More to Habitat Real Estate Case than Official Assertion
We refer to the letter from Berhane Abate, managing director of Habitat-New Flower Homes Plc, headlined, “No Seed of Truth in Habitat Real Estate Case” (Volume 15, Number 738, June 8, 2014). We are obliged to respond to the letter because it attempts to damage our honor and integrity, and is full of statements not supported by facts.
We will start by addressing the identity of Habitat-New Flower Homes Plc. Relevant government records indicate that Habitat New Flower Homes is a family owned company whose shareholders are listed in the government record as Berhane Abate, and his siblings Etsegenet Abate, Manyhaleshal Abate, Kifle Abate, and others. These individuals market their family-owned and managed real estate project to potential buyers through Habitai-New Flower Homes Plc.
Etsegenet owns the land the houses are built on, while Berhane, as managing director of both Habitat and Berta Construction, presides over the hard-earned money collected from the homebuyers. For practical purposes, Habitat and Berta are one and the same, or are two sides of the same coin, managed by the same individuals.
But these entities are being used as a convenient cover to escape personal accountability for the deceptive real estate practices, and for the loss in millions of Birr by innocent homebuyers. For instance, Berhane now denies the affiliation between the companies, and states in his letter about Habitat that “the story claims our company is an affiliate of Berta Construction. This is completely untrue”.
His assertion has surprised us and many others. We, therefore, find it our moral obligation to present as evidence Habitat/Berta sales brochure, which describes the relationship between the two in their own words. We leave it to the public as to which one to believe; the Habitat/Berta Sales brochure, or Berhane’s recent declaration.
The Habibat family heavily advertised their real estate venture in the Ethiopian community in the US and Europe at a time when the government was encouraging the Ethiopian diaspora to return, and contribute to the national development. Habitat offered an attractive real estate package to lure customers, which many unsuspecting buyers accepted and paid for with their life-long savings.
Most were retirees eager to return home and enjoy their golden years among their people. Unfortunately, some of these buyers today live in rental houses in Addis Abeba, with their household belongings in containers, because Habitat failed to deliver their house as per the contract.
After several years of waiting, some buyers sued Habitat for the failed delivery of their houses. A group of 28 home buyers subsequently signed a three-party agreement in 2010 – between Habitat, Buyers, and Etsegenet, who at a later stage surfaced as the legal owner of the land.
The agreement called on Habitat/Etsegent to hand-over the houses in the unfinished or skeleton state, as they were, and that Habitat to refund the 28 homebuyers a total of 12.2 million Br, money it has collected from the buyers over the years. Despite this signed agreement, Habitat today claims that it has no money to refund the home buyers.
The 2010 agreement also states Habitat/Etsegenet will hand-over to each homeowner relevant documents on each house, including title deed, to enable legal transfer of ownership. Again, Habitat/Etsegenet reneged on their part of the agreement, claiming title deeds are not part of the documents to be handed over. These issues are in contention in court.
Lastly, Berhane’s letter implies that we have intentions to slander or tarnish people’s good name. No doubts that Habitat has built a reputation in recent years, good or bad.
However, nothing can tarnish its name more than the group of unfinished houses in Habitat’s compound that seem abandoned for years. These houses are a public testimony to, and a living proof of, the failed promises of Habitat.
No matter the circumstances, it is a tragedy to witness them falling apart, and scarce resources being wasted, as days go by.The houses give the impression of a war zone in the compound, and represent a gross neglect of responsibility, while posing a security threat as hide-outs for criminals.
Furthermore, the government is losing millions in tax revenue from these houses, which would have been used productively for community development. We hope all these issues will get the attention they deserve,and justice will be served soon.
Wossen Wubeneh, Tsega Asamere, and Zewedu Ketema