Civil servants housing project delayed

MONTEGO BAY, St James — Civil servants who were promised that they would be able to start moving into houses in the Union Acres development in St James this March are set to be disappointed.

The National Housing Trust (NHT) has confirmed that the project has been delayed and it is working on identifying a new completion date.

“March 2023 was the projected timeline to commence a phased handing over of units. Since the ground-breaking exercise, start of construction was delayed due to, among other things, the approval process and finalising the terms of the design build contract. Project completion is being revised,” the NHT said in an e-mailed response to questions from the Jamaica Observer.

“In addition to the aforementioned, construction on the project continues to be impacted by adverse weather conditions linked to excessive rainfall,” the Trust added.

A joint venture between the NHT, the Jamaica Civil Servants Association and the Jamaica Confederation of Trade Unions, the development is expected to provide 144 detached two-bedroom, one bathroom houses to civil servants. The units were to be handed over in batches, starting in March. Spanning a 20-acre plot of land, the development is said to be the Government’s attempt to keep a decades-old promise.

In May 2022 when Prime Minister Andrew Holness broke ground, assistant general secretary of the Jamaica Confederation of Trade Unions Clifton Grant expressed concern about previous delays on other legs.

Grant explained, then, that in the 1990s the Government agreed to provide houses for public sector workers in lieu of salary increases. Union Acres is the second project under that agreement.

Four years after ground was broken for the first project in St Catherine, more than 700 units were delivered to public sector workers.

“We want to say that 2010 until now is too long to deliver the second set. Prime Minister, I am saying that we need to sit down and work out a road map as to how to build out the rest of the units because the lands are there. We have identified them in all parishes. We need… to come up with a timeline as to how we can deliver the units because if we continue like this, every decade we will deliver 100 [and] then none of us will be around for the last set of workers to get their units,” Grant warned then.

He also urged the prime minister to ensure that the units were affordable.

In response, Holness made the point that the NHT is a business and not a “welfare institution” as it is believed to be by some working-class Jamaicans, but he added that civil servants could potentially pay slightly below market value prices because the Government had donated the lands, which would subsidise construction cost.

The NHT has said that, despite the delays, “there is no anticipated impact on cost [of the houses] at this time”.

“The selling price for the units have not yet been finalised. For joint ventures, like Unions Acres, price is usually determined following consultation with all involved partners and stakeholders. These prices will be advertised once applications are open,” the Trust told the Observer.

Once completed, some of the units will be distributed by the NHT through its usual procedure.

“The Jamaica Civil Service Housing Company Limited and the Jamaica Confederation of Trade Unions will determine the application and selection process for their units. However, for the NHT apportioned units, once they are ready for sale, members of the public will be advised. Contributors will be invited to submit applications via our online application system,” the NHT said.

At Union Acres the plan is for amenities and infrastructure to include paved roads with curbs, street names, and traffic signs; storm water drainage system; centralised drainage system; centralised sewage collection and treatment systems; potable water distribution network with centralised storage; and electrical distribution system and street lights.

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