The Most Honourable Andrew Holness ON, MP
NHT Handing Over Ceremony
Nashville Mews, St Mary
November 24, 2017
It is good to be back in St Mary, and especially to be handing over these units to the proud beneficiaries at Nashville Mews.
As Dr Clarke pointed out this event was planned for much earlier, but some events intervened or we will call it a super veiling event. But nevertheless and Dr Clarke explained all the considerations and ramification and equivocations. We decided that anything you’re going to do, you’re going to get criticized and we were already being criticized for making an allocation which was made long before the super veiling event in fixing the incoming road. And you know what? Its 32 beneficiaries, 40 housing units and we wouldn’t want your housing units to be tied up in any kind of controversy.
You have worked very hard. You’re going to be paying for it with your hard earned salary and you deserve to have a controversy free home so we decided that we have to protect the institution of the NHT which by the way has been one of our best performing public institutions over these many years. And you know, at the altar of politics sometimes people forget that it is important to maintain the confidence and probity and integrity of institutions. Without that, the institutions can’t function properly and so I made a decision that we wouldn’t bother to, during the silly seasons of elections to make anything silly happen to the NHT, right Morais?
This is my second handing over ceremony, but you would have seen me at the lectern so many times doing what we call the ground-breaking. I believe, help me out here Martin: I’ve gone about 12 ground-breaking exercise already… 12? Probably a little more than 12 but so many of them I don’t remember it fully but 12 is a safe thing. We have done a bit.
You know these numbers thing these days enuh, everybody has something about a number, and I’m getting into a lot of trouble already about this number thing so I’ll leave that for another time but I’ll explain it to you Morais if you didn’t get it. Dr Clarke can tell you that we are on target for more than 4,000 housing starts this year, this calendar year already, which is amazing and as he said- and we’re not finished yet, 4500 already!
It is just amazing what we’re doing with the NHT but I’m even happier to be at the handing over ceremony. I mean that’s when the emotions start to flow, when people realize that “Yes I finally have my own home. I can put in my key, turn it, open it, close the door and breathe a sigh of relief. I’m home.” And I see some of the beneficiaries smiling at that thought because many of you probably would be just waiting with such great anticipation for this day and I can, I can attest to that, having that experience myself how very empowering it is to own your own home and I want all Jamaicans to have that feeling.
The NHT is on track to deliver housing solutions following my two word mandate ‘build house’, but I had to put some caveat on that; build affordable houses so that people can actually afford the housing solutions.
I’m especially pleased to share that this project was done under the agencies Labour and Small Materials Programme the LSMP. The LSMP was started in 2007 with its genesis being the small contractors programme and this programme engages contractors to participate in the construction of housing units in completed service lot development based on their experience and proving track record in building construction. The objectives of the programme are to develop and maintain the competencies, viability and skill levels of contractors at the current NCC grade 3 and grade 4 levels so this is truly a small contractor programme.
It is to develop the requisite skill levels in the labour force for construction, and this is not a point to be underestimated. We have set a very ambitious target, and certainly we will achieve the target. The obstacle to that target is not financing. The obstacle is likely to be existing skills within the labour force.
Clearly we have unemployment, we have young people who we could easily pull into construction, but more and more construction is becoming less about mixing concrete and more about the technical and finer skills of finishing, of being able to read blue prints. More and more technology is being employed in construction, and so construction is becoming smarter and the people who are being pulled into the construction sector for employment they have to also be at a certain skill level where they can use the technology and where they can give a higher level of finishing.
This programme is good because it brings in the small contractor, it brings in the labour force within a certain locale, but from a national strategic level, it gives our young people an opportunity to develop the necessary skills that will be brought into the bigger programme. As Dr Clarke mentioned 15000 housing solutions in partnership with the private sector and when it starts, it creates its own synergy. He was telling of a new kind of mathematics so it’s the private sector effort plus the public sector effort but when they come together they create another thing which wasn’t there before; it’s called a synergy which gives you a greater output. When it was just only one plus one, not together, that gives you two but when they come together, they create the synergy then that is how you end up with the Nigel Clarke mathematics of 3 which is really the synergy being the third element.
