By Latonya Linton
KINGSTON, Jamaica – The Housing Agency of Jamaica (HAJ) is to undertake the development of 14,000 housing solutions out of the national target of 70,000. To date, the entity has achieved approximately 4,000 housing starts.
Prime minister, Andrew Holness, made the disclosure during his contribution to the 2023/24 budget debate in the House of Representatives, on Thursday, March 16.
“Over the next four years, the HAJ is projecting approximately 10,000 housing starts and just over 6,000 deliveries. The government has heard the calls from citizens in the rural areas, and I am happy to announce that approximately 95 percent of these solutions will be constructed in the parishes of St. Catherine, St. Elizabeth, St James and Trelawny,” Holness said.
Meanwhile, the prime minister, who indicated that there are several informal settlements in his St Andrew West Central constituency, said following a fire that destroyed several board structures, he took the opportunity to rebuild and regularise the area.
Holness pointed out that regularising unplanned communities “can be quite challenging, and rebuilding them is a complex undertaking”.
He said with the help of the National Housing Trust, Jamaica Social Investment Fund, National Water Commission, and HAJ, “we were able to clear a half-acre section of the 3½-acre community to build 24 new housing solutions for the persons who were burnt-out, and those whose structures we decided to replace”.
“A critical element of the project was sewerage connection to facilitate the density of households on the land. Decanting the families to start construction was another challenge. However, the residents are resourceful, and the constituency fund was able to support rent for some families,” Holness said.
“Construction work has started, and the units are contracted to be completed in a record six months, based on the prefabricated building methodology used. Speed of construction is critical for projects like this, as the dislocation and discomfort to families can be frustrating, and residents could easily lose hope in the process,” he added.
Meanwhile, Holness said there are many small informal settlements, like the St Pauls Lane project, which need urgent attention.
He noted that the key is to shorten the construction time, so that relocation and household disruption are minimised.
“We are carefully studying this project to see how we can apply the modality to other informal settlements. The intention is to replicate and scale up this project across the island,” Holness stated.
Meanwhile, the prime minister said the government has rapidly increased the pace of developing new housing solutions to provide affordable options to all Jamaicans.
He noted that last year, on the Bernard Lodge Development, it was discovered that unapproved and unplanned housing was being constructed.
Holness said the persons building the houses were scammed into believing that they had legitimately purchased the land.
“The situation was quite unfortunate and is a cautionary tale to all persons involved in land transactions. The government could not allow the unapproved construction to stand. Our policy is orderly and equitable development. The SCJ [Holdings Limited] has been directed to find alternative sites for those persons who have come forward to claim the unapproved structures which were taken down,” Holness said.
The prime minister pointed out that one young lady, Shaniel Francis, was distraught at the situation of being scammed and her unfinished structure taken down.
“I went to visit the people and we had open and frank discussions about informal settlement of land. I spoke with Shaniel and others who were affected and assured them that, because we are a government of equity and a government that truly cares about the people, we will ensure that they get access to own land legally and for which they can get a title,” Holness stated.
He noted that Francis is now the first of those affected in the land scam at Bernard Lodge to be allotted a plot of land at a very reasonable price.
“I will be assisting her with getting her legal building going,” Holness said.