FORTY-SEVEN families heaved a sigh of relief yesterday after the Housing Authority of Fiji wrote off their loans totalling $395,000 to ensure they retained their homes.
Since 2011 when the authority began writing off home loans of families who were deemed unable to make repayments, under the housing social policy within the authority, CEO Alipate Naiorosui said it had so far assisted 393 families to the tune of about $4million.
As for the 47 loan accounts amounting to $395,000, it has been confirmed that $285,000 was drawn from a government grant alongside $110,000 from Housing Authority provisions.
Authority board chairperson Colonel Mosese Tikoitoga said during their assessment of those accounts, it was evident that those homeowners did not have the ability to repay their loan.
"Considering that the next course of action would be to sell the property due to non-payment, the write off of these loan accounts is a one-off assistance to these homeowners after carefully reviewing each of their financial ability to repay the balance," Col Tikoitoga said yesterday.
"So with these 47 families, we have looked at their personal accounts, and also looking at the difficulty of repayment, the inability to repay, and the continuous accumulative interest, it has come to a point where we either have to make a decision to mortgage and sell off their homes so we can recover our funds; or go back and write a policy with the approval of government to write off these personal accounts, and continue to give them their homes so they can enjoy the rest of their lives. "From 2011, we started writing off accounts of people who paid three times more than the amount that they loaned. In 2012, we moved down to two-point-five times more, and this year we moved to people who paid one-point-five times more than the amount that they loaned."
Following the write off, he said special conditions would now apply to protect the intent of the assistance under the social housing policy.
This includes a caveat period of 15 years on those properties.
He said that in the event the homeowner or beneficiary wished to sell or transfer shares within 15 years, the total amount written off would need to be repaid to the authority.
He added no further loans would be granted by the authority within that same period unless the amount is repaid in full.
Col Tikoitoga said the policy was an indication of the government's commitment and the Housing Authority board and management in furthering the aspirations of house owners to own their homes and not be burdened by the accumulating interest and accumulating loans they have in their accounts.
One of the beneficiaries, Ratu Kaminieli Vuiyasawa, was overjoyed to finally call the house at Nabua his own.
He has been paying for this house since 1979.
Mr Vuiyasawa, 60, said he was very grateful to the authority for their consideration.
"I bought this house for $12,000 but I've paid more than $35,000 to the Housing Authority," he said.
He said he struggled to meet the costs after he retired in 2009 because he did not have an FNPF allowance.
"I couldn't meet my payments. When I had money, I would pay little by little, until today."