We will sue, Holness warns developers

RETREAT, Westmoreland — Prime Minister Andrew Holness has warned housing developers who fail to deliver on contractual obligations to the National Housing Trust (NHT) that they will be hauled before the court.

“Sometimes developers come on board and say, ‘Yes, we can build’. They sign on to an agreement and then change their minds afterwards and don’t want to fulfil the agreement. We can’t have that. So, I’m saying it clearly that the NHT will maintain a very strict posture in these agreements,” stated Holness.

“We will carry all our contracts to court to be adjudicated if the contractors do not perform. And that should be absolutely clear. We will protect the interests of the Jamaican people and we will protect the trust. Meaning, the funds that the contributors put in the housing trust. So it won’t be a situation where contractors can feel that because it’s Government they don’t have to perform or they may believe that they know somebody and therefore the NHT won’t take them to court. That’s not the case,” the prime minister warned.

He was speaking during a ground-breaking ceremony for construction of the 60-house Sheffield Palms Development at Retreat in Westmoreland on Friday. His comments came as he explained a drawback in the NHT’s guaranteed purchase programme, which started in November 2018, and was the route taken for Sheffield Palms.

Under the programme, the NHT gives a guarantee that once the units are built to the agreed standards, they will be purchased.

“What this does is take away the market risk. In other words, the risk of building and having no one to purchase, or the risk of building and it takes a long time for the purchase to close. So, the developer feels a greater sense of security. I can get this done and the NHT takes the house off very quickly and then I can move on to another project. I don’t have to worry about interest rate costs piling up and maintaining the project for a long time whilst we await the same,” explained Holness.

He said the 60-unit Sheffield Palms is part of an overall development consisting of 113 houses on 24 acres of land.

The units will have paved driveways, parking areas, a storm water drainage system, a potable water distribution network, space for Internet service provision and connections to sewer infrastructure. Each house will have ceramic tiles, UPVC double-siding windows with insect screens, a bathroom, a kitchen with cabinetry, and closets.

“When it is finished, we expect that the first 30 units will be delivered to new homeowners by March 2024 and the remaining 30 by September 2024. My only comment on this is that I wish it could be faster,” stated Holness.

He noted that while the cost of each house is yet to be finalised, the overall project cost is $907 million.

“These houses are targeted for persons working in the tourism sector, civil servants, law enforcement, teachers and so forth. So, once you are within that income bracket, you should be able to easily afford one of these units,” stated Holness.

The project was welcomed by Member of Parliament for Westmoreland Western Morland Wilson who noted that development was once rare in the parish. However, he said things have changed under the Holness-led Administration.

“We are here at yet another ground-breaking ceremony. A few months ago, it was the little London Police Station. Today it is a housing development and I would bet to say, there’s more to come,” said the prime minister.

He said Sheffield Palms is just part of a wider plan to build 4,500 houses in Westmoreland through a series of projects scattered across the parish. Holness said planned projects will include the almost-complete 32 houses in Shrewsbury Phase 1; Savannah Park where 41 houses are under construction; the 27 houses for Shrewsbury Phase 2 that will be built next year along with 520 houses in Orleans. In addition, 2,453 houses are projected to be constructed next year in the Paradise area. In 2025, work is expected to begin on another 140 houses in Negril Spot and 325 in Fontabelle.

“This Administration has not just great plans, but we are implementing those plans for the benefit of the people of Westmoreland,” assured the prime minister.