No better Christmas gift, says new homeowner
Beneficiary says family saved from squalor; PM says HOPE help inspires community
The perfect Christmas is how Violet Johnson described the moment she was handed the keys to a three-bedroom house in Comfort Hall on Friday.
The home was constructed under the New Social Housing Programme (NSHP), a component of the Housing, Opportunity, Production and Employment (HOPE) programme.
“It couldn’t be a better Christmas gift,” said an enthused Johnson, who was among five people in Manchester gifted new homes three days ago.
Admitting that her previous abode was in a “terrible condition”, Johnson related that she had planned to spend the Christmas holidays at her sister’s house in Kingston in a bid to escape the misery of her home.
The 64-year-old told The Gleaner that in 2010, she and her family fled their former inner-city Kingston home and relocated to Manchester following an upsurge in violence that led to her nephew’s murder.
Johnson, her now-deceased daughter, and four grandchildren sought refuge in a dilapidated structure owned by a relative in a rural community in the central Jamaica parish.
The one-bedroom house bore testament to the discomfort of which Johnson lamented, with rotting board hanging loosely to the dwelling.
Upon entry, the broken-down floor creaked, seemingly on the verge of collapse. Johnson said that she had resorted to putting blocks beneath the floorboards for support.
“I can say goodbye to early-morning wake-up fi make breakfast fi di pickney dem outdoor. We have to wait ‘til night fi bathe because mi nuh have nuh privacy; mi have to use people toilet,” said Johnson, who revealed that her only regret was that her daughter was not around to enjoy the comfort of their new home.
Her 38-year-old daughter, Tanesha McKenzie, died from cancer in January.
Johnson said her daughter had long harboured dreams of relocating to a comfortable place.
“But mi nah question God. Mi have her children and raise them as her memory,” said Johnson of her daughter’s 18-year-old and 15-year-old sons, and a nine-year-old daughter.
“She had hopes fi di house, but she never make it.”
The matriarch disclosed that she had grown weary of her living circumstances that plagued her for more than a decade that she refused to carry out any repairs on her former home.
The original house had just enough space for two small beds.
“We know how fi set up weself pan di bed dem an’ ting. We have likkle clothes basket yah so. We nuh have nuh furniture ‘cause a run we run weh from town (Kingston),” said Johnson.
Rashaun Roach, Johnson’s eldest grandchild, shared similar sentiments of relief.
“A di best Christmas mi ever see! Mi feel good ... cause bathing-wise, it never nice ... The kitchen never nice,” Rashaun told The Gleaner, lamenting, too, that his mother did not survive to enjoy the benefit.
Manchester North Western Member of Parliament Mikael Phillips said Johnson was among the first constituents he recommended to benefit from the programme, but the efforts were hobbled by land-tenure woes.
“When I saw the condition of her house, it was not something that I as her representative felt proud of,” said Phillips.
Besides praising the Government, the lawmaker also lauded residents of Manchester for chipping in and supporting construction of each housing project.
“I want to commend the HOPE team. You said it earlier, prime minister. We have to find a way for the government to work for its citizens, and for me, it matters not who is in government at the point in time, once it works for the people we represent ... the general populace of Jamaica, then it’s something to be commended,” Phillips said.
Prime Minister Andrew Holness said the HOPE programme was “designed to tackle the worst of the worst living conditions across Jamaica”.
According to Holness, uplifting even one family has far-reaching impacts within a community.
“The truth is, having a situation such as which [Violet] lived in, brings down the welfare of the entire community. If one member of the community is living in a really dilapidated house, and under very poor circumstances, it affects the entire community,” Holness said.
He continued, “So bringing up that person who is at the lowest lifts the entire community. The entire community is happy that [Violet] has gotten this benefit, and that is the definition of HOPE, that other people seeing the situation can say, ‘My condition can also be addressed,’“ said the prime minister.