Bermuda Housing Trust Audited Financials for the Year 2022

Mr. Speaker, I have today as Minister with responsibility for Housing the pleasure of tabling the most recent audited financial statements for the Bermuda Housing Trust, the statutory body charged with providing seniors in Bermuda with the most affordable rental accommodation possible.

I am pleased to note for the information of members that the Trust is current in its annual audits, and that it is another clean, unqualified audit for the Trust, and further that the audited statements show that the Trust remains in a relatively strong financial position notwithstanding the challenges it faces.

Mr. Speaker, a word about those challenges:

Like most organisations in Bermuda, and indeed throughout the world, the Trust had to wrestle with the COVID pandemic and the impact it had on its day to day operations. It was at times a struggle for the Trust as it was for so many other charities in the island. In particular, maintenance of its five properties fell behind during this period and the Trust is now having to play catch up. This is critical for ageing properties which serve as home for close to 200 seniors. Some of these properties date back as much as 50 years and maintenance can often involve major work to ensure they are brought up to code. This is not inexpensive and here the Ministry of Public Works continues to assist where it can when called upon by the Trust.

Simply put Mr. Speaker and as I have said numerous times before in this Honorable House - maintenance costs have been steadily increasing and are not predicted to go down anytime soon.

Meanwhile, the Trust continues to stick with its long standing policy of not raising rents on sitting tenants, which remains a source of comfort and reassurance to their senior residents in the times of ever increasing costs.

Mr. Speaker, the Bermuda Housing Trust is for seniors who are capable of independent living i.e. capable of living on their own. All residents typically go in with that capability. However, we all understand - and appreciate - that ageing over time brings challenges which makes living independently difficult. We endeavor to work with our seniors and their families to come up with the solution that meets their needs. That is not as easy as it sounds. The Trust understands and appreciates that seniors want to maintain their independence and dignity to the end. Generally we also find that they do not want to be a burden to their families and, if they can, want to avoid ending up in a rest home. In any event, with respect to the latter, there are limited spaces which presents yet another problem for seniors, their families and Government.

Secondly, members will see that the Trust remains committed to paying off a substantial loan: a $12.5 million dollar loan that was taken out in 2006 with HSBC to construct the Dr. Cann Park in Southampton, five blocks totaling approximately 100 units. The audited statements show that this loan now stands at just under $4 million - which is good news - the terms of which require that it be renegotiated this year. The Trust’s hope is that the HSBC bank will do its charitable best to continue to extend favourable terms!

Mr. Speaker, I am aware too, that the COVID experience was also a learning experience for the Trust, again as it was for so many other organizations in Bermuda. It highlighted some of the deficiencies to what is essentially a volunteer charitable organization, running as it is with but one full time employee and a couple of part timers. While that overhead may have been good for the bottom line, it has also made difficult and challenging the Trust mission of serving its client seniors.

The Trust responded by re-examining its organisation and its operations, all with a view to minimizing, if not eliminating its weaknesses, and maximizing its strengths. Some of these involved observations that the Office of the Auditor General has been making in their annual audits of the Trust these past few years.

Mr. Speaker, the Bermuda Housing Trust therefore now finds itself in a period of transition and we can all appreciate how difficult that can be at times: for the trustees, for staff, for the volunteers and for residents.

But I am confident that they are on the right track here and I am assured that their senior residents will not suffer as the Trust undergoes these internal changes; indeed I believe the seniors will in the end be better served which, after all, is the purpose of the Trust in the first place.

Mr. Speaker and Honourable members, what is noteworthy is that the work is overseen and sometimes done by trustees who are essentially volunteers who give of their time freely and for the small stipend they are paid for meetings. The demand on their time also increases as the demand for higher standards increase for better internal governance. I want to thank those who continue to serve. It is most welcomed and appreciated.

Here I should like to thank two members in particular who stepped down this past year, one of whom is our colleague here in the House and in Cabinet: the Honorable Vance Campbell JP MP who, upon appointment as a Minister, retired after nearly 15 years of service to the Trust and who had been serving as deputy chair. I am informed that his contributions and his talents, especially in the area of maintenance, are sorely missed. The other is Mr. Scott Stewart who stepped down after close to ten years of service.

Mr. Speaker, I would also like to thank both the Trust’s Chairperson Mr. John Barritt and Deputy Chairperson Mrs. Rochelle Simons whom after ten years of service, continue to work diligently to guide the Trust’s work.

Thank you Mr. Speaker!