Mario Carey - Better Homes and Gardens

Broker Mario Carey: Distressed properties rental assistance program idea gaining momentum, ‘Golden opportunity’ for entrepreneurs, jobs and boost to economy

A little more than a week after real estate broker Mario Carey introduced the idea of using foreclosed properties to meet housing needs for displaced families in the wake of monstrous Category 5 Hurricane Dorian, Carey reported the concept has gained ‘incredible momentum.’

“We had a group of high net worth individuals on the island this week for a private event hosted by Bahamian businessmen. When we mentioned the idea of taking unoccupied residential properties, either single or multi-residential, and converting them into short-term rentals at a reduced rate to provide some form of normalcy for families who lost everything during the storm, every single member of that group of the super successful said they would like to be part of it,” said Carey. “They recognized it as social entrepreneurship.”

Carey, founder of the first international franchise of the globally recognized Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate brand, proposes preparing an inventory of all distressed properties in New Providence and populated Family Islands that could support additional children in classrooms or would have the requisite medical facilities available in special cases.

“Part of the challenge now is that people are being housed all over – in shelters, in hotels, with family or with strangers who have been kind enough to take them in. None of those conditions is sustainable. Families cannot live in tents, shelters or hotels for extended periods. For those who lost everything, having a roof over their head and a home to call their own, even temporarily, will allow them a chance to begin to build their lives again.”

According to Carey, there are probably over 2,000 residential units held by banks and other financial institutions as a result of homeowners defaulting on mortgages. In a small percentage of cases, the homeowner has been allowed to remain in the house while the bank attempts to sell and recoup money it lent, but in the vast majority, houses sit empty, abandoned.

“Vacant houses, especially if there are several, bring down the value of a neighbourhood. They can be unsightly with uncared for yards.  Vacant buildings become refuges for rats, mice and other vermin, not to mention drug dependent and the homeless. Often, they are cover for drug deals or criminal acts,” he said.

Carey, who began as one of a small number of professionals to hold an academic degree in real estate, has built a stellar career linking his business acumen with a pioneering drive, and 30+ years of appraisal, sales and leasing expertise. But this idea–transforming distressed properties into rental housing for victims of the storm called RAP, Rental Assistance Program –is the one he thinks may be his biggest plan yet.

“Tents, shelters and hotel rooms are temporary,” says Carey. “Contributions that came in immediately following the storm are already slowing down, making it increasingly challenging for government to keep people in those hotels that are charging for rooms.”

He envisions various groups of investors, led by Bahamians, buying distressed properties, but with reduced closing costs including the possibility of a VAT waiver. Reduced cost on repairs may be enabled by duty exemption on those suppliers on NEMA’s approved list of vendors, expected to be issued soon. Decisions about extent of government rent subsidies, length of assistance, who qualifies would still have to be made if the idea is approved. Carey has started a round of meetings with officials in both the public, private sectors and not-for-profit sectors.

Yesterday, Bahamas Real Estate Association 3-term President Christine Wallace-Whitfield gave a personal tentative nod to RAP, noting the board had not met and her vote was her opinion only.

“An occupied property is always a better option than a vacant property in a neighbourhood,” said Wallace-Whitfield. “Occupied properties are less vulnerable to vandalism, or settings for crime, drugs and general deterioration. It would be a solid solution for banks to get foreclosed properties off their books, eventually provide a return on investment for those who purchase and, in the interim and most importantly, provide housing for those who need it.”