40 houses are available here, may not seem like a lot but Morais you know the people of St. Mary don’t have many options in terms of NHT schemes because not many are in the parish. We’re planning to do 340 more but the demand is there. We set aside eight units for public sector workers, for policemen, and soldiers, and teachers, and importantly for persons living with disability.
Recently we did an order to approve certain units in certain developments for persons with disability. It worked out to maybe two or three and persons in the Senate when they saw it immediately rang me up and said “Prime Minister only 2 units you reserve for people with disability?”
I am agreeing with them that we probably should do more but given the level of demand, we were not able to do that in those schemes but I want to reassure the community of persons living with disability, that we’re going to take a serious look at reviewing that to see how best we can accommodate more persons living with disability, to give them a greater opportunity to own their own home.
But the bigger point that I wanted to make is this… because we do not have a properly functioning housing market, we have to engage in a rationing mechanism. If you had a properly functioning housing market meaning that contractors and developers were building as many units as are being demanded in the market, then the only rationing criteria is, can you afford it? So the pricing mechanism would become the rationing mechanism but now, to get the NHT house you have to apply, you have to be put into a certain computation and algorithm to come out to figure out who should get the benefit. You have to, and it is by what you call a point scoring system.
In this case, my notes telling me that, how many persons applied Martin? 232– seven times the number of housing solutions available and all of them could pay the price but because the market isn’t working. S our job and this is where we have departed from previous policies – our job in the NHT is not necessarily to build all the houses because the NHT doesn’t have the capacity to build all the houses being demanded in the market. Our job is to build up that partnership with the private sector because the capacity may not exist in Jamaica right now to build all the houses that are needed, but it doesn’t exist because they have not seen a signal from the Government that we are willing to do what is necessary to build that partnership to support the emergence of the capacity.
Remember now, private sector people are going to have to go and make investment in equipment, train technical skills and then they want to know is the land available? Will the Government move swiftly in giving the approvals so when I make the investment and take the risk, my money that I have put down, that I have borrowed from the bank is not at risk because somebody sit down in some office somewhere scratching them head and said “Cho that can wait“. Because that is what it comes down to. We have departed from previous strategies for building houses, we are now engaging a more deliberate, organized, and instrumental policy where we intend to engage, and we have started to engage the private sector.
When we talk about private sector in Jamaica, people feel that I am talking about rich people. The private sector is the small contractor as well that we have engaged to do this development and we want these small contractors to get more of these development under their belts so that they can become bigger contractors and take on bigger projects.
I’m using this platform to say that the Government wants to partner with developers to increase the production capacity of houses. So that you don’t have to now apply for a house and then go through a grading system other than “Do you have the monthly mortgage payment?”
You know in Montego Bay where I toured yesterday, there is a housing scheme there, The Estuary; 1500 housing units and I gather that you got over 11,000 applications. So the demand is real and it is amazing because you all learn the theory of economics, once there is demand somebody is going to try and fulfil it. But it is not so in the housing market because there are so many other issues that prevent people from directing resources there and one of them is the bureaucracy around permitting and regulatory structure.
I wanted to as I mentioned Montego Bay, point out that we have passed the new Building Act in the lower house; it is going to be reviewed in the senate. We have now, I think a Building Act which will set really, modern standards for building, and the Bureau of Standards is identified in the Act as the Agency to set and maintain the standards, whilst the municipal authorities will be responsible for enforcing those standards.
As I travelled through Montego Bay yesterday to observe the dislocation, It was clear to me that the magnitude of unplanned, unregulated settlement in Montego Bay, and not just Montego Bay but right across Jamaica; it is now a national emergency. It is at a point of crisis.
