satisfied that the organization is fulfilling that mandate. So, if you have a challenge, just reach out to your local representative, the local office, and I’m certain that they will try to find a way to assist.

Thank you so much for attending this event. As I said, I am delighted to be with you this morning in participating in the Handing Over Ceremony for the Friendship Oaks Phase 1 Development in the Parish of St Elizabeth and we affectionately call St Elizabeth as parishioners, St. Bess.

St Elizabeth is renowned as the breadbasket of Jamaica, producing the vast quantity of ground provisions, root crops, fruits, vegetables, sugar, rum, coffee, and the finest ginger in the world.  It is always a pleasure for me to participate in these activities as it brings immense joy for me to see the happy faces of Jamaicans who are about to receive their keys to their home or titles to their land.  You cannot find a happier Jamaican than at that moment of realization that I am a proud homeowner or I’m going to own a piece of land.

Indeed, this is a major part of wealth creation for families but more so, it is the creation of intergenerational wealth, meaning that when the family gets this property, it is a legacy to be passed on for generations to come. Indeed, it can break the cycle of poverty and that is why every Jamaican wants to own a piece of the rock, wants to own a house or a piece of land because it is seen as the first step in ending intergenerational poverty and creating intergenerational wealth and the NHT is playing a very critical role in that but let me give you some  details of this development.

The NHT is doing this development on 36.8 hectares of land, and it comprises 256 housing solutions. Phase 1 will comprise 151bedroom units, 106 residential service lots and 8 commercial lots. The 106 residential lots are now ready, and we are handing over a representative number of these lots this morning.

Let me give you some information on the persons who are the selectees, those who will benefit.  Of the 106 service lots, 15 have been reserved for public sector workers and persons with disabilities and therefore 91 contributors outside of that pool was selected. We have 15 reserved for persons with disabilities and public sector workers so we took those off and distributed those separately and then 91 contributors were selected from the beneficiary selection process. Of the 91 contributors selected, 64% were female so this is going to be a scheme where the women dominate as is largely the case in the society.

In addition, the highest number of selectees, 53% earn between $42,000 and a $100,000 weekly so this is middle income, lower middle-income brackets and it’s important- I’m going to come back to this point. 36% of selectees therefore would have a mortgage with interest rates of between 0 and 2%. Yes, that’s a very low interest rate, concessionary interest rate. Of the 67% of note, 67% of the selectees are young adults between the ages of 25 and 40 and when I see this, I start to get worried. I’m out of that age range but yes. Again, another important point to note because a criticism of the government’s housing policy is that young people are not getting a benefit significantly so it’s important to note this point, that 67% of the persons selected here are between the ages of 25 and 40.

Further, 33% of the selectees work in accounting, administration, and clerical fields and 22% are in religion and education. The NHT’s current housing programme includes seven developments which will bring to market a further 4,108 housing solutions in St Elizabeth over the next few years.  And for the record, let me read it out because there is so much misinformation about what the government is doing or not doing that the average person who spends an hour or so on social media, or is listening to the radio while driving or may get a chance to scan the headlines, the information that you receive is largely incomplete, some of it totally inaccurate and a large  section of the information certainly in terms of where it comes from is designed to mislead and create a false narrative.

There has never been a time in our history where misinformation, false narratives, and outright lies could be manufactured and disseminated at such an intense scale as today and therefore, the average person is consuming information that is not necessarily accurate.  And if you are going to make decisions rationally, you have to make decisions on information and if the information you are receiving is inaccurate, it will lead to irrational and inaccurate decision making which could be a challenge for our democracy if people are making choices on false information so at every opportunity I get I go into details.

Now, the people who are good at public relations tell me that nobody wants to listen to a long speech, nobody wants to really hear the facts. People want to hear what is exciting, what is sexy, what is attractive, what is funny but then therein lies the great challenge. As citizens, as persons who will participate in the democracy of our country, we cannot reduce these serious matters to fun memes and to reduce serious and critical conversations to less serious attempts at understanding the issues that we face. So, at every opportunity I get, I try to put the information squarely in front of you so let’s talk about housing in St. Elizabeth and what are the plans and what you can expect to happen.

In St Elizabeth, what we have on the books are 4,108 housing solutions. These are not just plans, these are in varying stages of execution. We have the Malvern Housing Development, that will be an NHT scheme. It will have 30 solutions. Those solutions are service lots like what we’re giving here and that is set to be completed in 2025 next year.  We are at Friendship Oaks Phase I. We are handing out a hundred and odd units here, but we have 151-bedroom units that will be completed in 2027 in a few years’ time.

Again, at Friendships Oak Phase II, under the Developers Programme, we have 543 solutions. These are one-bedroom and two-bedroom units and service lots and those will be completed in 2027. In the Luana Housing Development, again, under the Developers Programme, we have 360 housing solutions made up of one-bedroom and two-bedroom housing solutions along with service lots, and that is slated for completion in 2028.  We have Gilnock I under our Developers Programme, 2,425 housing solutions comprised of one-bedroom and two-bedroom housing solutions and service lots that is slated for 2029. We have Holland Estate, that will be an NHT housing scheme; 540 housing solutions and these will be detached studios, one-bedroom and two-bedroom units that is slated for 2030.  We have Kensington in St Elizabeth under our Developers Programme that will have 60 units and that will be all one-bedroom units that is slated for completion in 2026 and that gives you the total of 4,108.

