The following is an op-ed article by the Opposition People’s National Party (PNP) on its management of the State-run National Housing Trust:
“Reference is drawn to yet more misleading political propaganda coming from Information Minister Robert Nesta Morgan, stating that the PNP mismanaged the NHT during its time in office.
It is unfortunately typical that, in the face of spiralling price increases, unimaginable economic hardships, cascading corruption and unending murders, the current government’s main spin doctor has embarked on perhaps the most egregious of the many deceptions he has unleashed on the Jamaican public.
This latest propaganda escapade is a surreptitious falsehood, concocted to nullify the damaging revelations of the JLP’s disastrous and inequitable $35 million Ruthven Road Apartments project, and it must be fully exposed. It is consistent with the pattern of disinformation fed to the electorate, seeking to distort the record of the PNP regarding land reform and housing, even as the efforts of the current government are being inflated and extolled.
We owe it to past PNP administrations, those who contributed to our unparalleled record of social transformation in land and shelter, to provide the facts and set the record straight.
With a clear understanding that the availability and cost of mortgage financing presented grave obstacles to the home-owning aspirations of our low-salaried working class and self-employed masses, the PNP established the National Housing Trust (NHT) in 1974.
Conceptualised by Housing Minister Anthony Spaulding, the NHT constituted a major artery in Michael Manley’s vision to fashion a society based on social justice.
Pointedly, it reflected the goal of encouraging working class leadership, with its governing law mandating the inclusion on its board of representatives of the major public sector organisations and the unions. In policy terms it acted as a repository of compulsory workers’ savings while providing mortgage financing in return, with priority reserved for lower income groups.
In keeping with this egalitarian management ethos, the PNP over several administrations has significantly transformed the housing landscape of Jamaica.
Beginning in the 1970s, there was the mortgage financing of the greater percentage of over 40,000 units built in communities like Orchard in Westmoreland, Esher in Hanover, and Seaforth and West Albion in St Thomas.
The centrepiece of that assault on homelessness was Barbican Terrace in Kingston, built at a price of $14,000 per unit, with NHT mortgage payments of $129 monthly. It was an inspiring dispensation of affordable housing, authored by the PNP. Critically too, it was completed without a single claim of irregularity.
The lack of further advances in housing by the JLP government of 1980-89 precipitated the build-up of homelessness, which demanded an urgent response. Starting in 1989, the challenge was effectively addressed with the creation of Greater Portmore by the PNP.
This was made possible by the San Jose Accord, a visionary non-aligned concordat forged through the relationship built by PM Michael Manley with the presidents of Venezuela and Mexico. With construction finance provided under that progressive international arrangement, a new city was born. As with other PNP administrations, the NHT was summoned to provide mortgages to provide homes for 12,500 Jamaicans.
The 1989-94 period also witnessed the completion of some of the finest housing joint ventures undertaken in Jamaica’s history, at Oaklands, Dillsbury, Wellington Glades, College Green, and many others. NHT provided mortgage financing at projects like the Pines of Karachi, with unit prices of $2.6 million and lot prices of $500,000 to $1.2 million, and Long Mountain at $4 million, speaking convincingly to the Patterson administration’s resolve to achieve affordability and socio-economic empowerment.
The PNP and the NHT would also tackle the chronic systemic challenge of landlessness, squatting, and socio-economic exclusion with the establishment and implementation of Operation Pride from 1995 to 2002. This programme proactively created the opportunity for secure land tenure for first-time landowners from this historically disadvantaged demographic segment of the population.
It resulted in the provision of 30,010 titles and 28,000 letters of possession, a feat unprecedented both in scope and impact. This is evidenced by projects all across Jamaica, from Whitehall, Westmoreland to Donaldson, St Thomas.
Relocation 2000 was also an imaginative initiative, incorporating NHT financing to provide housing for the homeless living in environmental degradation at places like crime-prone Railway Lane in Montego Bay. This involved relocation to new housing sites at Providence Heights.
The NHT’s bylaws authorised construction funding to be allocated for low-income projects. The Inner City Housing Project gave birth to numerous high-rise apartment complexes built by the NHT.
Prime Minister Portia Simpson-Miller was able to hand over 94 units on Little King Street, 186 units at 88 Spanish Town Road, 256 units in Arnett Gardens/Trench Town, 48 units in Monaltrie, 344 units in Denham Town, and 248 units at 231 Spanish Town Road under this critical programme.
From Michael Manley through to Portia Simpson-Miller, the NHT’s fundamental mandate remained consistent. The sanctity of its model of operations was always maintained, through strict adherence to a non-political, scientific points system in awarding NHT mortgage benefits. We stand behind our stewardship of an institution that we founded and bequeathed to the nation.
We also stand behind the NHT’s development of the ennobling Emancipation Park development, which is the country’s most commodious and dignified park for the use and benefit of our people.
The board-approved purchase of 70 acres of prime land at Outameni on the North Coast remains a valuable asset on the NHT’s balance sheet, with significant potential for catalytic redevelopment.
The current government’s attempt to besmirch these assets must be recognised for what it is, an unworthy attempt to distract the nation’s attention from the painful, ugly reality of spiralling food, fuel and energy price increases, untold economic hardships, cascading corruption and unending murders.
The country awaits clarity from the government of the announced change in the mandate of the NHT from its original Worker Represented Leadership to its External Financing Model. The workers of Jamaica now fear the prospect of facing credit decisions entirely at the mercy of private financing institutions strictly motivated by profit.
They are also alarmed to hear that the NHT will be shoring up the profits of these private financing institutions, by paying them the differential between the NHT’s below-market interest rates and the banks’ significantly higher lending rates.
Perhaps the JLP thinks it has found an ingenious route of having the $200B in NHT reserves appropriated into the service of private financial interests. That would be a reprehensible and inequitable deviation from the path forged by the PNP for the greater good of the workers of this country, and must be stoutly resisted by all well-thinking Jamaicans.”