RAISING THE ROOF

Jamaica 2018 | CONSTRUCTION & REAL ESTATE | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Martin Miller, Managing Director of the National Housing Trust (NHT), on housing demands, developing downtown Kingston, and creating effective partnerships.

 Martin Miller
BIOGRAPHY
Martin Miller was appointed Managing Director of the National Housing Trust in March 2017, after acting in the position since August 2013. Before his appointment, he served the trust as Senior General Manager of Finance. He has been with the trust since 1984 and has progressed through a variety of positions including that of Assistant General Manager, Treasury Management; General Manager, Finance and Accounting; and CFO. In addition to his present role of Managing Director, Miller is one of NHT’s representatives on the Board of Harmonization Limited. A certified accountant by profession, he holds an MBA from the University of Manchester.

How do you evaluate the need for new housing in Jamaica now and in the coming years?

At the trust, we conduct demand surveys that assist us in determining areas of focus and also the needs of our contributors. This is complimented by private developers who come to us from time to time with a project concept. In those instances, we look at their proposal, conduct the financial assessment, and match it to our demand survey and other forms of due diligence. We decide whether it is a project NHT could finance with the deciding factor being the extent to which NHT contributors will benefit.

Is there room for vertical expansion in Kingston?

Vertical expansion is something that NHT has been considering and is now taking steps to integrate in our building model; however, we have to measure that against density factors, which ultimately determines the number of rooms per building. Importantly, we have to ensure that our developments are matched with available resources such as water and roads. This aspect of the construction process is regulated by the National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA). NEPA analyses and organizes developments. NHT works with that agency, and is, therefore, guided by NEPA assessment in determining what type of solution it puts in an area.

Do you have plans to work in developing downtown Kingston?

Generally, there are plans afoot to revitalize downtown Kingston. We are working with the Urban Development Corporation (UDC) to target certain areas to refurbish, remodel, and reconstruct, as well as to put life back into the downtown area. UDC has been offering incentives for companies to go back to downtown Kingston. With these activities, there will be a need for housing, so NHT is on board with this program, and we are looking at mixed developments that include housing as well as commercial spaces so people can be close to where they work.

How do you partner with developers?

NHT partners with private developers through our Interim-Finance Programme whereby we provide loans for the construction of houses. There are also joint venture arrangements, and we currently have one with West Indies Home Contractors Limited (WIHCON), in which we are developing 1,500 units at a site called The Estuary at Friendship in St. James. WIHCON owns the land and is also the contractor, with NHT coming on board as the financiers and marketers of the project. The units have come out at a price point that is comfortably within NHT's loan ceiling, which means that the majority of our contributors who qualify will have ready financing through NHT. We are looking at similar projects under a Developers' Programme. The trust has parcels of land all across Jamaica and is currently inviting developers to indicate an interest to develop these lands especially for low-income housing. We are also hoping to see more interest from international developers to drive competition, which will in turn lower prices and improve efficiency.

What is your outlook for the housing sector, and how will you contribute to it in the coming years?

The outlook for housing remains strong based on current demand figures. NHT's current housing plan is to see 15,000 housing starts by 2020. We have projects that should yield upward of 1,500 housing solutions in St James, 2,000 in Manchester, well over 3,000 for Clarendon, and a similar figure for St. Catherine. At this rate, NHT will be able to have a significant impact on the housing demand figures in the next few years. Our contribution as an enabler for more housing constructing projects through financing developments that fit into our target markets will continue, and we will continue to make land available to developers. With the current high demand for housing, NHT realizes the housing industry will be key for Jamaica's economic turnaround.