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Senate debates jobs and affordable housing

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Affordable housing: Kathy Lynn Simmons (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

Senators urged the Government to focus on job creation yesterday and raised concerns about the provision of affordable housing.

A new line-up of legislators met to debate the Throne Speech, delivered by John Rankin, the Governor, earlier this month.

Their discussion was opened by Kathy Lynn Simmons, the Attorney-General and Minister of Legal Affairs, who said the Government had been “charged ... to ensure that we advance initiatives that are actually doable”.

The speech said Bermuda Housing Corporation is working on a project to build studio and one-bedroom apartments in the City of Hamilton.

Ms Simmons said: “We have to accelerate plans to address the continuing issue with regard to the availability of affordable housing for Bermudians — there has been much talk of unsuccessful past efforts, you can’t give up, you have to keep trying.

“There is a dollar value, there are losses along the way, but this remains a government priority, which will be advanced within this legislative session.

“We have to ensure that basic human needs are met, so that people can live with the dignity that they deserve.”

Nick Kempe, who returned to frontline politics as the One Bermuda Alliance’s senate leader after a change in the party leadership, raised concerns about how the housing project would develop.

He said: “There is the real fear — that it’s going to be executed poorly.”

Mr Kempe highlighted the failed Grand Atlantic housing development in Warwick as “a glaring example of that”.

He added: “It’s still sitting there, poking everyone in the eye and costing taxpayers money every single month.”

Mr Kempe said the “first entry rung of housing” had been removed from the market as homeowners opted to rent studio apartments and other smaller properties to tourists.

He added: “That’s an excellent show of what’s happening with tourism under the BTA but we need to be mindful about its effect on the market.”

The Throne Speech also outlined a reformed tax system for Bermuda, based on ability to pay.

Mr Kempe said: “One of the main things that the tax reform report, the fiscal responsibility report, all these kind of independent gurus are telling us, is that we need to broaden our base.”

He added: “In 2010, the country suffered an almost 10 per cent population exodus. These were people that were paying in and would leave the country in retirement age, so the net benefit to our overall system is ... the critical issue.”

He added: “We have an ageing population. The number of people in the workforce to the number of people retired is going to spike in the next five years.

“That’s going to put an ever-increasing onus on the working population, on the amount of dollars available for consumption and that will stress business and employment, and it’s an ever-escalating cycle.”

James Jardine, an independent senator, said it was important for the Government to create a welcoming environment for business on the island but admitted that was a “significant” challenge.

He added: “There is no question that we have to look very quickly and very appropriately at things like our immigration laws and, for example, our 60:40 rule.

“Businesses need to be attracted here, they need to feel that they can come here and it’s worthwhile for them to be here.”

He said this required “a concerted effort by all of us”.

Michelle Simmons, also an independent senator, spoke about the Progressive Labour Party government’s plan to phase out middle schools and introduce signature schools with a specialist focus.

She added she was aware of plans to have a consultation on this and that was “absolutely essential”.

Ms Simmons added: “They need to collect as many viewpoints from as many stakeholders as possible.”

Welcoming environment: James Jardine (File photograph)
Fear of poor execution: Nick Kempe (File photograph)