Regularised housing a buffer against crime – HAJ
Like the security forces, Gary Howell, the managing director of the Housing Agency of Jamaica (HAJ), thinks St James’ unplanned communities are helping to foster crime, hence the agency’s drive to legitimise the parish’s informal settlement as a buffer against lawlessness.
“Regularising these communities helps to reduce crime over time because it allows easier access for police and other emergency services to drive through these areas. We have a number of communities where we’re looking at putting in roads such as Flanker and Norwood,” said Howell.
“Before we put in the roads in Flanker, the murder rate was very high. There are still challenges in the area, but we have not seen the numbers gone anywhere near what it used to be, so we’re seeing the benefits of our work,” Howell added.
Last year, Howell described the squatter situation in St James as arguably the nation’s most challenging, saying they are now crying out for formalisation.
“St James has a serious challenge. I think St James has the largest squatter development across Jamaica,” said Howell, in noting that Norwood, one of the larger communities in National Security Minister Dr Horace Chang’s North West St James constituency accounts for about 7,000 squatter homes.
In looking at the proliferation of informal homes in North West St James, Howell said that Flanker accounts for about 2,000, Granville/Retirement between 2,000 and 3,000; and another 4,000 between Barrett Hall, Grange Pen, and Lilliput.
While the spate of homicides in the informal communities keeps them constantly on the police radar as they are constantly faced with more than 100 murders per year over the past 15 years, the city’s infrastructure, which was not created to accommodate the informal settlement, is being put under serious strain in the quest to create order.
North West St James, which provides an elevated view of Montego Bay in some sections, has always been attractive to out-of-town job seekers, dating back to the 1960s. For the most part, it is in the proximity of downtown Montego Bay and the Elegant Corridor, which is the hub of the parish’s tourism.
In acknowledging the need for the formalisation of housing in his constituency, Chang recently declared that the quest to adequately upgrade the infrastructure and improve the lives of the residents is far advanced.
“Montego Bay has had a major challenge with the evolution of a huge amount of squatting. At one stage, we had about 20 squatter settlements. While they [residents] have created an entrepreneurial spirit, it has created a lot of problems for Montego Bay. This is what we have to seek to correct,” said Chang.
Like Chang, Howell believes that addressing amenities such as putting in proper roads, streetlights, and having fixed addresses will make the communities less attractive to criminals, who, generally, thrive in informal settings.
“When we open a community to the services that the Government should provide, like transportation, police patrols, ambulance services, and legal water connections, the character of the community changes and people tend to be more protective of it because they are now owning their community and won’t tolerate certain antisocial activities,” noted Howell.