You will notice that our completion date goes up to 2030 which might seem a long time away and you may be wondering why such a long time. When the government goes to build a house, it doesn’t just get up one morning and send the backhoe and get the contractor. We have to go through some processes which are designed to ensure that the final product that you as a beneficiary get is sustainable from an environmental perspective, sustainable from a construction perspective that when it is built, you have no problems, that it is sustainable from an economic perspective that you can afford it and that it fulfilled all the rules and obligations for procurement for public sector investment  and administratively so that no one can say that there was any corruption or wastage involved in the construction of the units.

And so there is a whole process that we go through to build these houses so when the government says we have 4,108 units, they’re not going to all materialize at once. They are at various stages, so they have to be planned. There are some of them that are in the planning phase, meaning the architectural design, the engineering design. Some of them are in the negotiating phase, having planned it, now we have to negotiate the financing.  Some of them are in the procurement phase. After we have completed the financing and we have gone through all the other processes in government, then we have to find out who is going to build it and then we have to go through the permitting phase.  We have to get the parish council, NEPA, all the other permitting and regulatory agencies to give approvals and then finally, we start construction. And construction can take you as little as a year to as long as two or three years and that is the process so what you as citizens, residents, potential homeowners need to pay attention to is that train line of housing that is coming so you can start to plan.

Well, I know houses are coming in 2030, 2026, 2027, let me see how I can put my business in order. How do I get pre-qualified and start to target those houses that are coming and that is the factual information that I’m presenting to you as citizens so that you can make rational decisions so when you hear the false narrative, the fake news, the incomplete story, I am giving you now what the actual situation is for you to be truly informed citizens.

I also want to take some time while I have your attention to explain to you the NHTs overall housing plan, because again, there’s so much false information, incomplete information, false narratives out there. In this financial year, the NHT is projecting the commencement of construction of 15,000 housing solutions island wide with more than 96 percent of those housing solutions targeted to middle-income to low-income contributors.

Now, let me, let me spend a little time on that. These housing solutions, this 15,000, we will have 4,309 two-bedroom units, 7,600 one-bedroom units, and 3,100 service lots like what we are delivering here.  Now, what do we mean when we say targeted to low-income or middle-income earners?

There is a sense sometimes when we use these terms, that they are used as a pejorative, as demeaning in terms of people’s earnings or station in life; that’s not the intention. It is a ranking of where your income bracket falls relative to other income brackets, but we want to move away from that to say somebody is a low-income earner or a middle-income earner because regardless of what your income is, you want to own a house and so the NHT must find a way to make that achievable.

So, what we have said to the NHT is that internally we may use these categories to describe income levels because based upon categories, we assign benefits.  So, if you are a low-income earner, you might get a different mortgage rate from somebody who is a middle-income earner, or we may target the grants more towards the low-income earner for purposes of equity but still some people may view that terminology in a negative way.  So the terminology that we will use to describe the focus of the NHT, which is now by policy all the houses, in fact, I say all, but the appropriate thing would be to say the majority of the houses that the NHT is going to build going forward- policy set in the last two years, will be focused on  lower middle-income  to low-income to no income housing. In other words, the NHT is focused on achievable housing; that is the terminology that we are using, meaning you are all seeking to achieve this dream of housing.  Most of the country, the income level would fall in the category of low-income and therefore the NHT is to support low-income earners and lower middle-income earners to achieve their dream of owning a home.

The NHT is in the business of financing, constructing achievable housing solutions, and this housing development that we are handing over today is in keeping with that policy direction. So most of this 15,000 housing solution that will start this year and be delivered over the next three to four years will be achievable housing, low-income, lower middle-income, and for persons who have no income at all, that’s the focus now of the NHT.  Now, let me tell you of some of the initiatives of the NHT.

Now, let me tell you of some of the innovative initiatives to help people to achieve their housing goals. Your government has been working tirelessly to formulate policies that increase access and affordability of housing for NHT contributors and let me share a few of them with you. The expansion of the Ten Plus Home Improvement Loan effective 1st of July of this year, the NHT will revise its home improvement loan policy to allow all first-time mortgages to access home improvement loans up to 3.5 million dollars after 10 years.  So before non-public sector workers would have to wait 15 years before they could access this home improvement loan.

Now, we are changing that. So, you only have to wait 10 years to get your home improvement loan after you have gotten your initial first allocation from the NHT and that is a benefit to many persons because usually after you have purchased your home at 10 years you need some renovations. Your family circumstances may change. You might have another child, or your mother would have to move in with you so after 10 years is a reasonable time for persons to start to want to do additions or renovations to their homes. And the NHT has looked at that and we have adjusted the policy in favour of the beneficiary.

