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PRIME MINISTER FREUNDEL STUART should be commended for clearly stating that tenants in the National Housing Corporation’s (NHC) new units at Tweedside Road and Country Road, St Michael, must be prepared to pay their rents. We applaud him too for spelling out the facts for would-be tenants by letting them know not to expect rents of $30 or $40 a week for the quality of housing the corporation is providing at these sites. Stuart’s message was the right note at the right time to address an age-old problem that should never have been allowed to occur in the first place. For too many years the corporation has been unable to adequately finance more projects because rents, its major source of funding, were not being paid by tenants. Three examples show this. In March 1996 NHC rent arrears were said by then chairman Dale Marshall to be nearing the $5 million mark, having increased from about $3 million the previous year. “We are constantly being called on to effect repairs, increase the level of services and to build more houses and we can’t effectively do these things unless tenants meet their financial obligations,” said Marshall, who stressed that tenants benefited from “low-cost, but not low-value housing”. Eleven years later, former Minister of Housing Elizabeth Thompson said in the Estimates debate that “60 per cent of residents in Government’s rental units are in arrears. It is really a very unsatisfactory condition that we as a House (of Assembly) must not encourage”. And in November the following year Minister of Housing and Lands Michael Lashley revealed that the NHC was still owed millions, but had collected just over $600 000 from its debtors in the past four months. How did this situation come to be? We suggest it occurred through the indifference of tenants, aided and abetted by politicians – a situation to which Thompson was eluding. That is, too many tenants either stopped paying rents or paid as they liked because they knew if action was taken against them their parliamentary representative would defend them. This happened for decades under regimes of both the Democratic Labour Party and the Barbados Labour Party. The NHC management was bullied over the years to accept this state of affairs. As a result, it failed to implement a programme to encourage tenants to pay consistently and did not put effective mechanisms in place to ensure arrears were speedily addressed. That’s why tenants whose rent was $30 a week ran up thousands of dollars in arrears. Part of this politics of housing is that delinquent tenants could anticipate any action taken against them, such as evictions, would create an issue. The NHC would be made to look unsympathetic and the Government uncaring. Meanwhile, the protesting tenants who were living free would continue to do so. This cannot be right and would never be tolerated in the private sector. People who rent there have to pay or are put out. That is why the Prime Minister’s assertion about Government’s intentions to make these new units available to those they are confident will pay is understandable and justifiable. We hope Stuart’s sensible assessment of the situation informs the selection of tenants and in so doing minimizes the likelihood of people not paying their rents.