By TANYA SMITH-CARTWRIGHT
EXUMA and Ragged Island MP Chester Cooper says while the Progressive Liberal Party supports homeownership for young professionals, he thinks the Minnis administration’s policy in this area is “unfair, elitist" and “discriminatory".
He said the government is selling a dream about its proposed housing initiative. His remarks came Monday in the House of Assembly during the debate on a resolution to allow for the development of a residential community in western New Providence geared towards young professionals. The resolution was passed in the House of Assembly and will be debated in the Senate on Thursday.
The subdivision is to be built on 83 acres of land in the Prospect Ridge/John F Kennedy Drive area. The government is promising a total of 250 lots, with 40 percent being multi-family lots at $50,000 and the remaining 60 percent are to be single-family lots offered at $40,000.
Mr Cooper, deputy leader of the Progressive Liberal Party, said, “Let me say at the outset, that I support the idea of making housing more affordable for young people and people in general. This is also an ideal the PLP supports. How one administration goes about it may differ from the other, but all administrations have tried to help more Bahamians get into homes.
“I do believe that the current administration’s policy of not building homes but mainly providing service lots for people to build their own homes is wrongheaded at this time. But any genuine effort to realistically support Bahamians getting into homes is one that I support. However, we think your policy is unfair, elitist and, frankly, discriminatory.”
Mr Cooper noted that propelling Bahamians towards easier homeownership is not unique to the FNM government and pointed out that every administration has its own way of doing it.
As a reminder to parliamentarians, Mr Cooper said, “The PLP founded the Bahamas Mortgage Corporation and has tried for over five decades to increase home ownership among Bahamians, particularly those who struggle with the means to become homeowners.
“Housing security and housing affordability are ideas that are near universal in governance in The Bahamas. But these are your policies, so carry on smartly. We do not think it’s a rational, credible policy. It's electioneering, so let’s just call it for what it is. I believe it is unrealistic and fraught with problems.”
Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis, while introducing the resolution to Parliament, said the lots will be worth some $150,000 once his government has put the infrastructure for the area in place. Pointing out that the applicants do not have to be at a certain social status, he said one does not have to be a lawyer, doctor or engineer to qualify for the land, just someone who is "accomplished" in their field.
On this Mr Cooper said, “Now about this, I do not share the Prime Minister’s view. Banks look at lower of costs and appraised value. I also worry about how much government funds it will take to make these lots liveable. Asking some in the industry, I get anywhere from $25,000 to $30,000 per lot to make them serviceable. That could mean more than $5 million on the part of the government just on that alone.
“As far as not needing a down payment for a mortgage because of the value of the property, I don’t know about that either. I work in the finance sector and I know that when determining who to lend money to, there is one thing that is paramount above all, and that’s skin in the game. Then there is the ability to finance the loan. It does not matter how much the property is worth, particularly with banks already being liquid and already being saddled with foreclosed homes and unfinished homes, customers who today cannot make existing payments.”
Mr Cooper, a businessman, dissected the proposed housing development, questioning whether anyone really sat down and seriously thought it out, rather than forcing it because of a political agenda with time running out.
He continued: “Again, let’s call this what this is. This is clearly an effort to appeal to the largest voting bloc in the country, without actually doing something broadly impactful for the largest voting bloc in the country.
“It is using what will clearly be millions of dollars in taxpayer funds to implement a programme that is exclusionary, discriminatory, elitist, unfair and fantastical. I fear you are selling dreams. Like many of your other half-baked schemes.
“It is exclusionary in that it automatically and intentionally boxes out of eligibility those who are over the age of 45 from participation, and also uses taxpayer funds drawn from the widest pool of Bahamians to make an exclusive community for a certain number of Bahamians to create income-producing properties that will only benefit a few.”
Mr Cooper said he feels the scheme is discriminatory because most will not qualify.