SINT MAARTEN (PHILIPSBURG) - Leader of the United People (UP) party MP Rolando Brison has laid out his party’s plan for the construction of 1,000 affordable homes over the next four years. Brison stressed that unlike others who talk about homes, the UP fully intends to show the people of St. Maarten how this will be accomplished.
“If you have followed me in Parliament you know I prioritize how things get done, not just talk about them,” Brison said, adding that if the governments of other islands in the region cam bear down and build homes for their people, there is no reason why St. Maarten cannot or should not do the same. “You have to take care of your people first. We will not be deterred and we will be fearless in accomplishing this goal.”
The UP’s affordable housing plan is built on four crucial components: Purchase land and make better use of available government land, develop and sign a new investment protocol with APS and SZV on the Affordable Housing Project financing at reasonable rates, construct 250 per year for four years and finally, as an extension of the plan: establish the St. Maarten National Development Bank – Increasing lending options for private homeowners to rebuild.
Brison explained that the total investment portfolio of APS is 400 million guilders according to their latest audited financials of 2016 while the total investment portfolio of SZV is 242 million guilders according to their latest audited financials of 2016. “We will sign an investment protocol to ensure that up to 25% of their investment portfolios over 4 years are used towards realizing the need for housing at reasonable rates,” MP Brison said.
“As Parliamentarians, our faction will establish an Affordable Homes and Economic Recovery law that sets a Trust, funded by lending institutions, which will be reliable and realistic. We will target first the lowest income home renters and provide them with a pathway to homeownership. The act will have as a byproduct the increase in the growth rate of wages for low-income citizens. Increasing the minimum wage will help to address the fact that the present income of the average citizen negatively affects their eligibility to afford homes on St. Maarten,” Brison added.
He said, there are presently over four thousand families in need of affordable housing, and twice that amount is paying over 60 per cent of their income on rent alone. “We must ask ourselves how we can make the lives of our citizens better. The housing issue of our country can easily be called an "affordability emergency"
Brison acknowledged that funding for housing development is never an easy task. Lack of access to proper financing affects private homeowners and requires innovative thinking of Government. “Today's banking requirements and the low-income wages of our citizens are counteractive to their effort to become homeowners. With support from the Algemeen Pensioenfonds St. Maarten APS and the investment strategy of the Social & Health Insurance SZV, we will present proposals that attract funding for the development of the one thousand (1,000) affordable homes,” he said.
Brison explained that the goal when building affordable homes is to design practical and spacious apartments in secure environments at a low cost through strict budgeting. The design will consider the fact that St. Maarten sits on the hurricane belt and is susceptible to impact from storms. The inside of the homes must be attractive and have the space necessary for generational growth. The homes will be designed consideration for the environment and the fact that the island's landmass is limited. The construction of these homes will also be an economic booster, creating hundreds of jobs over the next four years and beyond. Maintaining homes comes with a cost and requires significant human resources. However, Bison said, the necessity of proper home maintenance creates an opportunity to provide permanent employment for many who are without work, by building maintenance service with 24-hour support for the residents of these homes.
With regards to private home owners who want to re-construct, Brison said the overall housing needs in St. Maarten cannot be addressed without considering the limited resources of private homeowners who have seen their property destroyed by hurricanes and are not able to access loans to rebuild. “Therefore, the UP Party will establish the St. Maarten National Development Bank, whose central role will be to provide financing for the economic and social development of our citizens. This Development Bank will be the vehicle that reduces the gap between lender and low-income earners. We will help to address the heavy-handed approach of private lending agencies and provide lending opportunities for smaller families with lower incomes,” he said.
“We have to present meaningful solutions to the challenge our residents face when trying to find affordable homes. Our citizens and their families must be empowered. Through the pathway to homeownership, which the UP Party will establish, our citizens will finally have a roof over your heads, which will be a reasonable budget item,” Brison said.
Brison said the UP fully intends to take the lead on this initiative, considering the rising cost of home rental and increased the cost of homeownership, which blocks the pathway for citizens to have security. He said the UP recognizes the economic inequality in housing with the low-income rate further reducing citizens' chances of becoming homeowners.