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The Rent Restriction Act is being amended, as the Government seeks to level the playing field in the housing sector.
“There are those who are of the view that there should be no rent control and that the sector should be driven by market forces. However, if we are to realize our goal with respect to housing, we have to ensure the playing field is level and that landlords have an opportunity to realise a reasonable return on their investments without tenants being disadvantaged,” Minister of Water and Housing, Donald Buchanan told the House on June 15.
Making his contribution to the 2005/06 Sectoral Debate, the Minister said that providing access to housing did not only imply owning a home, but depending on the stage of life of persons, it might be more advantageous to pursue other forms of living arrangements, such as renting.
Some of the proposed amendments are:
A renaming of the Act to reflect its new roleThe removal of rent control from public and commercial buildingsSetting minimum standards for premisesLegalization of security depositsThe establishment of a rent tribunal to deal with all rental casesAn increase in the fines and penalties for braches of the Act
Mr. Buchanan pointed out that the 13th Session of the Commission on Sustainable Development, which was convened at the United Nations headquarters in New York in April 2005, highlighted the fact that in order for countries to meet the targets for human settlements as set out in the Millennium Development Goals, there must be a flexible and integrated approach to the development of human settlements, incorporating water supply and sanitation as well as land use, housing, waste management, employment, income-generation, education, health care and transportation.
The Minister said that already, Government was taking steps to ensure the integrated planning approach. “The Ministry is going full steam ahead to develop a comprehensive National Housing Policy and Implementation Plan, the overall objective of which is to create an enabling environment for the housing sector to develop, grow and deliver adequate and affordable housing solutions in a sustainable manner,” Mr. Buchanan said. “Although technically speaking, there has never been a written policy document, various policies have been put forward by Ministers of Housing over the years. Among the notable ones are: the hurricane rehabilitation programme after Hurricane Charley in 1951; the Sites and Services programme; the Squatter Upgrading programme; and the programme to upgrade rural areas,” he noted.
The Minister said that in the past, one of the challenges to the development of a unified housing policy was the large number of agencies and Ministries that were involved in the provision of housing.
Some of the key areas on which the policy would focus are: the role of the stakeholders, special needs housing and housing finance.
A multi-sectoral technical committee has been established to lend support to the process. However, ultimate oversight will rest with the Ministry of Water and Housing.
Mr. Buchanan said the technical committee would comprise representatives of the Cabinet Office, the Jamaica Developers Association, the Jamaica Mortgage Bank, the Ministry of Finance and Planning, the Ministry of Land and Environment, the National Planning Agency, the National Housing Trust, the Planning Institute of Jamaica, the Urban Development Corporation and the National Housing Development Corporation as well as the Ministry of Water and Housing.
“A consultative approach will be taken in developing the policy and as such, the process will involve extensive consultations with all stakeholders, including the private sector, especially those agencies that provide loans and mortgages to the housing sector, professional bodies such as the Master Builders Association, community groups, non-governmental organisations and political representatives,” the Minister said.