OWNERS and occupiers of seven parcels of land in east Kingston which have been pegged for ‘development’ by the Andrew Holness Administration have described the move as “ludicrous”, even as fear of eviction from the homes they have occupied for years, and in cases decades, mounts.
The residents say the proposed acquisition, which they were unaware of until alerted by this reporter, is tantamount to betrayal, as they had received no assistance from the Government to rebuild when all but two of the homes were devastated by a fire that swept the area during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Ministry of Economic Growth and Job Creation, in an ‘urgent notice’ published in the Sunday edition of the Jamaica Observer, said the minister of housing is interested in acquiring the properties. It said, “anyone knowing the whereabouts of the owners or agents kindly contact the Land Administration section within the ministry on or before January 19, 2024”.
Wednesday, when the Observer visited the area, two of the three properties at James Street which had been completely burnt were unoccupied but for debris from the fire. However, the affected homes on Smith Lane were in different stages of reconstruction.
“All block mi buy and seh mi a go lick out deh so [expansion]. The amount a block weh inna mi yard, dem something yah a sin yuh know, bredda. People can’t a work dem money and see mi buy mi block and mi cement dem already,” one female resident complained.
“Me and my family live here for years and we a pay everything for it. My family is going to buy the property, so when they do that what dem leave we to do? A sin dem something here, you know, a sin,” she said passionately.
An elderly man and woman at another of the Smith Lane addresses, which had been reduced from eight bedrooms to one because of the fire, told the Observer they have occupied the premises for 24 years.
“The owner for the place die years ago and leave it to her daughter; the daughter die and leave it to him,” the woman said, pointing to the man. “So we are the owners now, but our name didn’t sign up on the property.”
“It [house] did burn down year before last  and all the papers burn up — title and everything,” the woman, who gave her name as Catherine, told the Observer.
The elderly woman argued that they had received no assistance to rebuild, and the now-decrepit, one-bedroom structure which they had tried to repair on their own is the only home they know.
“We don’t have anywhere to go,” she said with a tone of resignation.
A property owner for one of the parcels of interest, who resides overseas, while speaking with the Observer was also taken aback by the Government’s quest.
“We have a title, we pay our taxes, and the ministry has my information and my contacts. We will contact them because that is ludicrous,” said the landowner, who indicated he had recently listed the property — now occupied by tenants — for sale.
For the occupant of the one residence at James Street which survived the inferno, plans to legally own the property are being upended for a third time.
“This one was under adverse possession by me before it burn down. It was in that process already but it did go on a hold when the Government change. I live here from mi a boy ’til me a man — me a 50 come next year,” he told the Observer.
“I was going to rebuild it; dem house yah have to lick dung and start fresh. It was owned by an old man who used to live ’round here, but that man died; him never did get the title,” he said.
Meanwhile, senior lands officer with responsibility for acquisitions in the ministry, Nicholas Pennant, responding to the Observer‘s queries ahead of its interviews with the residents, said the acquisitions were for “development purposes”.
“These sections were directed to us by the prime minister. These places were burnt down years ago; what is there now is derelict remnants. The ministry calls it a project area. The addresses are all close, so they form a boundary which we call a project area which we will be working in. After acquiring we would go forward [based on] whatever directive the prime minister gives after we own them,” he told the Observer.
Pennant said if there is no word from the individuals who own the property the Government will move ahead with the plans to acquire, nonetheless.
“What we want to do is purchase via private treaty. If we don’t hear from them by a certain time we can proceed to compulsory acquisition, where the commissioner of lands does this on behalf of the minister of housing; they have the power to do so,” he said.
“We have done some background work, we have titles and so forth. Some of them are deceased, some of them might have migrated, hopefully some of them can reach out to us by that time — whether the owners, the agents, or anybody representing an estate,” Pennant added.
The Ministry of Economic Growth and Job Creation was established in February 2016. It has responsibility for the formulation and implementation of policies relating to its portfolio areas which include water and wastewater, land, environment, climate change, housing, urban renewal, economic policy and investment, and works.