JIS News

For many Jamaicans, home is a place of peace and safety, a place to unwind and be comfortable, but for many persons living in the inner-city, this has not always been their experience.
Under the Government’s Inner-City Housing Project (ICHP), hundreds, and soon thousands, of Jamaicans are being given the opportunity to enjoy the comfort of a real home for the first time in their lives. Speaking with JIS News, Violet Clarke, a beneficiary of the Trench Town scheme in Kingston, which was handed over by the ICHP in August, says she is particularly pleased with her home, with modern sanitary conveniences. Another beneficiary, Sonia Johnson says the overall living condition is much better than what was available to her before, and that she is grateful that her surrounding is peaceful. “There is nobody to molest me or my children, it’s one hundred per cent better,” she adds. Recipient in the Monaltrie scheme, Cecile Taylor says she has been able to sleep better, confident in the safety of her surroundings. Another Monaltrie beneficiary, Doris Martin says, “it is great, it’s comfortable, the surroundings are beautiful and we are very grateful for it”.
The thrust by the Government to uplift the neediest and most vulnerable in the society is being done through the $15 billion housing project, which will improve the morale and quality of life of the men and women of these communities.
In early 2004, an Urban Renewal Programme was announced, which would set out to transform several inner-city communities into attractive and sustainable neighbourhoods, through a combination of new housing solutions and the refurbishment of the existing housing stock. Later that year the ICHP was established under the Programme, with its main goal being to improve the living conditions in selected inner-city communities, including those where the unemployment rate was high, the educational and skill levels were low and the residents lived in substandard physical conditions. “In the inner-city communities, housing is sub-standard…we are familiar with the zinc shacks, zinc fences, the board houses, affectionately known as board villas, in Denham Town. That kind of housing is vulnerable to fire and other natural disasters. So, the first aim is to provide better housing quality in the inner-city communities, but urban renewal as well, because you are changing the physical face of the inner-city communities,” Social Development Manager with the ICHP, Kim-Marie Spence tells JIS News. She adds that the project, “provides better quality housing .builds more civic-oriented people in the inner city. Today, the zinc fences have been replaced by state-of-the-art housing solutions, and hopelessness has given way to hope”. The communities to benefit under the ICHP are: Denham Town, Hannah Town, Majestic Gardens, Maxfield Avenue, Monaltrie, Spanish Town Road, Swallowfield, Tivoli, Trench Town, Parade Gardens, Tarrant, Prison Lands, and White Wing.
Managed by the National Housing Trust (NHT), the project deals with the construction of new housing units, related physical infrastructure, related social infrastructure, as well as refurbishment and upgrading of existing housing units, and social development programmes for affected community residents. There are two types of housing schemes under the ICHP. These are Greenfield and Brownfield sites. “The Greenfield schemes are where we build on land that no one previously lived. For these sites, we take applications from the community. On Brownfield sites, a community pre-existed, so we have to relocate the people, build where they were living, and then those people move back. Therefore, only those people of the pre-existing communities would be eligible,” Mrs. Spence explains. This is a significant change from the NHT’s wider portfolio, as in both instances, the application pool is limited by geography. “These are either people who are on the site or people from the surrounding communities. It’s not open to people outside of that,” she outlines. To facilitate this, a special Benefit Order had to be enacted, as an attachment to the NHT Act. The units are four-storey walk-up apartment buildings consisting of two and three-bedroom apartments. Families with more than four members automatically qualify for three-bedroom apartments, while those families with less than four persons become eligible for two bedrooms. Special consideration is given to the elderly and the disabled, who automatically qualify for first floor apartments.
Applications are processed by the New Loans Department of the NHT and not by the ICHP, to ensure transparency. “Because, as a social development department, we work in the community, so we wouldn’t want to be the ones allocating units or loans,” Mrs. Spence points out. The principles of Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED) were employed during the construction of the housing complexes. According to the planning order, there is one parking space per household, as well as green spaces, and a playground for the complex. “So we are not just building a scheme, we are trying to build a community,” she notes. Playgrounds are located within the centre of the complex to ensure visibility to the apartments and to limit immediate access from the road. “The goal is to reduce the opportunities for crime to flourish by using physical design features that discourage crime, while at the same time encourage legitimate use of the environment,” Mrs. Spence explains. One of the objectives of the ICHP is to ease the transition from a certain type of living to a strata-managed, apartment complex type of living. As part of that, the project focuses on individual and community development, through promoting “healthier” lifestyles. This has a number of components, including training courses through various facilitators and focus on community health issues.
The project therefore, has a much wider social development programme that focuses on easing the transition from living in a tenement yard, or a board villa situation, to apartment style living. There have also been courses on parenting and reproductive health. “One of the things we have identified is that parenting skills are low, particularly in the inner-city, and so we are working towards teaching parents how to build relationships with their children,” Mrs. Spence tells JIS News.
The residents, who occupy several shared spaces, including the “drying” area and the green spaces, also had to undergo training in areas such as conflict resolution and leadership training. “And so in that sense, we are also trying to change the social face, because we are trying to underline the maintenance of these communities and also create more civic-oriented people in the inner-city. If we do succeed, that would be a huge change in terms of the social fabric of these communities,” she says. Social development is a critical aspect of the ICHP, in recognition of the importance of improving psychosocial conditions of beneficiaries and other citizens in the target communities. In light of this, a social development division has been established within the NHT to focus on individual and community development.
It aims to reduce unemployment and underemployment by assisting residents to obtain meaningful and sustainable livelihoods. Intervention strategies to this end include skills training to position persons for priority selection for employment when the Business Improvement Development Enterprises aspect of the programme comes on stream. Entrepreneurial management is also emphasized, so that participants who wish to establish their own businesses can do so.
Once the NHT hands over the units, the social development aspect of the project continues for five years to, “help get things started.like the election of the strata executive to facilitate courses”, Mrs. Spence informs. She notes, for example, that members of the strata executive committee of the Little King Street scheme have undergone specialised leadership training, in addition to strata management training, as leadership is very important for management.To facilitate the transition to home ownership, beneficiaries are required to register with the NHT and develop a pattern of savings. The ICHP intends to construct 5,000 units by 2010 at a cost of $11.5 billion. It involves urban communities in the Kingston Metropolitan Area (KMA), St. Catherine, St. Mary and Westmoreland. To date, 94 houses have been handed over at Little King Street, while 344 units are under construction at Board Villa in Denham Town, to be delivered by February 2007. In August of this year, 252 units were handed over to beneficiaries in Trench Town. The site consists of 13 two and four-storey apartments with 84 three-bedroom and 168 two-bedroom dwellings, as well as a community centre, and a day care centre. In September, 186 units were handed over to residents at 88-100 Spanish Town Road and on October 21, beneficiaries received keys to 48 units in Monaltrie, off Half-Way-Tree Road. Construction is underway at 231 Spanish Town Road on 248 units.

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