THE housing the nation initiative was always a primary priority of successive PPP/PPP/C administrations and it is evident that still holds true for the Irfaan Ali administration.
Senior and Junior Housing Ministers – Colin Croal and Susan Rodriques, respectively, have been taking stock of where the need for adequate shelter is most dire. Their visits to Sophia and other squatting areas in order to formulate plans for final resolution of the illegal occupancy of state and private lands met with eager squatters who were reassured by the ministers that, while squatting would not be tolerated, their removal would be executed in a humane way, with the provision of more durable alternative accommodation.
However, beneficiaries of the PPP/C Government’s housing drive met many roadblocks because of unscrupulous contractors and builders. Dream houses became nightmares when a new homeowner had to deal with contractors within Guyana’s construction industry. The name of the game is rip-off.
The housing programme of the former PPP/C Government is probably its lodestone initiative since that party’s assumption to office in October of 1992.
What was once an unreachable, unattainable dream for most Guyanese became a very concrete reality. (Pun not intended)
A massive housing drive enabled thousands of working-class Guyanese to become homeowners, with all its attendant benefits.
The government went several steps further to create enabling synergies where ordinary citizens, with no savings, and no hope of accruing any, especially while paying the very steep rentals being demanded by landlords, could access low-interest loans to build their homes upon the acquisition of titles and/or transports to their precious plots of land.
But then the horror story began.
Some aspiring homeowners opted to acquire pre-constructed homes in schemes where developers entered into partnership with government, which provide the land on which low-cost houses were supposed to be built for sale to potential homeowners.
But this has, time and again, proven to fructify in less than desired expectations in many instances. The horror stories are many – walls separating from the main building, with cracks appearing at different pressure points; plumbing coming apart; zinc sheets improperly secured. The list is endless and at times mind-boggling.
For those who choose to build from scratch, according to specified requirements – well, the astronomical labour costs belie the service provided, unless one has the time, and the knowledge, to personally supervise every aspect of construction.
Persons who have taken loans have found themselves with a few walls and a depleted loan account.
Contractors purchase the materials but often, through pre-arrangement, effect delivery to another job site. Of course someone inexperienced in measuring lumber and other material would be none the wiser, because they most often accept the receipts tendered at face value.
Carpenters and labourers are also diverted to other job sites while on the clock so, along with materials, the homeowner is also short-changed on the labour, for which they have to pay astronomical amounts.
While it is understood that government has limitations to its funds and capacities, there needs to be instituted protective mechanisms that will ensure that the dishonest actions of builders do not derail government’s laudable efforts in the provision of state lands to facilitate home ownership by the poor and vulnerable in society.
The law currently provides for a course of action – breach of contract or negligence, in the event that a contractor does not deliver a reasonable quality of service for which he receives financial compensation.
However, the judiciary and its adjunctive arms have proven to be traditionally slothful and, given the oftentimes pecuniary circumstances of the victims, the scurrilous actions of the home builders have almost always been allowed to go unpunished.
There is dire need for some agency to work along with government and the banks to institute a programme where reliable, affordable, and knowledgeable labour is provided to those who access mortgages.
The skills development component of the Ministry of Education could work along with a public/private partnering programme to create opportunities for youths to garner income while acquiring life skills.
The Guyana Prison Service, under the guidance of then Officer-in-Charge of the Georgetown Prisons, Dale Erskine, had initiated a programme whereby skilled convicts worked for an income. The service had provided affordable labour and various skills, blocks, linen, and uniquely beautiful furniture and cabinetry made from Guyana’s hardwoods and indigenous material.
Along with Food for the Poor, Habitat for Humanity, and other such organisations an advisory and support group could be established for the guidance and assistance in order to ensure curtailment of the prevalent syndrome of dishonesty by housing developers and construction contractors.
This current government has promised to take the housing drive to new levels, but in its push toward further development of the sector, it needs to do so with a human face, recognising the vulnerability of the new homeowners to the predators in the building trade and establish protective mechanisms that will ensure that owning one’s own home remains a cherished dream and not become a nightmare.