Letter to the Editor: “Guyana faces a housing deficit of 20,000 units for low income families”

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Dear Editor:

During a meeting last week of representatives of the Caribbean Diaspora with officials of the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) part of the discussions focused on the findings of a study by the bank entitled “The State of Social Housing in Six Caribbean Countries.” One of the countries is Guyana and one of the report’s authors, Michael Donovan was among the panelists.

According to the study/report “the Government of Guyana’s goal is to provide accessible and affordable housing in sanitary and safe communities with the necessities for wholesome and dignified living for all citizens.” The overarching policy objectives of the program include a focus on the poorest communities in the hinterland, the completion of necessary infrastructure prior to allocation of lots, integrated development planning and squatter regularization and containment, among others.

The study estimates that Guyana faces a housing deficit of 20,000 units for low income families while an additional 52,000 homes are over 30 years old and need improvement and points out that construction by owners and non-profit organizations cannot keep up with the need. It would seem from the report that the new APNU/AFC coalition government will maintain the policy of the former government of encouraging private sector involvement and investment in housing and that a number of incentives including the use of a revolving low income housing fund; the construction and sale of houses by private developers on lots allocated by the government and the granting of blocks of land to private developers for the development of housing estates and the sale of houses in an open and competitive manner.

All this is great news. The Guyanese populace is however well aware of the lack of transparency regarding such programs not so long ago. It is my hope, as I am sure it is on the part of a majority of Guyanese at home and abroad that these programs will be fully transparent and fairly allocated and administered. There should be no room for skullduggery as the nation moves to fulfill one of the basic requirements of human beings…..a roof over their heads. There must be no more sub-standard construction, no more favoritism in the distribution of house lots and no discrimination against any particular race in choosing developers, contractors and house lot awardees.

Further, our banks must be conscionable in determining mortgage rates for low income home owners and both public and private sector employers should design financial housing assistance programs including guarantees for their lower level workers.

On another point related to housing development the IDB report indicated that one of the initiatives it funded was the Housing in the Hinterland Pilot. This pilot addressed the housing needs in eight communities in regions 1 and 9 and involved the disbursement of 208 subsidies totaling one million US dollars for roof replacements and where necessary a complete house. Mr. Donovan, in reply to a question from Capt. Gerry Gouveia informed that the roof replacement program involved the use of zinc sheets. Gouveia questioned the use of zinc sheets for these homes arguing that this was interfering with the customs and culture of our Amerindians and Guyana’s tourism product.

A debate followed which touched on the need to address housing needs in consort with the vulnerabilities of climate change and sustainable development. This is a debate that must continue among stakeholders in Guyana among stakeholders, foremost with our indigenous people themselves who must enjoy no less safe, sanitary and affordable housing conditions than the rest of us.

Sincerely
Wesley Kirton

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