INNOVATIVE, fair, fast and lower cost housing services were being constantly introduced to help push ahead with thousands of applications for homes, according to Housing Minister Amna Al Romaihi.

She told MPs during an eight-hour marathon session yesterday that new initiatives were also on the way in line with Parliament’s wishes and feedback from families.

“The conventional housing services are available for those wanting them but lengthy waiting periods currently are not up to people’s expectations,” she admitted.

“Parliament’s proposals and public suggestions are being taken up and implemented.

“I assure everyone that any contribution to how we provide services and can improve them is well-received.”

She added that the government payment support towards housing services had increased from BD19,000 to BD40,000 and available loans had also increased from BD60,000 to BD70,000.

New projects were also helping to reduce the number of families on long waiting lists, MPs heard.

“We introduced a new social homes’ project in the Ramli District this month, for example,” said the minister, “and 93pc of the units on offer were taken up within 10 days.”

She added that 131 new homes planned in Salman Town had a reduced sale price of BD98,000 following contract negotiations with a new developer.

She was speaking as the majority of 32 MPs present, with only three rejections, approved parliament-proposed amendments to the 1976 Housing Law that would give the Housing and Urban Planning Minister more rights to add new services, as well as introduce new criteria and more facilities, specifically for low-income families.

Ms Al Romaihi backed the move, saying that it would offer much-needed flexibility.

The minister told MPs that steps to implement the Cabinet’s decision to amend the mechanism for calculating allowances for the monthly income standards for all categories eligible for housing services was also underway.

The mechanism includes basic salaries, plus fixed allowances that exceed BD100.

She indicated that, in accordance with the resolution approved by the Cabinet, a new segment would be added for female beneficiaries, covering divorced and widowed Bahraini women with their non-Bahraini or Bahraini minor children, in addition to divorcees, widows and abandoned women without children.

The minister said a new category would also see an expansion in the age eligibility to start from 21 without a maximum age limit.

Some MPs, including services committee chairman Mohammed Al Hussaini, Ahmed Al Salloom and Khalid Bu Onk voiced concerns over existing housing schemes and bank profits.

“Housing loans are a trap, someone takes BD70,000 and ends up paying BD160,000 over a 30-year instalment period,” shouted Mr Bu Onk.

Acting Speaker Abdulnabi, who stepped up after Parliament Speaker Ahmed Al Musallam had to leave for the UAE to pay condolences midway through the session, claimed there were 121 homes in Ramli District that had remained uninhabited for five years.

Meanwhile, MPs spent five hours debating government responses on proposals presented by Parliament to the government over the past six months.

Parliament and Shura Council Affairs Minister Ghanim Al Buainain unveiled plans to build a bridge linking Ma’ameer and Eker. It would be built thanks to a donation by Alba and Bapco and provide safety for pedestrians in a known accident blackspot.

The minister added that pension beneficiaries’ lists were regularly updated following claims by Mr Bu Onk that a Thai widow was receiving a monthly pension for her deceased Bahraini husband despite living in her home country.

MP Hassan Bukhammas called for action against gangs allegedly recruiting runaway housemaids for prostitution.

All other scheduled topics up for discussion were postponed due to time limits.

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