CLARK'S TOWN, Trelawny — Chairman of the Housing Agency of Jamaica (HAJ) Norman Brown says despite the delay in the start of construction for a multimillion-dollar housing development in the former sugar belt community of Clark's Town because of the novel coronavirus pandemic, the agency has done extensive work on the ground to ensure the viability of the project.
He explained that while the construction of the 2,000 housing solutions is yet to begin because of the pandemic, HAJ has sought to ensure that the development is suitable for the lands which were formerly engaged in sugar cane cultivation.
"We had experienced delays with the COVID-19 pandemic and had to establish with the [National] Water Commission whether or not there is adequate water in the area to service the scheme. That has been done, and the water commission has confirmed that adequate water supply is there, so I think we are now in the middle of the procurement process," he told the Jamaica Observer West.
"I think an assessment is now being done as to who and when the contract will be awarded," he added.
The 3,600 acres of lands earmarked for the housing development are being acquired from the Sugar Company of Jamaica (SCJ).
This project was first announced by Brown in March 2020 as a part of efforts by the HAJ to provide houses for people working within the tourism industry as Trelawny saw a growth in its number of hotel rooms. He noted that there was a need for houses to ensure that these workers don't "create their own circumstances". The HAJ chairman said while this has not changed, government workers will also have a chance to acquire homes in the housing project.
"Approximately 8,000 hotel rooms are either being constructed or have already been constructed recently in Trelawny, and so we would want for the people working in these facilities to be [living] in properly structured areas," he argued.
In 2020, Brown announced that the first phase of the development will see the construction of 1,000 one-bedroom units; however, he told the Observer West on Tuesday that the plan has been modified.
"The first phase will have about 670 houses and once that is completed, we will move on to the other phases," the chairman said.
When the Observer West queried if the houses would still attract the price tag of between $7 million and $8 million as he first announced, the HAJ chairman responded, "I doubt it". He, however, said that the housing agency is working to ensure that prospective homeowners are offered the best prices to middle-income and low-income earners.
"We don't have the up-to-date figures, but I doubt it will start at $7 million because of all of the inflationary issues. The price of materials has gone up, so all of those things have been affected.
"But our main target market is going to be workers in the tourism industry and government employees, so we are trying to minimise the cost. We are working on those figures and we will sit with our development partners to ensure that we come up with the best possible outcome in terms of prices," Brown explained.
He went on to note that there are still plans in place to partner with the Urban Development Corporation (UDC) to improve the amenities in the community of Clark's Town, in a bid to complement the increase in the housing stock in the area.
"Right now we are in discussions with the UDC to look at the urban space to see how we could be the facilitator of development for the amenities that support a housing scheme," he said.
"We are talking about [developments] where we could have a shopping facility, medical facilities, and schools," Brown noted.
He said the housing agency hopes to break ground and start the building process this year.
"We are looking forward to the ground-breaking, and hopefully we can do so in the latter part of this year," he said.