Housing is one of the basic needs of any human being. Even though Guyana is a large country with a relatively tiny population, the nation after forty-eight years of independence seems unable to cope with its housing problems.
We are informed that there are more Guyanese in the diaspora than those residing in Guyana. In the Caribbean, Suriname, Cayenne, Brazil, Venezuela not to mention the UK, USA and Canada, there are large Guyanese societies. Despite the huge exodus over the years, we continue to experience difficulties in finding suitable and affordable accommodation. This is a great paradox and one wonders how Guyanese who have migrated find housing in countries with millions of inhabitants. Sadly some private owners in Guyana are exploiting their tenants.
The housing drive for ownership is indeed ambitious but is somewhat unrealistic. In every aspect of life there are pros and cons. House ownership, either purchasing or building, has some compelling ramifications. One must have substantial capital to buy the house or land and take a mortgage, which can be a burden if one’s income is inadequate. One must be prepared to make great sacrifices to keep up with the mortgage for years, failing which there can be a foreclosure on the property. Rates and taxes, general maintenance, losses from unscrupulous and incompetent contractors, are part of the bargain.
According to the findings of a recent study on housing in Latin America, there is need for both ownership and rentals in countries to help alleviate the housing shortage.
In the colonial times, Guyanese could find houses for rental at reasonable prices. There were housing schemes in recent years where the rents were quite cheap but alas, many tenants refused to pay their rent and allowed it to run into thousands of dollars. Government decided to sell these houses at nominal prices. This perhaps has deterred the present administration from venturing into the building of houses for rental. However, it needs to be done with stricter rules. Self-help housing should be continued.
Let us have a national forum to which all relevant stakeholders are invited: government, religious bodies and NGOs, private sector and other corporate entities. There we need to have holistic and comprehensive discussions. Special consideration should be given to housing the elderly. Some must live in geriatric homes because of their illness. However, there are active ones who can live on their own and pay a rent out of their pensions. Let the nation compare and contrast housing conditions in Guyana with the rest of the Caricom region and see what improvements we can introduce to solve our housing dilemma. Meanwhile, the authorities should take stern measures to prohibit or regularize wanton squatters.