EDITORIAL: Awaiting Grotto solution
THE SITUATION at “The Grotto” has attracted much public attention.
A substantial sum of public money – $27 million – has been spent on the building of five blocks of apartments amounting to 80 dwellings. The declared policy was that these dwellings were to provide housing solutions for lower-income earners but it is now clear that these solutions are beyond the means of such earners and two years after completion they remain empty while Government grapples with the thorny problem.
It is not far-fetched to wonder whether the policy behind the building of The Grotto appears to have failed, or some administrative foul-up may have occurred; for unless these apartments are now subsidised by Government, they now are outside the reach of the “lower income” workers.
There will also be challenges to sell these apartments to high-income groups given that private developers are offering two-bedroom houses all with pricing structures under $400 000, whereas the economic cost of the Grotto units exceeds the $400 000 mark.
The provision of housing has always been a challenge to governments in this country. The historical development of Barbados has meant that the state has had to play a dominant role in providing low-cost rental housing and these units are dotted all over the island. That policy has improved the lot of many Barbadians and it has helped to create improved social cohesion and stability.
In more recent times the policy of building houses for sale has catered to middle-income owners with the profits from these sales being used for the building of rental units. This policy has worked especially when the projects are built by the private sector in which the inefficiencies associated with some public sector projects are said to be non-existent.
The major development of middle-income housing by the Ministry of Housing and the National Housing Corporation in the Wanstead and West Terrace areas spanned both administrations, and is a tribute to careful planning and execution of policy, even though problems inherent in any building project could not be entirely excluded.
But some key concerns remain about the Grotto project. In fact, the Minister of Housing was quoted earlier this year as saying that consideration was being given to the project and particularly whether there might now need to be a change of the original purpose. If the original plan was to build 80 units for a final price in the region of $25 million, then the project from inception was probably above lower-income earner range.
We have been recently reassured that the matter has also had the attention of Prime Minister Fruendel Stuart and that a solution had been found. The Prime Minister is right to deal with this issue, and not only because the housing units are located within his constituency, but because there are a number of other NHC building projects which are subject to delays or problems of one sort or another, and guidelines developed here might be applied elsewhere.
NHC’s problems do not relate solely to one administration, but the Grotto project commands attention since the apartments appear to be well built and finished and it could well have become a marker for future high-rise low-income projects.
The statement on the Government’s solution is eagerly awaited.