It is often said that a man’s home is his castle. However, for many Bahamians struggling to make ends meet, the dream of home ownership is fast turning into a national nightmare.
That is why I personally felt an enormous amount of relief when I heard Prime Minister Philip “Brave” Davis announce during his budget communication that his administration will bring renewed focus to the issue of home ownership for Bahamians.
It is human nature and very understandable for people to want to own a home, which is an important part of a feeling of self-worth and dignity.
Even when a young couple desires to own their own home and raise a family, it is becoming increasingly difficult for them to qualify for a mortgage in this country today.
You can understand why a young couple in this position may have no choice but to live in rented accommodation or, if they have options, to leave the country altogether for greener pastures abroad.
Then, we turn around and accuse them of being motivated by financial gain and not having enough of a commitment to remain home and contribute to the development of the country.
As a very good friend of mine is fond of saying, “Child, please.”
Davis castigated the former Free National Movement government for failing to construct a single home in the last five years: “That they failed to build a single home suggests to me that facilitating Bahamian home ownership was not high on their list of priorities. We must now play catch up as we expedite the role of housing development to meet the objective housing needs of the Bahamian people.
“We are not content to simply build hundreds of homes and hope people can qualify to own them. We are not content with that. This budget cycle will see the launch of this government’s rent-to-own initiative, so we can start striking down the barriers to home ownership…”
In this context of striking down barriers to home ownership, it is worth noting that the Home Owners Protection Act, passed in 2017, is in urgent need of strengthening.
In my view, it does not go far enough to protect vulnerable homeowners who, for financial or health reasons, might have fallen behind on meeting their monthly mortgage commitments.
You may not appreciate the enormous mental strain that is placed on a family struggling to keep a roof over their head in face of an aggressive lending institution seeking to put them out of their home.
This pressure can contribute to divorce in many instances. Banks will know the difference between people who are playing games and deliberately not paying their mortgages, and those who are genuinely experiencing difficulties and are unable to pay as much money as they could in the past.
Perhaps the government may wish to consider placing a one-year ban on all banks and lending institutions wishing to enforce their mortgage security in cases where homeowners are genuinely unable to meet their monthly payment obligations.
The trauma of being forcefully thrown out of your home is very humiliating to say the least. Once it has been decided that a homeowner is genuinely struggling to make mortgage payments, perhaps consideration may then be given to suspending or, at the very least, reducing interest payments on the outstanding balance.
Those are some of the reasons why I suggest that the government may wish to take another look at the Home Owners Protection Act with a view to strengthening its provisions to further protect vulnerable families.
I recall many years ago when Lynden Pindling Estates opened officially. Sir Franklyn Wilson should also remember it well. He was present. Sir Lynden was not personally at that event but he sent a message which was listened to by those present.
His voice choking with emotions, Sir Lynden reminded Sir Franklyn that home ownership was an important dream. The vision, Sir Lynden reminded, remained to “wipe every tear from every eye”.
It is obvious that Davis is intent on reviving and extending that noble vision.
May God guide his efforts.
— Mark Symonette-Rolle