Is it really Urban renewal?
THE EDITOR, Madam:
The recent announcements of the development schemes in Denham Town have come with a lot of applause and backslapping, in an effort to brush up on the image of the National Housing Trust, and the Government of Jamaica, trying to convince the public that the National Housing Trust (NHT) is still on the side of the poor that wants decent homes. The prime minister’s intention is that developing an apartment complex for the low-income group will automatically right the ills of the inner-city garrison communities, such as squatting, poverty, etc.
However, we must be careful that these new social housing projects do not result in the wastage of NHT money, as there’s a reason why inner-city garrisons are mostly devoid of development schemes, even with the Urban Renewal Tax Credits. Simply building an apartment in an attempt at urban renewal would not automatically fix the problems that made Denham Town the way it is. The best-case scenario, I suspect, is gentrification, which, because of higher prices and rents, results in the citizens being forced to move, whether it is too expensive or because they’re squatting on prime real estate which a developer needs, and creating another shanty town somewhere else. The worst-case scenario is having those apartments being reverted to the very tenements that litter the cityscape of Denham Town, another instance of lack of property management and maintenance services, and urban blight.
Fixing Denham Town and inner-city areas goes beyond providing social housing. It is incentivising business growth and job creation in the area, establishing law and order, placing infrastructure, changing the sociocultural landscape, and allowing the residents to finally fish for themselves formally, which may take decades, and be more capital intensive, in the sense of economic, social and political costs.
Of course, restructuring the social order of Denham Town and establishing a sustainable local economy that allows them to not only afford housing but represent effective demand that attracts real estate developers to build housing without stressing NHT funds, and doing this over many years, is not as exciting as it sounds.