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Thwaites on to something but …

Published:Tuesday | May 5, 2015 | 5:00 AM

This is written by a correspondent who has chosen to write under the pseudonym Land Lord:

Education Minister and Central Kingston Member of Parliament Ronald Thwaites often comes across as an ecclesiastical windbag, full of pious sound and fury, without much substance. Recently, however, he offered a perspective on an aspect of the social conditions of Central Kingston that should be further examined for possible implementation.

His pronouncements, as reported in The Sunday Gleaner of May 3, 2015, on the need for investment by the National Housing Trust (NHT) and Urban Development Corporation (UDC) in the social infrastructure, specifically housing, of the areas he represents have some merit, but there are associated problems that were not developed and should be addressed.

Clearly, there is an overwhelming need, as Thwaites noted, to improve the living conditions of many of the residents. Densely populated tenements, sometimes without functioning bathroom facilities, are just a shade better than the wretched conditions described by Orlando Patterson in his seminal work Children of Sisyphus more than 50 years ago. But these areas are not homogeneous.

Some are worse than others and have been ironically and aptly named 'Dead Trap' by people who live in them. Sections of Southside and Tel Aviv fall in this category. But a survey would also reveal private initiatives resulting in marginal improvements in the housing stock in parts of Campbell Town and Allman Town.

These are properties that have been either family owned and occupied for decades and thereby kept in fairly decent conditions. Others were recently bought and renovated for occupation by the new owners or rented out to persons deemed responsible tenants. For the latter group of owners, the big risk they face is that unless they conduct regular, personal checks to see to the upkeep of their properties, these will deteriorate gradually into rats' nests or be taken over by politically connected activists who could care less about paying any rent, let alone on a regular basis.

Among the questions that were not sufficiently articulated in The Sunday Gleaner article were:

1 Is MP Thwaites proposing that NHT and UDC resources be used as a social good?

This may well be the way to go, but if the zinc-fenced properties he referred to are occupied by squatters or people living on properties for which the owners may well be alive but have fled for personal safety, with whom would the NHT enter a contract? Are surveys to be done to determine who among the occupants are legitimate? If not, this proposal should be undertaken by other agencies.

2 If the proposal is for small loans to be extended to the occupants, how do we square that with what predictably happened in Portia Simpson Miller's South East St Andrew constituency a few years ago? NHT funds were used to bring much-needed improved housing solutions to the area, but many of the beneficiaries were either not fully employed or had not worked in years, and hence, in no position to pay back anything on the properties. This has, therefore, become state-sponsored squatting.

Do people deserve to live in better conditions? Of course. But how is this to be paid for?

There are other seemingly unconnected factors contributing to a decline in the quality of life but which the MP could play a role in addressing. There are roads in some of these areas that were once governed by a one-way street code. Today, anything goes. Almost all roads in Allman Town have been converted illegally into a two-way traffic flow, forcing motorists to reverse on to a major thoroughfare such as Arnold Road or National Heroes Circle, depending on the 'uncooperativeness' or lack of discipline of the other driver when two meet on one of these narrow streets.

In addition, employees of a section of the Ministry of Labour and Social Security now double-park along a good one-third of John Street by National Heroes Circle. May I suggest that the MP bring his good offices to bear to address this situation?

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