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PM Dickon Mitchell: New housing policy will empower citizens

Prime Minister Dickon Mitchell - the Chinese low income housing not suitable for poor and vulnerable citizens

Prime Minister Dickon Mitchell has defended his government’s decision to implement a new financing scheme under phase two of the Chinese-built low-income housing project in Corinth, Beausejour, St. Patrick, and Carriacou, valued at over $117 million.

The government’s approach, requiring successful applicants to pay upfront for the Chinese-built units has faced criticism from Opposition leader, Dr. Keith Mitchell, who was a key figure in negotiating the deal with the Chinese government to build 1000 housing units as a gift to the less fortunate people of Grenada.

Under the new system, candidates are given the opportunity to purchase two-bedroom units at $73,000 and one-bedroom units at $55,000.

The decision to require upfront payments stirred controversy, with critics including the Leader of the Opposition arguing that it puts vulnerable individuals at a disadvantage.

Addressing the issue during Tuesday’s sitting of the Lower House of Parliament, Prime Minister Dickon Mitchell noted that the 647 housing units now up for grabs “were completed at least one (1) year, and in some instances more than one (1) year before there was a change in administration,” and that the former NNP administration “had the opportunity to craft any policy they wanted in relation to these homes.”

He also countered the NNP’s claims, stating that the Chinese-built apartment buildings are not suitable for the elderly and vulnerable people of the country.

The Prime Minister told Parliament that while the Congress government acknowledges its responsibility to “try and address the housing situation for those who are most vulnerable, these (Chinese-built) apartments are not the ideal home setting for doing so.”

“…There are obvious reasons why they are apartment type three story buildings that our culture and historical practices are not used to… and therefore, if you’re gonna ask some of the most vulnerable, for example persons in their 60s and 70s to go into those buildings it will not suit them… so we obviously Mr. speaker, (we) have to find alternative housing arrangements to treat with it,” he said.

PM Mitchell accused the former administration of putting many Grenadians in a position where they cannot own a home through its “deliberate policy decision.”

The Grenadian leader pointed out that his government’s intent is to use phase two of the project to “give persons who are at the lowest income, who are employed an opportunity to own a home.”

“So, when we are giving them the opportunity now to pay $250.00 per month to own their own home that is what empowerment is about. So, don’t come in this house and play self-righteous, the Prime Minister declared.

Leader of Government Business, and Housing Minister Phillip Telesford clarified that the government has guaranteed loans on behalf of citizens, ensuring accessible financing with expected interest rates not exceeding 5%.

The move, described by Telesford as “the biggest transfer of wealth from the state to citizens post-independence,” aims to empower individuals by allowing them to own homes, and emphasised the government’s commitment to finding alternative housing arrangements to address the needs of the most vulnerable population.

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“We requested at 3% but under this guarantee the scheme we expect it not to exceed 5% at maximum…and repayments will be for a period between 20 to 30 years in some instances,” he told the sitting.

The Housing Minister explained that persons will not be required to provide additional security to the bank, noting that “the unit itself is real tangible property to be able to secure the financing.”

Authorities from the Housing Authority of Grenada (HAG) had previously announced that under the new format, individuals who fail to obtain a loan or funding for the units will automatically forfeit the opportunity which will be offered to another applicant.

The announcement comes amidst the housing authority’s efforts to recover $4.9 million in outstanding arrears, $2.2 million, which is owed by occupants under phase one of the Chinese low-income housing project, comprising 353 units, which were handed over to the former NNP administration in August 2012.

Upon taking office in June 2022, the Congress government commissioned a team of skilled Grenadians to retrofit the units, which were handed over without the necessary fixtures.

In June, Minister Telesford highlighted the difficulties in sourcing replacement fixtures to remedy electrical and plumbing issues plaguing many of the Chinese low-income housing units.

He told Tuesday’s parliamentary sitting that the Government partnered with the People’s Republic of China to complete the retrofitting works to the tune of “$4.5million dollars.”

He said that cupboards were also installed at “ an average cost of $13,000 per room.”

Additionally, he said that the NDC government is “very proud…of the extremely high quality of workmanship by our people.”

Under the first phase of the project, beneficiaries signed a contract with the HAG to make monthly payments for the acquired units ranging from $150-$350.

However, while some homeowners had salary assignments pegged to the arrangements, and the Minister indicated that there has been a big level of delinquency on the part of those who had no such arrangement, while HAG continues to struggle and continues to rack up interest on a monthly basis on these people.

HAG has since installed a homeowners association to manage the affairs of the units and has also committed to managing the maintenance of the sites for the first three (3) years, and “bear the full cost of insurance for the first 10 years.”

Starting January 2024, Minister Telesford said the beneficiaries of the Chinese-built low-income housing will be required to pay a small service fee, determined by HAG covering insurance, maintenance, repair, and security.

The Congress government has expressed optimism with the deal and expects that there will be accumulation of wealth by citizens through this initiative over the next decade.

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