Chuck that flawed housing proposal
Since Delroy Chuck's presentation in Parliament on Tuesday, September 1, 2015, there have been numerous articles, blogs and comments, including the editorial of The Gleaner of Thursday, September 10. In the September 13 edition of The Sunday Gleaner, columnists Martin Henry and Carolyn Cooper weighed in on the debate, with opposing views.
My views are informed by extensive research on urban renewal across the globe and hands-on experience in New York City developing policies for urban renewal, implementing policies, and upon seeing the outcome of the policies, moving to advocate against these same policies that disadvantage the poor - mainly people of African ancestry and immigrants from Asia and Latin America.
Mr Chuck wants "Government to use the Housing Act or any necessary law to acquire large tracts of property, of at least five acres, in depressed communities and enter into joint-venture agreements with private developers to build affordable apartments and town houses in closed, gated and safe communities".
While on the surface the idea is laudable, it is important to remind Mr Chuck, and others who share his views, that in the United States and Great Britain, where urban renewal was vigorously implemented over the last four decades, the resultant effect is continued racial segregation and an overconcentration of the working poor in neighbourhoods with equally poor infrastructure, schools and other amenities.
Even as the Gleaner editorial of Thursday, September 8, 2015 urged readers to consider Mr Chuck's proposal, The New York Times editorial of Sunday, September 5, 2015 cautioned its readers that while federally subsidised housing for low-income citizens seems to be a good thing, the poor are disproportionately affected by being relegated to neighbourhoods with limited access to jobs because of high transportation cost, underperforming schools, and limited opportunity.
The New York Times editorial further states that zoning laws in newer suburbs that rest on, and benefit from, infrastructure built with public subsidies prevent poor, moderate-income and minority families from moving in.
Mr Chuck calls for the Government to use the Housing Act to acquire large tracts of lands in depressed communities and engage in joint venture with developers to improve the housing stock. The record of joint-venture partnership here in Jamaica, as in the United States, is unconvincing, at best. The poor family who sells the dilapidated house on Annette Crescent in Mr Chuck's constituency for $14 million is not able to afford one of the units in the multistorey apartment replacement. The joint-venture agreement often states that "affordable" units will be built. I seriously doubt whether the Ministry of Housing, National Housing Trust and/or any other regulatory agency ensures that the developers adhere to agreed number of 'affordable' units.
I do not support Mr Chuck's position precisely because there are too many legal and administrative uncertainties and concerns that will pose obstacles. Furthermore, the lack of legal and political will to enforce the terms of the joint-venture agreements also concerns me. There are too many examples of lack of enforcement in the construction sector for me to take comfort that full provisions will be made for the poor to be adequately housed.
I am also mindful that it will be only a matter of time before residents of Paddington Terrace will exert their social and financial capital to influence the process, which limits persons from Federal Avenue in Grants Pen to be able to afford a unit on Paddington Terrace.
I agree that there is an urgent need for the review of the Housing Act to ensure that, notwithstanding whoever has the power to declare an area under the act, issues of fairness, affordability, adequacy and enforcement are included.
I also recommend the speedy implementation of the new Housing Policy. A team from the University of Technology, Jamaica and the University of the West Indies, of which I was a member, assisted the Ministry of Transport, Works and Housing with the formulation of the draft Housing Policy.
Mindful of the need to address possible social and economic segregation, the team recommended that the draft policy promote a wide range of housing choices in the areas of design, material used and location for all income levels; promote the upgrading of informal settlements and urban slums as an expedient measure and pragmatic solution to the urban-shelter deficit; provide mechanisms to make land more accessible to all income groups, for housing development; and provide a framework to support the delivery of social housing, particularly for the vulnerable and disadvantaged.