By AVA TURNQUEST
Tribune Chief Reporter
FORMER Bahamas Contractors Association president Leonard Sands yesterday urged the government not to scrap its home construction programme as the sale of serviced lots was not a real solution to increase Bahamian home ownership.
Mr Sands regretted that the Free National Movement’s administration was running away from the government’s housing programme when all it required was fine-tuning to ensure proper protocols were implemented.
“It’s a matter of political will and putting proper safeguards in place,” he said.
“Abuses of the system were so egregious that it scared this administration away. All I’m saying is put safeguards in place. It can be remedied, but they ran away from it. Put honest people there to ensure Bahamian people can own homes.”
Mr Sands also branded as ignorant statements by State Minister for Legal Affairs Elsworth Johnson, who, during his House of Assembly contribution on Wednesday, warned Bahamians against seeking financing from banks for construction costs.
“I need him to appreciate the fact that while the lot part of the legislation (Access to Affordable Homes Act) is awesome,” Mr Sands said, “what he fails to appreciate, and I have to believe it’s ignorance, is that almost 99 percent of all mortgages in our country are financed by the banks.
“So for him to suggest that persons can build without the bank? It will be almost impossible for you to go in any community and find a family, husband, wife and two kids and say you have this lot for $35k, I need you to come up with another $150,000.
“The average cost of a three bedroom, two bath with a decent size, a modest space that Bahamians would be accustomed to, you talking at least $250,000. And you asking for persons to finance that through their own finances without a bank? It’s literally impossible.”
Mr Johnson spoke in the House of Assembly on Wednesday on a resolution for the conveyance of 1.2 acres of land in Fox Hill for the government’s serviced lots initiative.
The Yamacraw MP suggested persons should enlist the help of their friends to assist with building their home, adding: “If you do decide to go to the bank, just be sensible.”
In an interview with The Tribune, Mr Sands noted that another important feature of bank financing was home insurance.
“Most of the persons who recovered monies as a result of Hurricane Joaquin was because their home was financed by a bank,” he said, “and they mandate insurance is maintained.
“I can tell you four or five people I know who said they didn’t pay house insurance after their mortgage was paid off, it was the very first thing they stopped paying.
“This is wide-reaching his comments, he (Mr Johnson) has to appreciate that you’re going to force people to build their own homes and then can’t afford to insure it. They have to look at another way.”
In a recent statement, the government announced the Department of Housing is focused on “installing the necessary infrastructure on land to be developed and sold at cost to first time homeowners in New Providence and the Family Islands, rather than selling already constructed homes.”
Yesterday, Mr Sands forecast “more banter in the halls of Parliament” on this issue.
“They will have to come back to it because giving someone land without money to finance a home on it, then they’re still without a home.
“The Bahamas Mortgage Corporation is so important. I’m not saying Mortgage Corporation were extending loans to people who should never have had loans, but at least who commercial banks were saying “no” to because they were a point or two above debt service ratio.
“I think it’s things like that why the government cannot walk away from the home building business. It will be detrimental to our country if they walk away like they’re intending to do. This is not the solution.”