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Sunday 21 January 2018
Local

La Fortresse buyers wait decade for homes, retirees forced to rent

Fading housing: Signs of rust on the gate at the entrance of La Fortresse as well as the fading exterior of the buildings are visible at the St James development.

The almost 100 purchasers of the La Fortresse housing complex have been waiting almost a decade for the project to be completed. The purchasers include senior citizens, some of whom saw the project as their retirement home, but have been forced to rent. But members of the La Fortresse Home Purchasers Group are hoping the project will be finally completed next June.

In December 2005, the Public Services Association (PSA) and contractor DTL Property Developers Ltd turned the sod on the multi-million-dollar 94-unit gated community complex on a 3.2 hectare site opposite Long Circular Mall, St James, and near Federation Park. The site was previously the PSA Grounds, where the now defunct Brass-o-Rama competition took place, as well as sporting events. La Fortresse would be the PSA’s first dive into the real-estate market.

The project started in April 2007 and was scheduled for completion at the end of 2008. In 2015, DTL executive chairman Daniel Lambert had told Sunday Newsday the delay was a result of the impact of changes in the economic environment, but with the new avenue to access external financing the project could be completed in the next six months. That was almost two and a half years ago.

PSA president Watson Duke had said then the project was entered into by former PSA president (and current Labour Minister) Jennifer Baptiste-Primus and signed based on a deed from 2003 and described it as a “bad deal” the PSA had to live with.

Duke reported the PSA gave lands to a private land developer, DTL, and in turn promised PSA tri-level units and $45 million upon completion. Back in March 2011, Duke and the PSA stormed into the site and took over the property and only relinquished control weeks later to DTL after being threatened with legal action.

Sunday Newsday interviewed a spokesman for the La Fortresse Home Purchasers Group in a recent interview who asked not to be named. He reported about $100 million was collected as deposits to start the project but it has been handicapped by a lack of financial resources.

He said a Chinese company started construction on the project but that ground to a halt. He said then smaller contractors were taken on but they came and went and nothing was really taking place.

In January 2015 buyers started the La Fortresse Home Purchasers Group and had discussions with the developers and with Duke, but have not been able to get things going.

He reported there was a meeting earlier this year with the developers and a couple of suggestions were taken on board. The purchasers were able to raise some capital to inject into the project to continue work, with the understanding they would put up the money, provided that the developers could show that property titles could be conveyed.

He said they had been given some assurances that would happen, but found out there were land rent charges that have to be paid to the Government.

He reported the options are a $40 million payment and they get a $10 a year annual land rent or to pay $2 million a year. He said the $2 million divided by the 94 people who propose to live there works out to about $1,800 a month on only land rent, while maintenance charges could be more than $1,000 a month.

“(That) would make La Fortresse probably one of the more expensive gated communities.”

He said at about $3,000 that would be the entire national insurance pension for some purchasers.

“How they living after that?”

He said the cost would be very onerous for this type of arrangement and this tax was unusually high. He said the rate instead should be about $500 or $600 a month. He recalled in the beginning the land rent was not disclosed to the purchasers and only after they put out their money they learned of it. He pointed out the purchasers include a lot of senior citizens, some who say this investment is their retirement home. One of the purchasers, a retired public servant, has been paying rent for six years.

A view of the La Fortresse housing development at Long Circular, St James. Buyers are still waiting for their properties after a decade.

The spokesman said the matter of the land rent falls under the Agriculture Ministry and they are trying to arrange meeting with Agriculture Minister Clarence Rambharat. He said with the proposed changes to property taxes the new formula would make the land rent cost a lot less and therefore more manageable for the people going in to live at La Fortresse.

“So it is really to get the ear of the powers that be to deal with the situation of that rate that we being charged. Secondly it would be to get the developer up and moving. Because one would well appreciate after 11 years (since the sod turning) that we have a lot of people renting, who want their properties (and) are prepared to pay their money but we can’t close on something that can’t be transferred to you.”

He said the best option for the developer is for the owners to finance the project.

“People have put a little over $41 million per unit. They are not sure they would be able to sell the properties. “

He said the latest update was about a month ago from the developers who reported that the project would be completed by June 2018 “If all goes well.” He said the developer is amenable to the purchasers putting in capital and the main stumbling block is the conveyance of ownership.

He said the purchasers have made such a heavy investment all they want to see is completion. One purchaser, 79, said, “I will never live in the house before I die.”

“All they want is their home and to pay a reasonable market maintenance which can’t happen if those calculations stay on the table.”

The group represents about 50 of the 94 purchasers, though they are seeking to increase that number. For other purchasers seeking to make contact, the group asked them to call their legal representative Nunez and Company.

Sunday Newsday attempted to contact Lambert via his cellphone numerous times but calls went unanswered and received no response after leaving voicemail messages. When Sunday Newsday called DTL on multiple occasions we were told he was in a meeting and left a message, but no response was ever received. Baptiste-Primus and Duke could not be reached by telephone either.

 

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