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Wednesday 19 June 2019
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Dillon’s new mission

THE SECURITY portfolio may have been the hottest seat around the Cabinet table, but that doesn’t mean Edmund Dillon has an easy task ahead at the Ministry of Housing.

Take, for instance, newly-released figures from the Housing Development Corporation (HDC). While in 2002 the HDC set out to build 100,000 new homes over the coming decade, figures obtained by former president of the Joint Consultative Council Afra Raymond suggest only 11,788 houses were built from 2003 to 2015.

At the same time, according to information which Raymond obtained using the Freedom of Information Act, distributions exceeded the construction of new units by 1,696. The net picture: the housing situation is actually worse than it was in 2002. Instead of boosting supply, the State has worsened the shortage by giving out more homes than it has added to the stock.

“The total output is a fail,” Raymond declared this week. Worse, only about 22 per cent of the units distributed were allocated for permanent rental, suggesting other pricey modes of amortisation were adopted for the remainder. This, in a programme in which about 90 per cent of the applicants cannot afford a mortgage.

“The allocated resources have been directed away from the neediest applicants, in violation of housing policy and the HDC Act,” Raymond said.

The extent to which the situation has been improved by the current administration’s suite of housing sector incentives remains subject to conjecture in the absence of further statistics. Yet, anecdotal evidence suggests the housing crisis is still very much upon us. The waiting list continues to swell (about 176,000-plus at last count). The housing stock has not budged significantly. Indeed, according to Finance Minister Colm Imbert during his 2018 budget speech, it is perhaps impossible for the State to ever catch up.

Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley once cut his teeth as a much-storied housing minister and more recently took up the housing portfolio. His reassignment of it to Dillon reflects the stark reality that the ministry needs a minister who can devote himself entirely to the job.

While Raymond’s figures relate to the past, he must be lauded for publicising statistics needed to properly analyse the State’s policy. Meanwhile, the cost of an HDC housing unit has moved from $100,000 in 2002 to as much as $1.2 million in 2015. Why?

What are the social and economic implications of the majority of families in this country being unable to afford a home of their own? How does the situation aggravate crime which now sees home ownership as a turf for gang warfare? Is it likely that the Housing Construction Incentive Programme will go the way of past measures?

Dillon has much to think about.

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