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Opposition intervenes in Beeston Street eviction

Published:Wednesday | April 11, 2012 | 12:00 AM

Erica Virtue, Senior Gleaner Writer

Former Housing Minister Dr Horace Chang has declared there is an urgent need for the development of the housing stock in downtown Kingston to accommodate the needs of residents, especially in light of the rebirth of the city, which is celebrating 140 years as Jamaica's capital, and the prevalence of squatting.

"We have done a number of what we think are experimental developments that we think might be suitable and, of course, we might have to do different types downtown and, of course, low income (development)," Chang said yesterday, during a tour of a government property at the corner of Beeston and East streets. More than 70 residents living at the property illegally have been served eviction notices.

Chang, who was accompanying Opposition Leader Andrew Holness on the tour, said part of a study under the previous administration had included plans for the development of multi-family units in the area.

"Funding was an issue, but some was in place to develop maybe 200 units and then after that we would look at how we can capitalise on a sustainable long-term basis," he said, noting that the process had already been in train with the expansion of the sewerage lines downtown.

In his own comments, Holness promised to take the plight of the occupants at the government premises to the ears of Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller.

"I will be speaking directly with the prime minister on this matter, right away," he vowed.

Seeking extension

Holness said his first order of business would be to seek an extension for residents who have been told to vacate the property by May 9.

The property, which is located about 100 metres from the seat of legislative power - George William Gordon House, formerly housed the island traffic court for the parishes of Kingston and St Andrew.

Along with Holness and Chang, Member of Parliament for West Kingston Desmond McKenzie was also a member of the touring party.

"Firstly, we have to make representation to the Government, as clearly there is a social issue. There are children here who would be dislocated severely by the eviction. The State has a duty to support those children. The State also has a duty to support those who are in need of proper housing," Holness added.

"While we understand that there might be certain exigencies for the eviction, Government has a duty, and I believe a higher duty, to protect and preserve the welfare particularly of children, but certainly the families who need accommodation."

The residents, including 45 adults and 28 children, were served with the eviction notices by the commissioner of lands, effective February 9.

McKenzie said housing need was part of a chronic problem in his constituency, as well as Kingston Central.

"The response to all of this is not notice. You evict some today, and you evict another 10 or so tomorrow, you are gonna put people out on the streets and you gonna put them at risk … ," he argued. "Whatever representations we can make at this time we are gonna make them. And the first thing on the agenda is to get an extension."

erica.virtue@gleanerjm.com