Affordable homes plan draw interest

A strong turnout marked the Licensed Contractors’ open house on pre-qualification requirements for the first phase of the National Housing Development Trust’s affordable housing project, scheduled to begin early next year

At the meeting, held on 17 December by the Ministry of Community Affairs and Housing and the Trust licensed small contractors were invited to hear about the project and the requirements to prequalify.

‘As we approach the new year, the Ministry and the Trust felt that it was timely to begin dialogue with you our partners on the critical issue of providing needed shelter for our people, employment for our small contractors and construction workers and to lay the groundwork to begin that process,’ said Minister of Community Affairs and Housing Mike Adam, who was joined by MLA Ellio Solomon, Trust Chairman Edward McLaughlin, ministry Chief Officer Dorine Whittaker, and Trust Deputy Chair Edlin Myles.

Explaining the government’s plans to bring affordable housing to families in need, Mr. Adam said Government has provided a guarantee to the Trust to borrow funds for the construction of 20 homes in West Bay and 12 in East End, saying later phases of the project will cover the construction of similar homes in Bodden Town and George Town.

He later noted that the East End site has room for 61 homes, with a similar number in West Bay.

The approach to allocating the contracts is novel, however, in that rather than awarding one contract to a large firm to the decision was made to include more small contractors and vendors.

‘This inclusive approach is our way of supporting small businesses, which contribute significantly to our economy even as we address the essential social need of providing shelter,’ said Mr. Adam.

He noted that while the meeting was only a pre-qualification exercise, he stressed that companies wishing to participate should have reputable history and be licensed and possess a valid Trade and Business License.

The large numbers in attendance were evidence enough of the interest among small contractors.

Mr. Solomon underscored the intention that the end result could be one contractor per home.

‘If our intention was to simply provide homes at the cheapest price we would be going about this differently but right now there is no limit to the number of contractors chosen for this initial batch of homes,’ he said.

Noting that there were close to 700 applications for affordable homes with the ministry, he said the potential work for small contractors was significant.

Contractors are to submit their prequalification documents by 8 January, and Mr. Adam said the tenders would be out by late January. He anticipated the tendering process would take four to six weeks, with the first shovel in the ground around mid-February.

‘I think it’s a good idea to give work to the smaller operators out there,’ said architect Burns Conolly, who was at the meeting to hear more about the plans.

‘Obviously if you have thirty different contractors all ordering ten sheets of plywood each the costs will be higher than one company ordering one hundred, but that is something that seems to have been factored into this.’

Contractors in attendance were keen to learn more, with many demonstrating interest in the plans and drawings which were on display, though many remained cautious.

‘I’ll wait to take a good look at the plans,’ said Ed Howell of GrandCay contractors.

‘It’s a good idea, and obviously the biggest advantage from this project is for the people who will be owning these houses.’

He anticipated there may be some very competitive bidding, noting that the government would need to be mindful of extremely low bids, a practice which could lead to problems further down the road.

Another topic lying high on the priority list for contractors is the recent controversy surrounding the construction of the new high schools. Responding to concerns from the audience, Mr. Adam said that financing for the projects was in place and was not an issue.

‘You’ll get paid, no doubt about it,’ he said.