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Senior Manager for Community Development at the HAJ, Nakia McMorris
Photo: Rudranath Fraser

Story Highlights

  • The Housing Agency of Jamaica (HAJ) is calling for a mindset change as it relates to land titling, as houses should only be built on certified lots.
  • Since 2012, the HAJ has embarked on a national project to regularise informal land settlements by providing eligible residents with land titles.
  • However, the agency is reporting it is facing challenges, as some squatters fail to see the importance of titling ‘their’ land.

The Housing Agency of Jamaica (HAJ) is calling for a mindset change as it relates to land titling, as houses should only be built on certified lots.

Since 2012, the HAJ has embarked on a national project to regularise informal land settlements by providing eligible residents with land titles.

However, the agency is reporting it is facing challenges, as some squatters fail to see the importance of titling ‘their’ land.

“If the property isn’t yours, you can be removed. The truth is, persons need to understand that the property is not theirs and they can be removed. We have instances where we’ve moved persons,” Senior Manager for Community Development at the HAJ, Nakia McMorris, tells JIS News.

“The mindset of persons needs to change. There is no sense of urgency for them to come in and make payments to us, and they take their time. There are even situations where persons are at zero balance, yet they don’t come in to collect the titles,” she adds.

Mrs. McMorris highlights that a land title can be used as collateral, and instils a sense of pride that comes with ownership.

“When you own the land there’s a sense of ownership for your community, and when you have a sense of ownership for your community, you’ll invest more in your area. The title gives you that ownership. We call it ‘community efficacy’, where you build a sense of pride for your community,” Mrs. McMorris says.

She informs that under the HAJ’s land-titling programme, the value of land is significantly reduced, so that persons are able to afford to have them titled. Payment plans are also available to residents who may find it difficult to pay for their titles in full.

“I think this is something residents don’t understand. If you own the property you have a lot more power than if you’re just there and passing through,” Mrs. McMorris tells JIS News.

She notes that due to the lack of land titles, which leads to unstructured settlements, persons are transient and often difficult to locate, as they have no ties to where they reside. This, she says, helps to fuel criminal activities.

“A lot of this lack of tracking in the community is leading to crime, so we need to organise these informal settlements, so we know who are there,” Mrs. McMorris says.

“When you look at developed communities, persons who own their properties tend to stay there, so we want to build that cohesiveness in these informal communities by providing land titles,” she explains.

Mrs. McMorris says the HAJ has tasked land-titling officers to build relationships with families of informal settlements and encourage them to provide payment.

“If you spend that one-on-one time with the households, you can get something; however, we don’t have the manpower, so persons have to take some initiative and get their properties titled,” she emphasises.

Mrs. McMorris notes that for the upcoming 2019/2020 Fiscal Year, the HAJ will be ramping up its marketing efforts to try and get more persons to see the importance of titling their lands.

“We’re going to continue with the one-on-one targeting where possible in the communities, ramp up the land-titling officer interventions… and connect with the community-based organisations, so that they can help us to get the message out and change the mindset of persons,” she adds.