HAJ lobbies to develop Retirement community
The Housing Agency of Jamaica (HAJ) is awaiting a proposal from the Retirement Development Trust to make representation to the government for funding to complete the development of the former squatter community.
This follows a recent meeting with residents of the communities in the Retirement area and Norman Brown, chairman of the HAJ board.
“The regularisation of informal communities by putting in infrastructure is very costly and we don’t have the resources to do what is required,” Brown said in a telephone interview, “We might be able to rehabilitate a few kilometres, but we do not have the sort of funding required in Retirement.”
Informal settlements began popping up as a result of the proliferation of new tourism jobs in the 1960s, amplified by the rural-to-urban pull of the business process outsourcing sector in recent times.
A development plan
The local authority reportedly purchased the Retirement property in 1974 to expand the city of Montego Bay and facilitate the relocation of the municipal dump, the cemetery, and the abattoir. It had also commissioned a development plan for the 1,800-acre property, but this was never made public.
Now, with the Montego Bay urban centre saturated, there is a heightened demand for residential and commercial space, with approximately 82,867 of the estimated 300,000 residents in St James living in the parish capital.
The HAJ has been instrumental in the infrastructural improvement of several informal communities across Jamaica, including in the western region, rehabilitating roads, and constructing proper drainage systems.
The Retirement Development Trust is a non-governmental, community-based organisation made up of members of communities in the Retirement area, who have been fighting for the development of the community, particularly housing, and the provision of basic services since 1994.
“The objective of the proposal being prepared is to bring the Retirement Development Plan to its conclusion,” said the chairman of the Retirement Development Trust, O’Dave Allen.
But Brown said as a self-funding entity, the returns to such an investment would be a concern for the HAJ.
“On projects like this, If we spend a billion dollars, we only recover about 10-15 per cent in the midterm and that undermines our financial viability,” Brown explained, “Most of the time you find that regularisation requires some form of grant-funding to put in the infrastructure and we do not have such ability.
“The citizens also placed some excellent ideas on the table, which I am taking back to my board and we will see if we can formulate a policy to lobby the government to address some of these issues,” he added.
According to Brown, since 2016, the HAJ only failed to realise a profit on its investment on one occasion, which was during the peak of the COVID pandemic when economies were jolted to a halt.