Sat | Jan 22, 2022

Charles promises serious action on squatting

Published:Thursday | May 6, 2021 | 12:05 AMChristopher Serju/Senior Gleaner Writer
Minister of Housing, Urban Renewal, Environment and Climate Change Pearnel  Charles Jr speaking in Parliament on Tuesday.
Minister of Housing, Urban Renewal, Environment and Climate Change Pearnel Charles Jr speaking in Parliament on Tuesday.

The ongoing failure of successive administrations to take decisive action has been cited as the main reason for the growing scourge of informal settlements across the country, but is one the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) Government is prepared to start addressing in a meaningful way.

Admitting that it will take quite a significant investment, Minister of Housing, Urban Renewal, Environment and Climate Change Pearnel Charles Jr on Tuesday used his inaugural Sectoral Debate to serve notice that he plans to lean on Minister of Finance Nigel Clarke to provide some of the needed funding.

“Is is our failure to act over time that has facilitated ... squatting. The issue has been acknowledged but never sufficiently addressed. It’s a difficult conversation to have but one which we must engage in ... We intend to call on the minister of finance to structure additional support to advance our efforts and, where possible, through the Climate Change Division, we will identify funding for the programme as a mechanism for building climate resilience.”

Minister Charles said it is in these squatter communities where residents are blocked off from social services and policing that are most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, such as flooding and drought.

“The perpetuation of informal settlements or squatting is one of the greatest challenges that we have in the country, and is connected to so many of our ills. It distances the residents in those communities from governance, it creates barriers to policing and barriers to intervention of social services, and that is why we will be focusing our attention on addressing the issues of the informal settlements and squatting across the country,” he said.

“We have a squatter management policy in our ministry, which will assist us in providing a comprehensive solution to this critical issue. In addition to the policy, we are working to continue our survey across the country of those areas where we have informal settlers. It is this data which will give us the scope and extent of the unplanned settlements across Jamaica, and the goal is not just to have a survey. That’s not the outcome that we seek, but the information from that survey is to be used to assist in defining a solution – medium-, long-, short-term solution. This is a critical issue for the ministry.”

INFORMATION ON UNPLANNED COMMUNITIES

However, Charles admitted that his ministry already has at its disposal a wealth of information on the status of these unplanned communities.

“We have completed a total of 25,202 surveys across 19 settlements (in) Clarendon, St Ann, Manchester, Trelawny, Hanover and St Elizabeth. Data collection has already commenced in St Mary, Portland and St Thomas and the trends extrapolated from the surveys already confirmed that squatting in some cases sometimes results from the need to be close to economic opportunity, especially in areas where there is an inadequate supply of affordable housing.

“It is all connected, the challenges and so, too, our solutions. So as a country we must take this seriously and understand that the investment in fixing that problem will be an investment in developing our country in multiple ways. It’s not just an investment issue, fixing the issue of squatting and informal communities will assist in national security, in health in every sector.”

Turning to the issue of urban renewal, which he admitted was not a new idea, Charles admitted that successive administrations have implemented various interventions but his administration was committed to achieving meaningful change in this area.

“This Government will seek to redefine how we see urban renewal. We will ensure that it is not just seen as cosmetic but as an essential tool in the effort to renew Jamaica. Urban renewal will be a tool utilised to renew social inclusive cities and also to build public safety.”

He disclosed that the Ministry of Housing, Urban Renewal, Environment and Climate Change was already engaged in discussions with the Urban Development Corporation as well as the municipal corporations to explore opportunities for urban renewal.

“This renewal demands a firm resolve to integrate resilience and sustainability in every sector, and for us to collaborate with the private sector and international partners and to engage every Jamaican.”