Mon | Nov 12, 2018

HAJ committed to fixing social ills, says head

Published:Monday | February 5, 2018 | 12:00 AM
Gary Howell, managing director of the Housing Association of Jamaica (HAJ), addressing the Public Accounts Committee of Parliament last Tuesday. Paying close attention is Doreen Prendergast, chief technical officer in the Ministry of Economic Growth and Job Creation.
The Housing Agency of Jamaica headquarters in Cross Roads.

The Housing Agency of Jamaica (HAJ) has played a significant role in addressing the country's social ills and has been integral in helping to contain crime, the government body's managing director, Gary Howell, told Parliament's Public Accounts Committee (PAC) last week.

Howell was responding to questions from PAC Chairman Mark Golding, who had asked the HAJ what was its distinguishing feature.

"Primarily, a lot of persons don't understand the role of the Housing Agency of Jamaica. The Housing Agency of Jamaica is the only entity right now in this country that deals with a lot of the social issues that we face as a country. Many of the informal settlements in Jamaica, we are the ones who have to go in, regularise them, put in basic infrastructure. That means police can go in, taxis can pick up persons ... . We have to do all of this, so this comes at a social cost, and when we fix these, it actually helps to reduce our crime situation that we have as well," Howell said.

He continued: "Because when you look at the ... social challenges that we face as a country, if persons are not able to move and have adequate space, it impacts us adversely. And when we put in infrastructure and services - roads, water, sewage - it alleviates our problems and gives persons a better standard of living. Because primarily, our main focus is to regularise informal settlements, but at the same time, we do greenfield projects on the open market because we are a self-financing entity, so we have to do projects to cover our operating expenses as well offset some of these social projects."

Despite a debt overhang of $2.4 billion, down from $3.2 billion and which it projects to slash to $1.6 billion by the end of the next financial year, the HAJ is operating at a profit, according to Howell.

"Our audited financials for 2106-17 would show that we made a profit of $183 million and we are targeting this financial year to make a significant profit as well."