From left to right: Project Manager of the??HNUP, Sandra Drakes; Representative??of the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), Anneke Jessen;??Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Housing and Lands, Edison Alleyne; and Minister of Housing and??Lands, Michael Lashley, reviewing some of the proposed plans for Greenfields in the City.

Yesterday, October 7, saw the launch of a near-novel programme by Government that aims to ameliorate the infrastructure of a number of low-income neighbourhoods in this country and hence the housing stock and the plight of those residents.

Minister of Housing and Lands, Michael Lashley, officially initiated the project, the Housing and Neighbourhood Upgrading Programme (HNUP) at the Lloyd Erskine Sandiford Centre.

According to him, the US $40 million pilot project, which is being co-financed by a US $30 million loan from the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), has three main elements: "the upgrading, redevelopment and revitalisation of select low-income communities across Barbados; the provision of solutions to the challenges of affordable housing and incremental home construction; and the strengthening of agencies involved in the provision of housing and neighbourhood improvements."??

Four pilot sites at Cats Castle and Greenfields in Bridgetown; Garden Land in St. Michael; and Allen View in St. Thomas have already been identified.

Housing Minister Lashley sees the affordable housing component, which has been allocated some BDS $24 million over the five-year period of the programme, as one of the key aspects of the venture.?? It features two sub-programmes – the new homes sub-component which will provide a maximum subsidy of BDS $10,000.00 to four hundred low-income families to assist them in meeting the cost of their new homes.?? In addition, 600 subsidies will be provided to support existing homeowners in undertaking minor repairs and renovations to their homes.

The Affordable Housing Programme also includes a revolving fund of some BDS $14 million, and Minister Lashley noted that "this will help with the financing of the construction of an apartment building under the rent-to-own project.?? It is proposed that that these activities will be tendered to the private sector in accordance with the IDB’s procurement procedures.?? Payments made from the purchase of these houses will go back into the revolving fund of the programme to be used in financing construction at other selected sites," Mr. Lashley explained.

The neighbourhood upgrading component of the programme will focus on improving the infrastructure in low-income areas by improving access, sanitation, drainage, sewerage, street lighting and water distribution, as well as measures to reduce the threat of fires and flooding.

The technology-driven institutional strengthening module of the HNUP will involve a general technology upgrade to streamline the main agencies responsible for the delivery of housing solutions and the implementation of the Smart Stream financial application.?? This is envisaged to facilitate better financial management and auditing at the National Housing Corporation (NHC), allow for an interface with Government’s Treasury Department, and aid in better tracking controls for loan and rent collections.??

Institutional strengthening at the Ministry of Housing and Lands will also involve the implementation of a full Asset Management System.?? It is expected to fully come on stream early next month.

While speaking at the launch, the representative of the IDB, Anneke Jessen, opined that the project had a dual advantage.?? Apart from the benefits that the programme itself is going to give to a lot of families and residents in Barbados, it is perhaps also a very opportune moment of launching this programme.?? As the current recession is hitting Barbados… to have a programme that finances construction is a good thing… because not only will those residents whose homes are being improved benefit, but they will be jobs created during the construction phase.?? I think, therefore, it is doubly important that the project be implemented as quickly as possible," she said.

Liaison officers and residents of Garden Land, Lynden Clarke and Simonetta Cox, who were present at the launch of the HNUP, expressed their pleasure at the involvement of the residents in the upgrading exercise, a process that started in 2005.??

"They didn’t do anything without consulting us.?? We have to liaise with other residents in the district and we have to report every month to the Ministry," Mr Clarke revealed.

The major challenge for those involved in planning the project is avoiding disruption to residents, but Ms. Cox says they are focussed on the outcome.?? "The residents are waiting.?? Garden Land is a community that has not been touched by any sort of works since I was a little girl about five years old , and I am 39 now, so it is ???a wait and see’ with the residents.?? Yes, there will be disruptions, but I am more interested in seeing the end product, so that is what I am going to encourage my district to bear in mind, the end result," she stressed.

Construction will commence at Allen View in St. Thomas and Garden Land in St. Michael in the last quarter of this financial year; while Cats Castle and Greenfield in Bridgetown, will begin in earnest during the second quarter of the new financial year.?? Work will be replicated in at least 10 neighbourhoods for the duration of the programme.

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