The lines at the office of Hon. Manuel Heredia are normally long, but very soon the lines will be even longer as the very poor residents of San Pedro and Caye Caulker will be visiting the office to apply for free money (grants) which is part of the 1.8 million dollars that the Government of Belize got from the Venezuelan Government to alleviate housing problems in Belize. The previous administration had diverted the fund to health need but this new administration has re-designated it for housing of the poor.

The Ministry of Housing held a press conference to explain just how the money will be disbursed, and there’s no scarcity of specifics. First, the money will be given out in grants, not loans, meaning, recipients will not be asked to pay it back. Second, and this was repeated three times, it is for the poorest of the poor; that means grants for new houses will only be given to those making 15,000 dollars a year, or less; grants for home improvement will only be given to those making 20,000 dollars a year, or less.

Third, the grants will be disbursed across 31 constituencies spread out across four zones: north, south, east and west. A pplications will be available from all 31 area representatives, including the six PUP area reps; applications will not be distributed individually to applicants by the Ministry of Housing. Fourth, no one will get money in their hands.

Fifth, all disbursements will be reviewed on a per region basis by a six member oversight committee specific to that region. That group will have representation from the Ministry of Housing in the city, or the Ministry of Works in the districts, The National Trade Union Congress of Belize, the chamber of Commerce, the Ministry of Human Development and two area representatives. The oversight committees will review and approve applications, monitor construction and sign off on all disbursements.

There will be a limit of $30,000 on grants for new homes, and $10,000 for home improvement. It was also stressed that applications by those who already have a property will be easier to process. That’s a lot of rules, particularly when one considers that there were no rules at all when the first US$10Mil were disbursed before the general elections, but things have changed. The CEO for the Ministry of Housing Rosalie Gentle made it clear that this is a no nonsense program.

“Application forms will be distributed through the various area representatives,” commented Rosalie Gentle, CEO – Ministry of Housing. “All application forms must be properly filled out with attached estimates if required and submitted to the Ministry of Housing through your area representatives. Applications will be sorted out at the Ministry level and then submitted to the various oversight committees. So all applications will go into the Ministry and the Ministry will then separate them into four regions.

Mrs. Gentle continued by stating that the Ministry will process applications, sort them and the oversight committee will review them for approval. The Ministry, after the applications have been approved, will be processed. However, this is where monitoring will commence, the Ministry personnel will be required to take a picture of the house before it is repaired. So applicants are advised to take note that if you are to benefit from this project; a picture of your house before the repairs and a picture after will have to be obtained by the Ministry personnel.

There are no projected figures for how many homes will be built because the money will be split between home improvement and new home grants – and no one knows how many applications will be received for each. But at $30,000 each, 600 new homes can be constructed with $18Mil. The full amount available is $18.5Mil because $1.5Mil was spent on disaster relief.

Hulse explained that those funds were spent in the Cayo, Corozal, Orange Walk and Belize districts. They repaired damaged homes, raised homes that were vulnerable to floods, and installed flooring and partitions for homes with dirt floors. They did work on 40 homes in the Cayo district, 50 in the Belize district, 240 homes in the Orange Walk district, and 30 in the Corozal district. They were able to do it by competitive bidding for construction materials as well as with help of the Mennonite communities of Pilgrimage Valley and Red Creek who didn’t charge for their labor.

News Source: News 7