The BOTTOM – The lack of affordable housing remains a major challenge for renters on Saba. “There is no information whatsoever from the government available about rights and responsibilities of renters and tenants, so it’s kind of like the ‘wild west’”, stated renter Rhiannon Jorna.
The National Ombudsman stated in 2016, “There is no rental commission on Saba and no regulation yet which regulates maximum rents and maximum rent increases.”
Jorna continued, “The government should charge people with empty houses/second property to deal with vacancy in housing. Also, […] start a government regulated place where people can find information about housing, costs, allowances, rights and regulations for both renters and tenants.”
Saba has more than 1,100 homes. Nearly 96 percent of this is privately owned and 4 percent is owned by social landlords. When living costs rise, housing becomes less affordable, despite the increase in income over the years.
Jorna explained, “We looked at a home that was $2,200 per month, which was worth the money, but we can’t afford that. Another house we looked at was $1,200 […] however it was located right above the dump, we had to share the washing machine and there was no place for the kids to go outside safely unsupervised.”
“The problem is that people tend to settle for what they can afford here. They don’t speak up, because they don’t know better, for fear of upsetting others, for fear of repercussions, or because they’ll leave in two years again anyway”, Jorna concluded.
The cost of living on Saba has steadily increased, whereas the salaries do not match this increase. And many of the available housing on Saba goes to the approximately 450 international students and employees of the Saba University School of Medicine.
Obstacles of privately owned Landlords
Landlord Malusca Baker said, “I have two apartments with the average cost of $700. I don’t target medical students, my apartments are open to anyone that is in need of a place to rent. However, students have always been interested in them, even before they become vacant. One of my apartments has been rented for a few years now, to someone who isn’t a medical student.”
Baker continued, “In the 11 years I’ve owned my apartments, I’ve increased the rent once due to the high costs of maintenance. This was due to the costs of labor for maintenance or purchasing goods on Saba to maintain your place.”
Another concerned landlord explained, “The home owner’s insurances and interest rates are extra costs to the mortgage payments that our local property owners have to pay for the rest of their lives. All of this, unfortunately, affects the rent price.”
The legal minimum wage will go up from US $5.58 to US $6.21 per hour, an increase of 9.4 percent starting from January 1 2019. The employers’ premiums will structurally go down by 5 percent, from 18.4 percent to 13.4 percent. By lowering the cost for employers, the private sector can increase the wages without having the wage cost go up.
The State Secretary will inform the House of Representatives of the Dutch Parliament about the effect of the measures, to raise people’s incomes in the Caribbean Netherlands before the summer of 2019.