There are certain basic essentials that every person needs to exist comfortably, and one of them is a place to live.
Some people have been able to achieve this without much difficulty, but there are many persons in society who, because of their income, are unable to purchase a home.
This was recognised by the Government in the 1970s, so the National Housing Trust (NHT) was established, with the core mandate of providing houses that middle and lower income workers can afford to purchase.
Thousands of Jamaicans have been able to purchase their own homes since then through the NHT, with the agency providing tens of thousands of housing solutions across every parish.
The latest initiative undertaken by the NHT, in collaboration with Food for the Poor, to provide housing solutions for low income families, is the project in Hampden, Trelawny, where serviced lots and First Step Homes were handed over to workers in the sugar industry, recently.
Minister of Transport, Works and Housing, Dr. the Hon. Omar Davies, who addressed the ceremony, described the occasion as one worthy of celebration.
“In any situation where working people are able to achieve one of their foremost goals in life – access to a housing unit – this must be something we celebrate. A housing unit provides the basis for stability of the family,” the Minister said.
Dr. Davies explained that the Government is addressing the issue of the thousands of working class people who are contributing to the NHT and not being able to reap a benefit for several reasons, emphasizing that the Trust was specifically established with the objective of addressing the housing needs of persons at the lower end of the social and economic bracket. He said the NHT will be returning to its core function under the present administration.
“The objective of the NHT wasn’t to sit on a pile of money, but to use that pile of money to provide people with houses,” the Minister argued.
The project at Hampden is one of several innovative strategies being pursued by the Trust to achieve its mandate. This was done through the Sugar Workers Housing Programme (SWHP), established in 2000, through a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) among the NHT, several trade unions and the Sugar Producers Federation, comprising several sugar estates.
Under the programme, the NHT acts as developer/provider of development finance and mortgages; the sugar estates donate unencumbered suitable lands for the housing solutions, while the trade unions are responsible for sensitizing the workers about the benefits within the programme and how to access them.
To date the NHT has developed over 2,300 lots and 459 studio units at a cost of approximately $4.4 billion on eight sites across the island, under the SWHP.
The Hampden First Step Homes, although under the SWHP, also involves other government agencies and Food For The Poor, and is the first set of these houses to be provided under the programme.
This resulted from the announcement made by Prime Minister the Most. Hon. Portia Simpson Miller in her 2012 Budget Debate presentation.
In that address, the Prime Minister stated that the Government, through the NHT and other housing agencies, will collaborate with Food For The Poor to produce 600 units per year for five years, for low income NHT contributors.
While presenting certificates of possession to beneficiaries at Hampden Heights the Prime Minister explained that the First Step programme is aimed at accelerating the building of start-up homes.
“This is one of the several government initiatives to help transform the lives of Jamaicans who have not been able to take advantage of home ownership opportunities in the past,” she said, adding that the initiative is being developed as part of the Jamaica Emergency Employment Programme (JEEP).
She said that the deep seated desire for home ownership remains a dominant thread in Jamaica’s history among the people, and cited the social benefits which were attached to land ownership in the days immediately following emancipation. “Property ownership has always brought with it a certain level of recognition,” the Prime Minister said.
Mrs. Simpson Miller emphasized that owning a home carries with it important advantages, including peace of mind, investment possibilities and family stability. She said that the provision of home solutions for those at the lower end of the income ladder not only transforms lives, but also whole communities.
She called on the NHT to be more aggressive in the construction of houses for low-income workers and young professionals. She said that the Government is committed to giving priority to housing projects, particularly for low-income earners.
Meanwhile, beneficiary at the Hampden Heights project, Allan Dunkley, told JIS News that he is overwhelmed at receiving his title for a lot on that scheme, which is a fulfillment of one of his dreams.
“This will help me, because I never had any land for myself, and I am glad that it has come to pass for me to own a piece of land and a house for myself,” he said.
Sybil Hines, another beneficiary, was thankful for the opportunity to own her own home. She said that it will not only be beneficial to all the recipients, but to the parish as a whole.
For Sandra Brown, of Bounty Hall, owning her home will mean upward social mobility for herself and her family.