One programme that I like is the Smart Energy Home Improvement Loan. So, as of July 1, 2024, NHT contributors will be able to access a new loan product, called the Smart Energy Home Improvement Loan, to equip their homes with a variety of renewable energy technologies. These include solar panels and batteries, solar water heaters, solar insulation, other renewable energy technologies such as windmills and hydropower and biomass and importantly for St Elizabeth, rainwater harvesting and storage, which would include tanks and pumps.  The asset that is the house that is going to be used to secure the loan must have a useful life that meets and exceed the loan term. So if, if you come to borrow, make sure that when they come to inspect the house and they look at it, they will say this house will stand up for the next 20 years and it is not in a decrepit state.

Contributors may access up to 1.5 million dollars each. With two contributors, that means you would be able to get 3 million dollars for this smart energy home improvement loan.  The payback is at 5 percent for 10 years. You’re not going to get a loan like that anywhere right now and that’s a good loan and I encourage persons who want to reduce their energy consumption or persons who live in areas where the utilities are unreliable to access this loan and improve your utility, particularly your water and electricity.

 When I spent summers here with my dad, they had a big tank of stone and cement tank that was underground connected to the roof and that supplied most if not all of our water needs throughout.  And I tell you something, it’s the best tasting water I’ve had.  It’s cool and refreshing so I encourage everyone, particularly in areas like St Elizabeth to look at this loan and put in your home-based water supply system.

There is a solar panel home grant, and in this financial year, the NHT will expand its home grants to include the installation of solar panel systems on the houses of public sector pensioners up to a maximum of 1.5 billion dollars each.  The programme will target 30 pensioners per parish, each for the next three years, and the beneficiaries will be selected at random stratified by parish, and must meet the following criteria:

  • At the point of retirement, the pensioner was earning less than $30,000 weekly.
  • Must be a homeowner, and this includes owners of non NHT constructed houses.
  • Must be at the retirement age 60 and over.
  • And must not already have a solar system in place.

So, this grant is specific to public sector pensioners and the reason for this is that I’m certain that the NHT is getting quite a number of complaints and concerns expressed to it, that our pensioners are having it very difficult in meeting their utility bills and sometimes it is a trade-off between the utility bill and the mortgage and therefore the NHT again in responding to these concerns that have raised have sought to craft these kinds of programmes.

Now, we have a program called the Revised First Step Housing Programme. The NHT will develop one-bedroom apartment complexes within or near urban centres as starter homes. These apartments will be made available to contributors via sale agreements with an optional buyback clause. Now this, in my mind, is probably the most impactful of the innovative solutions that the NHT is putting forward. The buyback clause will give the mortgages the option to sell the property back to the NHT after a determined period. The trust may then repurchase the unit for resale to its contributors. Mortgages who sell their unit to the NHT on the disarrangement will be allowed to access a new benefit from the NHT in full towards the acquisition of a new home.

Now think of it. You have just left school.  You have gotten a job, decent paying job and the option before you is to rent.  You may be in an area where the rent is exorbitantly high, or you may be in an area where there is just no suitable space to rent. You may just be starting out with your family, and what you really need might be a studio solution or a one-bedroom solution. The NHT proposes to build these starter homes, and then as your circumstances change in ten years or five years or seven years, you get a promotion, you move to a higher income bracket, the family of two now becomes a family of three or four, you need more bedrooms; you could sell back the starter unit to the NHT at an agreed price  and then still access  your own owner benefit  to put towards the purchase of your achievable home.

So, you continue to get your homeowner benefit, plus you have a guaranteed sale for the unit that you have so you can step up in a life to a new unit with this policy.  It is an attractive policy for developers as well.  So, we have now created a new market category for developers to direct resources to because the NHT will purchase these units straight off the top in order to ensure that it has a pool of these starter units.

Now, as starter units are sold back into the pool and young people are coming up wanting to start their homes, they are then resold. So in effect, what we have done is to create an ecosystem of starter units that will serve our young people who are just coming up and facing the option of rent or buy. It is an excellent innovative policy, and it will work well to support certain industries like the BPO industry where they need a mass of young people in close proximity to where their offices are. It’s an excellent idea.

In addition to that, we have taken a policy decision to reserve 10 percent of all NHT benefits,  meaning  these kinds of developments that we’re doing for young people so  as you would have seen here, we had far exceeded that 10 percent threshold, but in all the developments that we’re doing, a minimum of 10 percent must be for young people. And in this case, when we say young, we’re not starting at 25, we are starting at 18 to qualify so it would be 18- to 35-year-olds so I definitely am out of that category.

Ladies and gentlemen, your government is working tirelessly to ensure that we have housing for our citizens. Regardless of all the other false narratives that you’re hearing, these are the facts. This is what we are doing, and what we are doing here has never been done before. It is in my mind transformational for Jamaica.

I wanted to take a little time to address some issues in the economy, but I will defer this until I see you again at some other time in the near future when we discuss more about housing. So, as I close my presentation to you today, the NHT is doing an amazing job in trying to leverage the contributors contributions to provide achievable housing for Jamaicans, housing for people with no income, people with low-income and people with lower middle-income earnings. The NHT is the key to your own home and the government is making sure that many keys are delivered.

Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for being such a wonderful audience. God bless you.