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Prime Minister Andrew Holness has announced that the Government will be moving ahead with phase two of the controversial National Housing Trust (NHT) Ruthven Towers apartment complex in New Kingston.
In fact, Holness, in recognising that the decision could risk his own popularity, has asserted that persons from “all walks of life” and income brackets should be able to purchase their house, despite the cost.
“There should be no reason why someone who can afford a $48-million home not get the opportunity to buy his $48-million home. There is no reason, just as long as we are ensuring that the man who only can afford his $8-million home, gets his too,” declared Holness.
He was speaking at Wednesday’s handing over of Ruthven Towers Phase One.
In December, Holness had directed NHT to re-evaluate phase two of the Ruthven Towers apartment complex, as well as its participation in the segment of the housing market targeted at upscale developments.
This was due to public backlash in November last year after applications opened for the purchase of apartments.
The unit cost for the high-rise apartments, for which phase one is under construction, ranges from $27.7 million to $37.7 million.
The apartments were, in 2018, proposed to sell for $16 million to $22 million, but after a review, the prices increased. The NHT defended its pricing strategy, citing “the cost of construction inputs, as well as global challenges which have increased the cost of housing.”
On Wednesday, Holness said that after the public backlash over the apartments, the NHT and officials from the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM), including himself, had to take a “serious look” just to ensure that these projects fit within the mandate given, which is to build 70,000 houses for persons, including those he described as “lowest-income”.
“We considered very carefully whether or not we should continue with a project such as this. And we debated for a while, and I had even announced that we would not continue with the other phases, but after careful consideration, you know, we have to be reasonable,” he said.
“… As a politician, we always want to be considered favourable in everyone’s eyes… but you know that at the end of the day, you have a country to run, and people want their houses.
“… And popularity can carry you so far and no more. We have to do what is right. What is right is to have all houses that can be built, have them built with our financial resources and in the law, so that people from all walks of life in Jamaica can benefit,” he added.
According to Holness, critics of the Ruthven Towers apartment complex were trying to change the public mood.
“The duty of Government is to facilitate and create the opportunity for all Jamaicans from all walks of life, from all income brackets, to achieve aspirations, and sometimes the politics can be so unreasonable and, without research, people make wild comments that change the public mood, and (this) becomes a distraction for the project Jamaica that we have to keep our eyes on,” he argued.
“We made the decision after careful consideration that we will go ahead with the additional phases,” the prime minister said, adding that subject to layout modifications, the NHT will put on the market approximately 234-more units.
Meanwhile, Holness noted that the conversation around the Ruthven Towers apartment project would have led the unsuspecting Jamaican to believe that the NHT diverted all its resources there.
“This is the third development of this type that the NHT has done in the last 28 years.
“Further, the Ruthven development represents less than one per cent of the projects currently being undertaken by the NHT, as all other projects are being done to cater to affordable housing solutions,” he disclosed.
Amid those concerns over the NHT’s construction of upscale apartments, Holness reiterated that the agency has been directed by him to build more houses to cater to the current demand.
He noted, too, that since 2020, a more specific mandate was given to the NHT after the completion of a strategic review.
“Out of that review, the NHT has been directed to increase its housing output year-on-year.
“We believe that if we can 70,000 housing units onto the market, it will ease the demands that exist in our society for housing. It will slow down the decades of unabated irregular and illegal settlement of land.
“It will slow down the chaotic developments of communities all across Jamaica, which just springs up overnight and then places a demand on the Government to retroactively catch up with infrastructure, security, health, and education,” he reasoned.
Still, Holness argued that “this kind of unplanned development, chaotic development, and expansion of shelter on our built space has to stop.”
“An important part of stopping that is to get ahead of the demand by putting in place structured housing opportunities for the average Jamaican to access, and that is why we have put this mandate of 70,000 solutions,” the prime minister said.
“The NHT has committed to us that it will do… approximately 43,000 of that 70,000 (housing solutions). I know that from the handing-overs that I have done, they would have delivered over 1,000 houses out of the 43,000.
“But they have in-ground a significant number, and they (the NHT) are working,” he added.
In sharing that the pandemic and other global issues has had an impact on the NHT in delivering houses in the time frame, Holness has assured that “the NHT is working assiduously.”