Some of SMHDF’s tenants still live under tarpaulin-covered roofs four years after the passage of Hurricane Irma. (SMHDF photo)
BELVEDERE–St. Maarten Housing Development Foundation (SMHDF) has received “devastating news” that the World Bank (WB) Trust Fund Steering Committee has denied SMHDF’s request for US $45 million in funding.
“This rejection, for reasons unknown, leaves little hope for alleviation of the social housing conditions of its tenants, some of whom still have tarpaulins on their roofs from Hurricane Irma.”
Tenants soon to be informed of the consequences of the foundation’s rejected request for funding to fix the damage. (SMHDF photo)
SMHDF said low rents make it difficult to get new commercial loans to renovate and restore its social housing. (SMHDF photo)
The World Bank decision means that SMHDF can no longer finance and subsidise low rent rates and will not be able to construct affordable social housing for thousands of St. Maarten residents on the social housing waiting list, said SMHDF General Director Helen Salomons.
“We can now confirm that our request for funding via the Trust Fund Committee is no longer on the table for consideration,” said Salomons, noting that motivation and supporting documentation for the decision has not been sent to SMHDF. “We are very disappointed with this development for the foundation and also for our tenants who have to suffer with the lack of improvement to their homes and living conditions since Hurricane Irma.”
Salomons said SMHDF is left in dire straits with 408 row houses in need of repairs. The requested $45 million was earmarked to completely repair damaged homes, replacing leaking roofs and making the housing stock more hurricane resilient, she explained.
The foundation also hoped to have funds available to build new social housing properties on available land.
“Most disappointing is the fact that SMHDF did not even know its request was being discussed by the Steering Committee of the Trust Fund, nor was the foundation asked to meet with the representatives of the committee to properly present its case and explain the reasons why funding is so important at this time.”
Affordable social housing development in St. Maarten is urgently needed, confirmed research conducted by three Dutch-based social housing consultants, Salomon said. “These consultants made noteworthy recommendations. Had we been given the opportunity to speak to the Trust Fund Steering Committee and the World Bank, we would have impressed on them the desperate need for funding as it was clearly spelled out in the comprehensive report on social housing needs for St. Maarten.”
The decision of the World Bank Trust Fund Steering Committee leaves SMHDF no alternative but to consider a rent increase for the first time in its 25 years of existence, Salomon said. “This last resort is being contemplated with mixed feelings during a time when tenants and residents are facing extreme socio-economic constraints due to the COVID-19 pandemic which has severely affected all of us.”
If property rents remain low, Salomons sees no prospect of obtaining further commercial loans to pay for the repairs and renovations. SMHDF continues to have its own obligations with the banks, she said,
Presently tenants in one-, two- and three-bedroom homes pay a monthly rent ranging from NAf. 155 to NAf. 275, which is far less than private rentals. Salomons said tenants will be informed of the devastating news in the coming days.
“I want to thank everyone for their patience and understanding for waiting all this time under very difficult and unsatisfactory conditions,” Salomons said. “We will continue to assist tenants who want to help to improve their own living conditions as best they can until a permanent solution can be found.”
SMHDF makes an urgent appeal to Minister of Public Housing, Spatial Planning, Environment and Infrastructure VROMI Egbert Doran to “not give up on a segment of the community who are in great need.” Salomons said Doran has all the reports that outline the needs of the community and of SMHDF. “We hope that we can continue our dialogue to find a way out of this desperate situation.”