Home ownership dreams uncertain

With a disclosure yesterday by Housing Minister JoBeth Coleby-Davis that a “master plan” for the popular Prospect Ridge community project had not been developed, and that land preparation work could be extensive, prospects for the initiative in its present form appear uncertain at this time.

Some 1,500 applicants sought approval for what the Minnis administration said would be 300 available lots for young professionals, but the latest information on just how much critical leg work has not taken place, casts considerable doubt on whether the previous government genuinely assessed the overall cost and feasibility of its pre-election housing promotion.

Pointing out that the company engaged to carry out the Prospect Ridge development plan received a letter advising of its successful bid some “two or three days” prior to September’s general election, Coleby-Davis raised the question of how the Minnis administration came up with costing figures for a proposed housing project for which no development plan had been created.

Coleby-Davis told reporters that no feasibility or topography studies on the proposed site have been done, rendering the Davis administration currently unable to determine infrastructural costs for the proposed development.

In May, the Office of the Prime Minister released a statement advising that it had issued a request for proposal (RPF) “for the completion of an environmental impact assessment (EIA) and environmental management plan (EMP) on the 83 acres identified for the Community for Young Professionals in Prospect Ridge”.

Opposition senator and shadow housing minister Viana Gardiner, in a statement responding to Coleby-Davis, said the EIA was completed, and, in effect, confirmed that a topography study had not been carried out, and that a contract to carry out infrastructural and architectural drawings for the proposed project had also not been concluded.

Successive administrations have adopted the position that safe and affordable housing is a right of all Bahamians, even as home ownership remains a dream many Bahamians consider to be out of their financial reach.

Having not completed essential groundwork prior to ending its term in office, the Minnis administration put forward a dream of securing home ownership for young Bahamian professionals at a location wherein the feasibility and cost-effectiveness of the project had not been previously established.

The implications of this are obvious not only for prospective homeowners and mortgage lenders, but for the taxpayers who bear the cost of infrastructural work for government housing projects.

With no architectural and infrastructural drawings and no topography assessments prior to the general election, challenges unaccounted for could very well have led to successful applicants being sold a dream regarding when or if they could begin construction, regardless of who won the government.

Gardiner asserted, “If the government does not complete the Prospect Ridge community, or delays it considerably, that is entirely because they choose not to make housing-land ownership a reality for young professional Bahamians.”

It is a dubious accusation on the part of the senator considering that the previous administration left no approved site drawings for the project in place ahead of the September poll, and no study to determine what would be necessary to ensure suitability of the location designated for its proposed community development.

Making home ownership possible for a wider number of Bahamians is generally a laudable goal, though the Prospect Ridge proposal was not without its critics who argued that approval parameters for the project were too narrow in scope.

Though former Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis gave would-be applicants the impression in various statements that a government guarantee would be sufficient to secure a commercial bank mortgage for the development, officials including Bahamas Clearing Banks Association (BCBA) President Kenrick Brathwaite noted that commercial banks would not be easing their conservative lending stance and risk profile assessment for people seeking to purchase or build a home, even if it is a government-backed development.

Coleby-Davis said the administration is hoping that necessary cost and site assessments would be completed by the end of the year, with the housing minister urging that successful applicants ought not “lose hope”.

Until government’s ongoing assessment is completed, the wait for answers to when home ownership dreams for the Prospect Ridge community development could become a reality, continues.

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