The unplanned settlements exist not just because politicians have tacitly and sometimes openly encouraged people to go and capture settle land. I can thankfully say I have never done that, I am not one of those politicians. I don’t come from that era, I reject that totally and I rebuke those politicians who have done it. It has left us a bad legacy and even though the question of the equity is still there, as you know, where are we going to live if we didn’t settle the land? Is a valid question, but the role of the politician is not to encourage people to break the law. The role of the politician is to develop policies and if the law is not helping to develop news laws that help and enable people. So now, we have a system of people feeling that they can settle anywhere; and in fact have a right because they have been empowered by the political system to settle.
It would be bad and not so bad, if we did not have to now contend with illegal settlements, informal settlements, but we have to also now contend with something that many Jamaicans don’t start to even wrap their minds around it yet and that is the environment matters. Somehow, we just live and believe that we can cut down tree, build anywhere, throw plastic in the gully, dump rubbish in the gully, burn to clear fields and it don’t matter. More and more we are seeing that the environment matters and I want all of you here to stop and think, when last have we seen a shower of rain. It rained between 2pm and 7pm in Montego Bay; three and a half inches of rain that is the equivalent in a few hours of the entire month’s rainfall in that parish. It rained so heavily, I witnessed it myself, that it obviously eroded hillsides that were cleared, and now I am not talking about dirt or sand. It dislodged rocks; marl stone, carried it down the hillside into the gullies, and totally blocked drains.
When you look at the north gully which is a sizeable waterway, it was totally flooded; it over-spilled its banks, washed out the people who were living along the gully side. This is a very serious issue. I am not saying that I don’t want to care getting into the technical and academic debate about climate change but what we are certain of, is that our weather patterns are changing, there is variability in our weather patterns, we are having what I call unusual and intense weather events, and these weather events which would have happened once every decade maybe once every 50 years, they are now happening once or twice a year because that same level of rainfall also fell in Jamaica in April, May, and June so these intense weather events which we use to have every ten years maybe or every 10 years we are having them now almost yearly.
The impact of that along with now cutting down the hillside, clearing the coverage, living on the gully banks, throwing things in the gully, blocking the drain; when the rain comes, we are all then impacted with flooding so we have a twin problem: how we build and how we treat our environment. And if we just leave it like that it is going to get worst because when I tour, somebody is saying to me “Me house almost wash weh.” Well then let’s start to think now, how am I going to solve that? Am I going to replace your house? Do I have to now go and build a taller, thicker, stronger gully wall so that your house can stay? And how many houses am I going to do this for? Or now do we start to think smartly as a nation, put aside all the political and historical and cultural issues and start to say, well it is in our interest that we start to think now about a policy as to how we can get the people who have been living on gully banks or living in areas that are prone to flooding, that we start to think about how do we move from these areas.
I know it is a complex issue. I don’t want to complicate it any further. What I will say is that you have a Government who understands the issues, who is not looking to force anyone, but who is looking to educate, who is looking first of all to start the conversation so that people can of themselves voluntarily change their actions and comply with reasonable Government policy and on the other hand government must support, encourage, and enable people to live in ways that is in keeping with the law. One way to do that is to build the housing solutions that people require because if there is a house on the market that meets my price point or my particular income level or my income circumstances, I am sure that the reasonable rationale Jamaica would say let me go and acquire that housing solution rather than to go see somebody land or see some Government land and go and move onto it.
More than anything else what is driving Jamaicans is we have a sense of ambition, purpose, and identity that ‘we a somebody too’ and we must live somewhere too; and the government must enable that legally, because the law is not there for some and to oppress the others.
I just thought I would use this opportunity to further explore these issues because as we celebrate the beneficiaries, only 40, there are hundreds of thousands of Jamaicans who don’t live anywhere, who have two sheets of ply and 2 sheets of zinc kotch up and to me that is a national emergency that we need to pay close attention to.
The old solutions are not going to work; it must be that we leverage the assets of the NHT, partner with the private sector to create that synergy so that we can once and for all address the housing needs of Jamaicans so that every man can be a king in his own castle.