By Douglas McIntosh
KINGSTON, Jamaica (JIS) – The Housing Agency of Jamaica (HAJ) is slated to build 1,650 studio and one-bedroom homes in St Catherine, under a joint venture partnership with China Harbour Engineering Company Limited (CHEC), at a cost of approximately $9.5 billion.
Prime minister, Andrew Holness, CHEC America’s division president, Dr Zhimin Hu and HAJ board chairman, Norman Brown, signed the project agreement during a ceremony at Jamaica House on Tuesday, October 15.
The 54-month project, to be called Catherine Estates, is being developed on land in the Bernard Lodge area and is scheduled to commence in November.
The venture, which is being funded and executed by CHEC under the ‘design, build and finance’ model, represents the first foray by the firm, more synonymous with civil infrastructure works locally, into Jamaica’s housing development market.
The price of the units will range from $5.5 million for a studio to $6.6 million for a one-bedroom house, which will be designed to facilitate expansion by prospective owners.
Holness said the 1,650 units form part of the 3,027 affordable solutions that the HAJ is slated to deliver by the end of the 2019/20 fiscal year, next March. Additionally, he said the development will be the largest undertaken in St Catherine since the construction of Greater Portmore in 1992.
The prime minister indicated that Catherine Estates will be developed in six phases, comprising 14 clusters with wide-ranging amenities and features. These include potable water supply and connection to the National Water Commission’s (NWC) centralised sewerage system, stormwater drains, road networks, sidewalks, and streetlights.
Additionally, there will be two large parks for community recreation and land earmarked to build a primary school and high school, as well as a church, police station, health centre and commercial facilities.
Noting that these will contribute to Catherine Estates being a “total community”, Holness expressed the hope that “ultimately, [it will] be a place of choice for Jamaicans to live, work, play, raise their families, do business and retire in their castle. We are putting in place all the components for a safe, sustainable and affordable community,” he added.
In her remarks, Dr Hu said the project is being undertaken by CHEC in recognition of the need for more affordable housing solutions in Jamaica, which she described as “immense”. She also contended that the likely impact, which the provision of affordable housing can have on the homeowners and their families, is “immeasurable”.
“So, if we are able to further contribute to national development by committing our support in this area, then we will always be happy to work with the people of Jamaica towards fulfilling that vision,” she added.
Ambassador of the People’s Republic of China to Jamaica, His Excellency Tian Qi, said the project is a “really great one” that will have a “great and very positive social effect here. I think this project is invested in by China Harbour… is one of the best ones being done by a Chinese company in Jamaica, because this investment will directly benefit the Jamaican people,” he added.
Minister without portfolio in the ministry of economic growth and job creation with responsibility for housing, Senator Pearnel Charles Jr., said the provision of adequate and affordable housing remains “a priority for this government. What we are seeing with the Catherine Estates housing development is a comprehensive and holistic movement towards national development,” he said.
HAJ chairman, Norman Brown, said the agency is “bubbling with anticipation” for the development’s commencement, adding that the HAJ is “very pleased that we have partnered with CHEC. “We are looking forward to the start… because we know that the demand is out there. We will do our best to fulfil our role in the housing market,” he said.