Editorial: Mr Chuck’s idea worthy of serious analysis
In an environment where the public veneration and corralling of poverty has been successful in the delivery of votes, the essence of Delroy Chuck's idea for inner-city/urban renewal risks being lost, and probably killed, in the fog of political preservation.
That ought not to happen. For though not fully or as yet carefully fleshed out, Mr Chuck's suggestions are worthy of serious discussion. Indeed, they are not dissimilar to ideas that this newspaper has previously placed on the table.
Delroy Chuck is the parliamentary representative for North East St Andrew, which includes some of the capital's choicest neighbourhoods. But it also includes some of its most blighted communities, such as in the Grants Pen and Barbican areas.
The problem of grittiness and urban decay is not restricted to Mr Chuck's constituency. It is all across Jamaica and is growing worse in older communities, which is where the MP's idea makes sense.
What he proposed is for the Government to declare certain sections of the island, especially in Kingston and St Andrew, special development areas, allowing for their purchase and redevelopment by private developers. There is already in place legislation that gives investors tax allowances on their investment capital and rebates on rental income and capital gains.
In the absence of such projects, Mr Chuck argued, many depressed, inner-city communities are likely to grow worse because of the inability of many of the residents/owners to afford to redevelop their properties. His critics, as has already been done by fellow parliamentarian Luther Buchanan, will claim that urban renewal of this kind will price many poor people from the only shelter they own or can afford.
Mr Chuck's response is that having been bought out, they can go elsewhere, presumably using the newly earned cash to buy into more affordable communities. We do not believe that is all. We see, with greater State participation, the possibility in such brownfield developments of mixed communities and housing at cheaper cost.
Much of the housing stock in many of Jamaica's inner-city communities is basically sound. Moreover, although in need of upgrading, basic infrastructure already exists in communities such as Allman Town, Vineyard Town, Rollington Town, among others. With the appropriate investment, it would be relatively easy to bring communities back to decently habitable quality while lessening the need for greenfield projects and allowing for a rational use of land.
private-public sector partnership
Such an undertaking would require public-sector involvement, in partnership with the private sector, which, we feel, can be led by the National Housing Trust, which, with assets of more than J$200 billion and annual contributors' inflow above J$20 billion, has more money than it can use because most of its contributors cannot meet the mortgage criteria. With ideas such as we propose, some would then bring to the table equity in a property of a district that is earmarked for redevelopment, possibly placing less stress on their eligibility for qualification.
In some communities, residents have no legal interest in the properties they inhabit, their owners having abandoned them or been afraid to enforce their rights. The Government, in such circumstances, can engage in compulsory acquisition and put the acquisition cash in a special trust fund for these owners should they eventually turn up.