BRADES – The Government of Montserrat is preparing to pass a for the first time ever a comprehensive housing bill which aims to provide the foundation for the development and management of social and private housing on island. This bill would include a policy on waivers for returning nationals as well as options for private house construction.
According to Hon. Minister of Housing Claude Hogan said last week that “over the past five years in particular, Montserrat has been battered through a period of creating housing resettlements without an integrated housing policy and the absence of housing legislation. We have always had different pieces of legislation on housing and the most effective was that in relation to the Montserrat Land Development Authority (the LDA). This new comprehensive bill which comes to parliament in June of 2015 will build on the historical good work of the LDA.”
The minister explained that the Bill will officially re-launch the LDA as the government’s Housing Management Agency, while maintaining the LDA’s ability to become a commercially viable entity, again, with minimal government intervention. “So while government will maintain its position in the housing market as facilitator and regulator, the LDA, much like the St. Patrick’s Cooperative Credit Union (SPCCU) will be completely free to make independent decisions based on prevailing market conditions.”
The plan envisions that:
– The Housing Unit will be charged with maintaining strategic oversight of the operations of the social and private housing sector;
– They are responsible for preparing policies, strategies, plans and procedures for the development of sustainable, efficient and responsive national housing sector needs;
– This will foster and strengthen partnerships with institutions such as the St. Patrick’s Cooperative Credit Union for a sustainable housing market;
– The Housing Unit will also now be responsible to maintain a national housing database to provide evidence based information for decision makers and our donors, including the European Union (EU) and the Department for International Development (DfID).
“This structure of our housing architecture completely separates housing policy formulation from housing policy execution or management. That is to say, the Housing Unit will be concerned with policy formulation, while the LDA will be totally committed to managing the construction, maintenance, rental and sales of properties both private and public. I believe our clients can look forward to improved housing and a stronger housing services industry in Montserrat,” said Minister Hogan.
He added that DfID has already provided a modest increase in social housing maintenance funds and the LDA will begin to implement some long outstanding remedial and maintenance works in places like Lookout and Shinlands where there is social housing schemes.
“One of the core elements of our national policy on housing is to establish a Registry of Private Rental accommodation on Montserrat. This will allow us to monitor and report on the standards of accommodation in Montserrat as part of the tourism product we are promoting that includes guest houses, hotels, apartments, villas and generally all places up for rent for accommodation. The expectations in this more litigious global community now requires that we protect our people by having a compulsory registration system where a licence is issued and there can be penalties levied for violation.
“You might ask how is this beneficial to you?; but it is far better to be in compliance with an approved national standard than to face a multi-million dollar law suit because no one was regulating the state of your rental premises. Going forward this PDM Administration will be creating the environment in which the private sector is allowed to finance, build and sell houses. We will therefore support:
1. Private Housing;
2. Social Housing; and
3. Welfare Housing
“To promote private housing we will maintain a policy where a contractor or developer can be retained, or a private person retain his own contractor to build a house with all imported building materials duty free and consumption tax free on a property valued at least US$300,000. We already have the system in place for this where the bill of quantities are assessed and approved by the public works department, authenticated by the Ministry of Finance and managed at the border by the Montserrat Customs services.
“Returning nationals will also enjoy duty free and consumption tax free imports of building materials, on household effects and tools of trade as soon as we get that Cabinet Memo through to create the necessary legal instrument and administrative systems to make this work properly.
“The Ministry of Housing also proposes to enter into an arrangement with Private Banks, the Bank of Montserrat included and the Montserrat Social Security Fund (MSSF) to finance housing, on serviced lots to be made available by the Government of Montserrat
(GoM). These will be allocated on a means test basis. We will therefore be re-juvenating the Housing and Land Allocation Committee (HLAC) to make recommendations to the Government on all social housing solutions.
“In making its recommendations for social housing support the HLAC will advise or recommend GoM support from a range of options as follows:
– We are now positioning to launch a material grant scheme around the end of May 2015 and the criteria covers enabling those persons who are struggling to complete their current new start houses to do so before Christmas this year 2015. The grants are processed against the HLAC list of registered persons in need and the grants range from a low of EC10,000-EC$60,000.
– We are in the processing of seeking Cabinet approval for the implementation of a tax waiver up to the EC$40,000-EC$60,000 on imported building materials for private home owners, including persons in the Diaspora. That is work in progress at the Ministry, which will establish the bands or lower levels of investment that would qualify for houses built for rent or for sale costing between US$100,000-US$150,000, in addition to the US$300,000 investment band referred above.”