No easy fix for squatting, says Charles
Ramping up housing solutions will not in itself solve Jamaica’s crisis of informal settlements until there is a fundamental shift in generational social problems.
That is the view of Minister of Housing, Urban Renewal, Environment and Climate Change Pearnel Charles Jr, who has said that a more nuanced view would have to be taken to regularise squatting.
A rapid assessment conducted in 2008 showed that about 20 per cent of the population, or 500,000 Jamaicans, were squatters, but the Holness administration has been working with a broader estimate of close to 900,000.
“People squat for so many reasons, primarily because they don’t have adequate alternatives or have not availed themselves of adequate alternatives. It becomes a generational handicap, and there are several socio-economic variables that are connected to squatting, not just a housing solution,” Charles told The Gleaner in an interview at the Office of the Prime Minister on Tuesday.
He explained that the ministry’s goal is to develop sustainable communities with access to healthcare, education, jobs, and “letting the persons know that they are valued as citizens of the country”.
That deficit has been linked to broader social woes such as unemployment, urban blight, and crime, with youth in the country’s ghettos more vulnerable to gang influence.
In July 2019, the Ministry of Economic Growth and Job Creation, with the support of the National Housing Trust, embarked on a comprehensive survey of squatter settlements in Jamaica.
The exercise is aimed at achieving a more accurate assessment of squatting in Jamaica, which is needed for government policy and planning. Charles’ superministry has integrated into its housing policy aspects that should help the State cauterise squatting, he said.
“There are spaces in Clarendon and across the country where HAJ (Housing Agency of Jamaica) has gone in and has built infrastructure - put in the water, put in the other fundamental and basic necessities for people to be able to live - and we are actually looking at other spaces in Montego Bay, where we will be partnering with other institutions and agencies, even the Tourism Enhancement Fund, to revitalise spaces,” the minister disclosed.
Charles added that the controversial National Identification System, which was aborted after a court ruled unconstitutional the legislation that buttressed it, could become a reality by year end if the Government has its way. Movement on that score would be critical to the work of the ministry, he argues.
The minister emphasised that until the Government can capture the demographic profile of its citizens, it will not be able to plan effectively.
“We need to properly identify who and how many persons we have where so that we can be able, from the Ministry of Housing, make the necessary projections for a medium term that will move us in phases towards our ultimate goal, which is safe, legal, affordable, and now, resilient housing solutions for everyone,” Charles said.