By Caribbean News Now contributor
ROSEAU, Dominica – The lack of adequate housing is a regional emergency in the wider Caribbean that affects much of the working class and made more evident, subsequent to tropical storm Erika in 2015 and hurricane Maria in 2017, driving up rental prices, real estate and the cost of construction throughout the region.
Dominica was a major victim of this realism and environmental destruction but currently a pioneer leading the “Housing Revolution” thru Housing Dominica.
In the aftermath of hurricane Maria, the whole country was affected, leaving more than half of the population either without homes or compromised dwelling. The cost of housing surpassed the cost of food as a percentage of the household budget; and in recent times, the average household spent twice and three times as it did on food.
Evidently, housing developed into a national crisis by way of the average person earning minimum wage cannot afford a one-bedroom apartment let alone a two-bedroom apartment in any part of Dominica or the region for that matter.
More concerning is the lack of social housing, to help bridge the socio-economic divide, through a social safety net, and to facilitate the transition of personal development and economic recovery.
A modern approach to building resilient and funding infrastructure development on the scale and scope required to satisfy the marketplace has been elusive to target initiatives via several programs such as grants, lease to own, subsided loans and other financial initiatives.
The government of Dominica is one example [besides Antigua and Barbuda] that differentiates the exception from the norm, as it pertains to practical ideas, execution and having ‘skin in the game’ in the interest of the people of the Caribbean region.
Led by the vision of prime minister Roosevelt Skerrit, Dominica took a leap of faith to introduce its first housing initiative – Housing Dominica – to build 5,000 houses throughout the country, under contract by Montreal Management Consultants Est (MMCE).
In addition to the government having kept its promise to provide new housing funded entirely by Citizenship by Investment (CBI) and led by Montreal Management Consultants Est. (MMCE); Skerrit has indicated that very soon, he will unveil a new comprehensive housing programme aimed at providing adequate housing for everyone in Dominica.
This announcement coincides with the approval of one government official who previously stated:
“We [Dominica] need to come up with big and bold housing initiatives – and we need to make them a fundamental part of the progressive agenda. They should start from a simple, clear declaration: Housing is a human right.”
“That means that everyone has the right to shelter. It means that everyone’s home should be safe, healthy and affordable. And it means that no child should grow up in housing conditions that limit one ability to prosper and flourish.”
The word “revolution” has been overused, but it fits ideally when talking about Housing Dominica revolutionary rethink and leadership, in response to a crisis, guided by policy built around people, and a financial model that is equitable and just, utilizing the heritage of the country for the benefit of the majority, in a substantive manner.
Disaster coordinator Fitzroy Pascal, addressing the orientation of Dominica’s new Emergency Shelter Management Manual, a publication of the office of disaster management within the ministry of climate resilience, disaster management and urban renewal, June 13, 2019, said:
“The manual will enhance the standards and practices for effective shelter management that prioritizes the care and protection of people who are displaced due to disasters and emergencies.”
“The government of Dominica places a high priority on disaster management, particularly given recent experiences with major disasters and the heightened awareness of climate change and risk management,” adding “is complimented with the ongoing construction of several residential homes in multiple districts that are designed to be more resistant to various hazards. This is implemented with the intention to reduce the need for persons having to utilize emergency shelters.”
Meanwhile, there is the need to underscore the significance of CBI; and its contribution to gross domestic product in many participating Caribbean islands, there exists a vacuum for multilateral partners in structuring and financing public housing programs, infrastructure development and the optimal use of CBI funds and/or ordinary capital towards economic sustainability.
Further, in accordance with prime minister Skerrit’s announcement that the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) is working on implementing measures that will allow for a more unified CBI program within the region, a comprehensive housing program is a “regional emergency” that requires a level of urgency and pragmatism.
In Central American countries, [Costa Rica, Panama, El Salvador, Guatemala and Nicaragua] there are investments of more than $4 billion in residential construction.
In Antigua and Barbuda, Maria Browne, minister with responsibility for housing, said in a statement:
“The Gaston Browne administration has been the most successful government as a builder of homes in the history of Antigua and Barbuda, judged by the number of houses that have been constructed in a period of five years; the National Housing company is a success.
“Approximately 300 homes have been completed and another 100 are under construction, and the People’s Republic of China has agreed to build 250 homes.
“National Housing, as at June 2019, controls assets of more than $150 million; it has spent less than $75 million in its five-year existence. National Housing has also spent $15 million of its own resources to repair government buildings. Its annual reports have been submitted to Cabinet and to parliament,” the statement concluded.
The vision of housing as a human right must become a fundamental part of the progressive vision of the region. It’s good policy and it’s good politics.
And more importantly, it’s a moral challenge, [society can no longer ignore] evident by the social and economic equilibrium, building a nation of wealth and prosperity.