Ronald Thwaites | A home for Christmas
The concrete nog building on Rosemary Lane had been built in the 1930s without an inch of steel. Several generations of people have lived there over the years, as the successive owners left, fled, migrated or just died intestate.
There was never any money to repair. Significant or sustained rent was out of the question for many moons, so the decrepitude advanced and the danger increased. The only real issue was whether breeze would blow it down or fire would consume it.
Well, last week, it collapsed on its own, seriously injuring a child playing on the narrow roadway in front. Thank God for small mercies. It could have been much worse. Part of the remaining husk has been demolished by the Kingston and St Andrew Municipal Corporation. Several women and their children are thereby homeless, their lives demeaned by the loss of a room, even a menial place to try to raise a family, to even cook a meal for Christmas.
Last week, too, there were fires that burnt out homes on East Street and Potters Row in Rae Town. Where are the displaced people to go? Most often, families, already living in desperate straits, have to split up with terrible consequences, especially to children and the elderly, as they try to 'cotch' with already-crowded and often reluctant relatives and friends. The few possessions they had are usually destroyed or stolen.
This story is common to most inner-city communities and the countryside as well. The cruelty of their condition is absorbed or ignored as the perpetual carnival culture takes over and the debauchery of Christmas ensues.
The alternative ministry of social security in Jamaica, also known as Food For The Poor, often tries to help. But there are limits to the charity of North American churchgoers. An independent society with as much money as we have should be ashamed to rely on them anyway.
It is difficult to persuade inner-city people to contribute to the National Housing Trust because there is little hope of them ever qualifying for a benefit, and even if they do, they will likely have to move out of their communities. The real assets of the inner cities are dead. They can scarcely be sold or pledged.
But these communities have viable social networks that ought to be enhanced rather than destroyed. And they have basic infrastructure - titles, roads, water, light and sometimes ancient sewerage mains, all of which, economically rehabilitated, can improve lives and reduce costs.
The mayor of Kingston is reported as hoping that the metropolis will become a 'perfect' city. This cannot be achieved by only erecting 'stush' buildings on the waterfront or around places like Heroes Park. Nor can it involve the demolition of dwelling houses, safe or unsafe, without consultation with occupants and replacement opportunities.
And there is no question of subsidy, gift or political patronage. Any of those only creates dependency and moral hazard. Housing can be built for rent or for sale, but must be paid for by those who will own them.
Start the rescue project to save wasting lives and uplift family life by a drive to settle ownership and titling, whether by compulsory purchase, private treaty or adverse possession. Review and relax the membership requirements and entitlements at the National Housing Trust to engage as many of the new owners.
After all, the billions and maybe trillions held by the Trust and the financial institutions do not belong to the directors and managers. They are only custodians.These monies come, in significant part, from the very class of Jamaicans who most need the housing uplift and up to now can't get it.
A mortgage of $2 million in an inner- city yard can remove the zinc fence, add a bedroom or two, install a proper bathroom, rewire and regularise electricity and water supply, begin to pay taxes and be inherited. Spread over 30 or 40 years at low interest, this sum is affordable even to the casually employed.
More than that, it will mean that a babyfather can move in rather than just visit tenuously, children can sleep separately from parents and do homework, and people can enjoy the privacy of a proper sanitary convenience. In short, people can have more dignity
Dream one last possibility with me. In any community to be so restored, engage unattached youth in the area, get the army engineers to supervise the incipient or existing crime-prone gangs into gangs of construction to do much, if not all of the physical work, while training and resocialising them.
Do this and you complete the virtuous circle and reduce the idleness and bloodletting which wasting lives produce.
The Christmas story is that the One who has come to save all was born in a situation of homelessness
When shall we start His and our redemptive process? The people of Rosemary Lane, East Street and Potters Row, along with thousands of others, are waiting and hoping.
- Ronald Thwaites is member of parliament for Kingston Central and opposition spokesperson on education and training. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.