Ministry to spend big on squatting census
It has been estimated that a low of 500,000 to a high of one million Jamaicans are squatters.
But to end the guesswork, the Government is preparing to spend $37 million to undertake a comprehensive census to determine the number of squatters locally, and to assess the characteristics and scope of informal communities in the country.
According to Luthrine Scarlett, senior director for housing and land administration at the Ministry of Job Creation and Economic Growth, the census is expected to begin within another two to three months.
"We would have identified the funding, we would have set up a steering committee that will drive the process, and so we are now working out all the administrative details to put us in a position to start this census," Scarlett told The Sunday Gleaner during an interview last week.
"At the end of that, what will come out is a comprehensive overview of squatting; so it is not just figures that we are going to be looking at, we are really looking at a total assessment of these communities," added Scarlett.
Geographic information system
She said the census is expected to last for about 18 months and information collected will help to direct future policies on squatting. The information will be presented, using a geographic information system.
"It is not just a paper-based thing; we will be able to plot and come up with maps and stuff that can then help us in our planning," she said.
The senior director said the Squatter Management Unit will be managing the process, and an inter-agency steering committee has been formed with representatives of the ministry to ensure the success of the project.
Prime Minister Andrew Holness and Opposition Leader Dr Peter Phillips have both vowed to solve the squatting problem across the island, but the scope of that problem could be much bigger that either leader believes.
Director of the Squatter Management Unit, Basil Forsythe, said the information from the census will help the unit to populate the national geo-database on squatting which was designed in 2014.
The database was expected to produce data on location, land size, settlement history, ownership, environmental risks, and other social and physical information for squatter settlements islandwide.
"We have actually done the design for that database, but in terms of populating it, this exercise of getting that level of details will be very helpful in going further with that," said Forsythe.