More houses

Prime minister announces plan to address squatting

Senior staff reporter

Monday, November 19, 2018

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PRIME Minister Andrew Holness yesterday indicated his Government's intention to focus on more housing options for vulnerable Jamaicans living in squatter situations.

Holness told a huge crowd of Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) supporters attending the party's annual conference and 75th anniversary celebrations at the National Arena that the only thing that will help ensure that Jamaicans have access to “structured, orderly housing development, in which they can secure value, is if the Government provides the environment in which people can get access to credit and build their own homes.

“It is not just a problem that people do not have access to land. The squatting problem is that the housing market is not working fast enough to build affordable housing solutions for the people to purchase on a fair and just basis,” he told the crowd.

He said that, despite its 40-year history, the National Housing Trust (NHT) has never been used as efficiently as it could be. However, he maintained that his Government intends to meet the target of 22,000 housing solutions to be produced by the trust by 2020 and is already on target for 6,000 solutions (houses and serviced lots) this year.

But this would still not be enough to meet the demand for housing for poor Jamaicans, and the Government has been working on a plan to build 13,000 additional units. However, he said that the details of this development would not be made public until later.

“Building houses for the Jamaican people is my passion, and when we are through we are going to build houses so that every single Jamaican would not have to think to go to squat on somebody's land,” he said.

The prime minister said these plans are geared at changing the “thought process”, as the construction of more of these houses will encourage vulnerable Jamaicans to start contributing to the NHT, however small the contribution.

“So, whether you are a janitor, a groundsman, a gardener, or a helper, you too must have it in your mind that one day, not far away, not a dream, not an illusion, but one day you can own your own home with a title that you can pass on to generations to come. That is how you break the cycle of poverty in the land,” Holness said.

He also noted that consideration was also being given to older and indigent Jamaicans who currently don't have a chance of owning a home through the market and are forced to continue living in terrible housing conditions.

He said that the Government is designing a programme in which it will be spending $500 million on building “affordable, reasonable” houses for the poor and indigent right across Jamaica.

The project will be done under Government's Housing, Opportunity, Production and Employment (HOPE) Programme, and will engage young men and women in the programme in an apprenticeship modality. They will go through a process of training with the HEART Trust/NTA and other institutions to construct the homes for the poor and indigent.

“We are going to ensure that we have our young people do it in an apprenticeship national service modality, and will be able to do something good for the nation and also come away with a skill,” he added.

The HOPE programme is, in part, a training and apprenticeship programme which provides an avenue for the development of fully rounded individuals through a system of National Service Corps for participants to become productive members of society.

The programme currently targets unattached youth between 18 and 24 years old.

With more than 750 squatter communities across the island, local land, and housing agencies estimate that approximately one million Jamaicans, about 33 per cent of the population, live in squatter communities scattered across the island. Some 75 per cent of the communities are located on Government lands, 38 per cent on arable land and 10 per cent in environmentally fragile areas.

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