Minister of Housing with MP Sweeting and entourage in Governor's Harbour.
Minister of Housing with MP Sweeting and entourage in Governor’s Harbour.

Minister of Housing, Jobeth Coleby-Davis paid a visit to the island of Eleuthera during the final quarter of 2021, to take a first-hand look at the land areas being considered for development by the Ministry of Housing.

Member of Parliament for Central and South Eleuthera, and Minister of Agriculture, Marine Resources & Local Government, Clay Sweeting joined her during the island tour, which began in South Eleuthera in the Rock Sound township and continued into Governor’s Harbour and Hatchet Bay.

Minister Jobeth Coleby-Davis was also accompanied by the Chairman of the Bahamas Mortgage Corporation, Mrs. Barbara Cartwright and a team of officials from the Ministry of Housing.

In an interview, during her stop to view the acreage in Governor’s Harbour, Minister Coleby-Davis outlined her purpose in personally visiting the land development locations on the island, and upcoming opportunities for Eleutherans interested in investing in a home, saying, “Today I came down with the MP for South and Central Eleuthera, and he is taking me to a few of the properties that you have available here that is crown land.  My technical team and I came to take a look at the infrastructure needs, where the land lay, and to see how best we can assist with putting affordable homes on the property.  So, we stopped at Rock Sound first to look at property there, and there is quite a bit of beautiful land there that we can start with.

Housing Minister engaging with young professionals about upcoming Housing opportunities.
Housing Minister engaging with young professionals about upcoming Housing opportunities.

“When we go back, we will sit down to discuss how best to go about acquiring the properties. It is crown land, so it is already owned by the government, but the Ministry of Housing will still have to acquire the property to do subdivisions, so we will go through that process.  In Governor’s Harbour, the property here is a very nice piece of land as well, with a view – it seems all the properties come with a view.  We are looking to do turn-key homes here at the Governor’s Harbour location as well, and assist as many people we can in Eleuthera to become homeowners.  That’s a priority.  There will be infrastructure work that has to be done.  Once that is completed, then you will begin to see the homes go up, and people interested can begin to make sure that they get approved or pre-approvals for their homes.”

When asked about the planned timeline for the upcoming Housing program in Eleuthera, Minister Coleby-Davis, explained, “There is a process to get to the point where we begin the infrastructure work – that comes with acquiring the property under the Department of Housing, as well as making sure that I go through the Cabinet process of approving the infrastructure work, because the government bears the cost of the infrastructure.  Once that is done we will get the work started.  It take’s about three to four months for the infrastructure to be put in place, and then you will begin to see the homes go up.  We hope to have the first homes popping up in the summer of 2022.”

Governor's Harbour Acreage to be developed by the Ministry of Housing.
Governor’s Harbour Acreage to be developed by the Ministry of Housing.

She continued, “Also, we are going to do it simultaneously.  So, it will not be just one area getting attention. We will try to start them all at once.  That is why I have been doing my rounds.  I just came from Grand Bahama, and I’m trying to see as many Family Islands as I can, so I can put my team to work.”

In Governor’s Harbour the acreage being acquired by the Ministry of Housing said Minister Coleby-Davis is more than 50 acres, with the land area in Rock Sound quite sizeable as well, however, this first phase of land development she clarified will look to ready 10 acres in each township with the necessary infrastructure for this initial offering of homes – which would encompass approximately 20 to 30 home lots each.

Chairman of the Bahamas Mortgage Corporation, Mrs. Cartwright, also took time to outline some of the options available through the Corporation for aspiring homeowners, saying, “The government believes in home ownership, particularly for young people, who can use it as a first home, even if they are not married – it can be a stepping stone…  A home is one of the largest investments a person will ever make, so we encourage people – that as soon as they get employment to try to put money into an investment.  The best investment choice you can make is in land or home ownership.  The Bahamas Mortgage Corporation not only does homes, but also land mortgages. So, young people can also access loans for land investment.  We encourage young people, instead of buying the fancy cars and all the other things, to instead invest in land or home ownership, and you never know where it can go from there.”

Minister Sweeting locating available acreage in Hatchet Bay for development.
Minister Sweeting locating available acreage in Hatchet Bay for development.

Some of the preparatory steps Mrs. Cartwright advised young people interested in moving towards land or home ownership were – first, as soon as they got a job, to speak to a financial advisor to get an idea on how they should go about planning to save, as they built up a history of consistent earnings. Two years of working and saving, was then the recommended time by Mrs. Cartwright before coming into the Mortgage Corporation to be assessed.

Once a potential to pay the required monthly fee was demonstrated, then a person could qualify to be approved for a mortgage she explained further. “Some homes are as low as $120,000, and on up to about $237,000, and they can be assessed to meet some range, once they come in. So, we are asking young people to not waste money and to try and save. The pandemic made it clear that housing was one of the greatest needs in New Providence. I’m not as sure about the Family Islands, but we know that in New Providence it was really hard, because many people were paying rent and couldn’t afford to pay it. If you at least had a home, you could negotiate with your financial institution, but when you don’t own the home – it’s much harder for you to negotiate. So, we ask young people to come in and make a proper investment in things that matter – which is shelter – a very important investment.”

When asked about whether the process of acquiring a mortgage was more difficult for a self-employed person, Mrs. Cartwright detailed, “It is a little more stringent, but once they have some savings, and they can show their banking statements, with a history of income and savings – then it becomes easy. Once they can produce what they make, and they have the ability to pay the loan, then it won’t be an issue.  We encourage home ownership, so we really want to see Bahamians in their own homes.”

Minister Coleby-Davis with Minister Sweeting.
Minister Coleby-Davis with Minister Sweeting.

Minister Jobeth Coleby-Davis, while broaching the same question about access by young self-employed Eleutherans to the new subdivision offerings in Rock Sound and Governor’s Harbour during the site tours, described a new ‘rent to own’ program which the Ministry of Housing planned to pilot in the Family Islands to help more people to become homeowners, saying, “There is a process – you have to be able to be in a financial position to qualify for a home – we look at what you presently make in salary, what comes out of it, and how you would be able to sustain a mortgage… Self-employed people normally have to show a history of income on a consistent basis – which can be used to be qualified – so, self-employed people are not out the door – but they do need some history of consistent income for at least 18 months.  Sometimes it’s a little more difficult for the self-employed – so we are working internally to try and make the process less stressful – which is why we are also looking at the ‘rent to own’ initiative – which will assist more people to get into a home if you don’t have that financial history.  As a self-employed person, you can build that history through the rental. The ‘rent to own’ allows you to pay consistently monthly over a period – and once you have stuck to that period consistently you can transition to a mortgage – and that may work better for self-employed people.”