By Leonard Gildarie
It has been a while now that we have touched on housing in Guyana. There is a simple reason.
The top brass of the entity which pushes Government’s housing projects and policies through is almost a new one, with fresh faces on the Board of Directors.
I get emotional when it comes to this topic. I know the feeling of Guyanese when it comes to owning a home. I have been there, done that.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with wanting a shed that you own over your head.
In the last two decades, however, we were attempting to meet a market of hungry Guyanese who clamoured for house lots on the coastland.
One cannot take the current housing situation and look at it in isolation. Rather, we have to go back.
In the late 90s, a few persons, desperate for a home, moved in to canelands at Diamond, East Bank Demerara. Without any roads and utilities in place, some homes were built.
CH&PA, because of the huge interest, and realizing that an unregulated housing area would have implications, immediately moved to do something. There were roads and the scheme was configured and divided up. There was the introduction of what is called the “Million Dollar section” and the areas at the back. There is the Golden Grove area, which at the extreme south of the new scheme.
However, because of the layout of the land, which was configured to cane farming, some dead end streets with cul-de-sacs came about.
Slowly but surely, the utilities came. I recalled helping my little brother, who had moved in to the back section, to ever so regularly move his battery backups for electricity to be charged. Those batteries weigh a ton.
In the end, though hugely successful by any standards, the Diamond and Grove schemes have some serious problems. It has one access road to get out or in. God help the residents if an accident happens, as there are no possibilities to get in or out.
The schemes now boast phone lines, banks, insurance companies, gyms, a fire station and police station, and fetch some of the highest prices when it comes to house lots. That is how much in demand the area has evolved.
The schemes will, in my humble estimation, be considered one of the biggest successes of the People’s Progressive Party/Civic. However, the other schemes were not so fortunate. La Parfaite Harmonie, West Bank Demerara, accessible through Canal Number One road, is maybe just as big as the Grove and Diamond area.
However, the absence of jobs in the area, coupled with the crime rate and infrastructure in some parts, have hampered growth. There are no phones lines in the area, with residents forced to scramble for fixed, more expensive wireless internet setups or depend on their smartphones using data plans.
There are several other such schemes where infrastructure is missing, yet citizens are making the sacrifice. There is no water, and the absence of proper drainage means that mosquitoes and flooding are a real threat.
But people are prevailing in these housing schemes, despite the absence of roads and bridges.
To this administration’s credit, it is concentrating on ensuring basic infrastructure is in place before allowing house lot owners to move in. CH&PA is also focusing in on constructing turn-key homes.
I could not help but think of these things this past week, as there are two developments that we need to take note of.
The first is that CH&PA posted a notice that 100 applicants for house lots dating back to 1991-1993 should make contact with the authority within two weeks.
I have some issues with this. I understand that there are 20,000-plus applications on file. Many of those persons would have migrated, died or have since acquired other properties. It therefore stands to reason that the 20,000-plus figure is exaggerated. I perused it and saw a few names that I am familiar with. The couples have since acquired their own property.
CH&PA is clearly moving to reduce that backlog. I agree. What is unacceptable is that we are asking some old folks, who may not have access to internet, to come in. It is simply not enough time.
Mirroring this is the seemingly lax attitude or sloth in dealing with the hundreds of acres of lands between Providence and Little Diamond, East Bank Demerara, allocated to private developers/speculators, and on which no development has taken place. This is a clear breach of agreement.
It is unacceptable that six or seven years later, this matter is dragging on, while thousands of Guyanese stand in line waiting for a house lot. We are toothless and CH&PA seems powerless.
We will come back to examine this aspect another time. It is truly vexing. Every week, my desk and email are cluttered with complaints.
The second thing of interest is the recent business summit.
Mohindra Chand, head of Barama Company Limited, which is involved in the plywood business, in his presentation, made some startling announcements.
This is what Kaieteur News reported: For example, in 1999, Guyana’s importation bill for building materials was around US$28M. Since that time, the cost has been rising exponentially.
Chand said that in 2014 alone, the importation bill for building materials skyrocketed to over US$115M.
Chand told Kaieteur News that this state of affairs requires a serious intervention. He noted that the increase in the importation of products is also hampering local businesses which produce many of the products that are also of a high quality.
Chand added, “It is seriously counterproductive, since we have many of the products here that can replace some of these imports. We need to move in the direction of utilising what we already manufacture here.”
I am hoping that CH&PA et al are paying attention. These are immediate opportunities for building Guyana. There is a huge market here. There should be incentives that will have to include all of the stakeholders.
For example, if you are taking a mortgage, the interest rates should be lower for persons who are using local materials.
By the same token, sawmillers and hardware manufacturers like Gafoors and National Hardware need to band together to explore what kind of pressure they can apply to capitalize on this market. We simply have too many foreign products here that are of poor quality.
CH&PA clearly has some things to think about.
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