BY COREY ROBINSON Sunday Observer staff reporter firstname.lastname@example.org
DISCONTENT is rising in Phoenix Vista, Portmore, between owners of concrete houses and their neighbours who live in wooden dwellings donated by Food for the Poor.
The former group argues that the board houses have negative implications for the value of their properties, while the other maintains that they are legal owners and will not be bullied into moving. The rift developed last year when the poor relief organisation started erecting its signature one-room board houses on the property which the Housing Agency of Jamaica (HAJ) sold for between $1 and $3 million.
The development consists of 100 detached studio units — priced at the higher end — and several service lots, tagged at the more affordable $1 million. Some lot owners to whom the Jamaica Observer spoke when it visited the community on Thursday explained that they could not afford to get loans to build concrete houses and so turned to Food for the Poor.
But according to some residents, the board dwellings — some of which are in a shabby state — have caused the aesthetic appeal and the monetary value of their community to depreciate and they want the authorities to intervene before the community becomes a "ghetto".
"It not fair to us. I buy my house and build it up to rent it out. I can't invite people to come rent my place when dem have to pass all of dem board house deh come here. Dem not going to come," fumed one woman, who identified herself only as 'Stacy'. "This is foolishness. The place start pop dung before it start buil' up. And if we just leave it up so it is going to get worse," she continued.
According to her, the unsightly houses add to a string of problems plaguing the less than five-year-old community. Among those she listed were a faulty sewage system, a dearth of street lamps on some streets, flooding, and a bedevilment of thieves who prey on construction sites in the community.
"We have nuff little problem with the scheme, nuff. And we can't let them (Food for the Poor residents) come bring down the place any more," Stacy bemoaned.
The resident, who moved into the community earlier this year, says she owns a three-bedroom house which is still under construction.
Her complaints were echoed by many residents, including a police officer from the Greater Portmore Police Station.
According to the lawman: "It rough, but we can't have those (board) houses in the same place weh people a build dem place." He added that the matter has been repeatedly raised at citizens' association meetings, but said nothing has come of it.
Patrina, a resident of Espanol Drive in the community, was also unhappy with the situaiton, albeit a little more understanding.
"I can't too lick out against dem still because I am moving from a board house coming here. But you find that many people after a while get the chance to build from the board house and they don't do it; they continue living in the structure," she said. "On top of that, other persons are moving into the community and are setting up the same board structures," she continued, pointing to one of the wooden buildings located two doors from her house.
Patrina also complained that there were no street lights on her avenue.
The tension was thick when the Sunday Observer visited; Food for the Poor beneficiaries seemed almost expectant of the newspaper's visit and one man greeted us with a string of expletives.
"Anybody take any picture of my house have to talk to mi lawyer. Mi pay fi mi place and nobody can't move me from here. I don't inna nuh talking with nuh man," he shouted from his inside his house.
"I know about what is going on, but what can I do? I still have to live," said one woman, whose premises boasted a neat flower garden at the entrance to a spacious yard.
"This land was capture land from long time. Is capture land dem clean up and build housing scheme. I go through National Housing Trust and purchased my land for $1 million and odd," she explained. "I couldn't afford to build any house, so I get my house from Food for the Poor. I have all my papers; so why people want to fight we?" she asked, as she washed pots from which she sells soup in downtown Kingston to make a living.
On Friday, an executive member of the Phoenix Vista Citizens' Association confirmed the impasse between the residents, and said that the matter was brought to the attention of the municipal and parish councils, the member of Parliament, and the HAJ itself.
"It was said that the area is for young professionals such as teachers, police, nurses, and government workers; and for that (wooden houses) to be in there, it does not speak to that (message). So clearly persons are upset about it," said the member, who asked that his name not be used.
He noted, however, that while there is tension, there have been no threats of violence between the two groups of residents.
"We have gone to the councillor, we have approached the member of Parliament, the municipal council and the Housing Agency of Jamaica... The housing agency said that when they sell the land they cannot tell people what to erect on it, and the parish council said that as long as it goes through the legal procedure, then there is nothing they can do about it. So that is where the tug-o-war is," he said.
Yesterday, Richard Jones, senior public relations and community development manager at the HAJ told the Sunday Observer that the organisation had no jurisdiction over the types of houses erected on land which persons have purchased.
"Once the lot is priced, anybody who pays that money for the land has purchased the lot. Once a resident owns a lot, then it belongs to that person and we can't determine or dictate the type of structure that is put on it," he said, adding that, that position was conveyed to residents in previous meetings.
"The profiles of the persons are in fact young professionals and so on... They have said to us that we should prevent persons from putting up houses like that and we have replied that we are not in a position to tell persons what sorts of houses they are able to put on lots that they have bought," he reiterated.
He said the HAJ has repeatedly met with residents of the community and that some of the other concerns raised have been rectified. He said that if new concerns arise the residents are free to call and arrange a meeting with him.
In the meantime, the residents said they were still awaiting a response from Portmore Mayor George Lee, to whose attention the matters were also brought. Efforts to contact Lee yesterday were unsuccessful.