On the ground

On the ground

Concerns of St. Maarten Consumers Coalition regarding the pace of home repair (see Friday paper) following the widespread destruction caused by Hurricane Irma in September 2017 are shared by many. While non-governmental organisations (NGOs) have done an admirable job in this regard largely made possible with emergency financial aid from the Netherlands, the contribution from government’s own programmes has been rather modest, to say the least.

One has since been taken over by the National Recovery Project Bureau (NRPB) with means from the Dutch-sponsored Trust Fund managed by the World Bank. This will hopefully lead to more people still living in damaged houses and/or under broken roofs getting help sooner.

But some of the understandable criteria involved are proving major obstacles in practice. Perhaps the biggest is that applicants must own the dwelling, while most people on the island rent.

If landlords are not adequately insured, otherwise can’t or simply refuse to fix their property, the tenants have little recourse, especially with a practically non-functioning Rental Committee. Thankfully, a few were able to go to court and judges have acknowledged the right to withhold a suitable amount from the rent to make repairs if these are not forthcoming in a reasonable period.

However, this way it might take while before the problem can be fully and comprehensively addressed as usually required. Landlords often can’t get mortgages from the bank either, due to their income situation.

Some type of facility in the form of a soft loan for them to have the work done and repay the money from the rent they collect could indirectly prevent a great number of residents in need from being excluded. It would also be more in keeping with the local reality on the ground.