A well-known realtor is urging the government to use hundreds of repossessed New Providence homes that currently sit vacant to solve the housing crisis created by Hurricane Dorian.
Mario Carey, founder of Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate MCR Bahamas Group, said the government should incentivise investors to acquire such distressed properties from the banks and other lenders, then transform them into rent-controlled affordable housing.
He argued that this was the best way to accommodate the thousands of Abaco and Grand Bahama residents made homeless by Dorian, enabling them to leave their current shelters and return to some semblance of normalcy.
"There are so many who lost loved ones or everything they had," said Mr Carey. "Even as the tragedy continues to unfold, we need to develop a plan for moving forward, and that plan has to include housing in Nassau or elsewhere as well as rebuilding in Grand Bahama and Abaco.
"One of the first goals must be to find housing for the people who have been displaced, whether they are staying with those who opened their homes to them on a temporary basis or in a shelter. We need a longer-term solution, and we have that solution. We have the inventory. It is sitting in bank foreclosures; maybe as many as 5,000 properties."
Mr Carey argued that banks and financial institutions holding foreclosed properties should come together, organise a pool of properties, invite investors to "buy in bulk" and establish low rental rates that will be covered in the short-term by government subsidies.
"Many foreclosed properties need to be renovated. They need to be occupied," Mr Carey said. "Unoccupied properties are at greatest risk for losing value, so it makes sense when we are desperate for places for people to live to place them in a property that is sitting there, unoccupied, most likely depreciating in value as time passes.
"Long-term, the houses, condos and apartments that are purchased at sale value, not market value, will be a good investment for the investor or group which purchases multiple units."
To make repossessed property purchases easier, Mr Carey suggested waiving any costs or fees associated with the sale so long as the property is used for rent-controlled, affordable housing.
While adequate housing inventory exists in New Providence, Exuma and a few other islands, encouraging new building or extensive repairs in Grand Bahama and Abaco will require a serious look at how projects are approved.
"Government needs to ensure that the same building codes that are in place in Nassau are equally imposed in Grand Bahama and Abaco but, once projects are proposed, they need to be reviewed, amended or approved with all due speed and efficiency, slicing through the red tape and putting out a welcome mat," Mr Carey said.
"We should still require an environmental impact assessment and an environmental management plan, but no developer who is willing to take the risk of building should have to pay any government fees."
All home improvement projects should be stamp duty exempt, Mr Carey added. Two years ago, he presented an idea for a full disaster relief plan that included making The Bahamas the disaster relief capital of the region.
He called for hundreds of acres off Gladstone Road, in the heart of inland New Providence, to be dedicated to a full relief and recovery headquarters with ready-to-go housing, food pantries, medical supplies, personal goods and heavy equipment. As needs arose, supplies could be shipped from a single location with strong inventory controls or evacuees could be moved to the inland location.
"Disaster relief, rebuilding and recovery have become the single largest cost that The Bahamas and other countries and island nations in the region face," said Mr Carey. "In some places, it has been estimated that countries will have to spend up to 30 percent of their budgets rebuilding from a single natural disaster."
Those costs are expected to increase, he added, with warming waters and rising seas associated with climate change creating conditions favourable for stronger hurricanes.
"Every step we take now in the recovery process following the passage of Dorian should be geared toward putting lives back on track," said Mr Carey.