Member of Parliament for North West St. Ann, Othneil Lawrence, says that a zero tolerance approach will be taken to squatting, after the regularization of informal settlements in the area.
Under the Economical Housing Project of Jamaica, approximately 1,300 new houses are to be built in Runaway Bay, St. Ann over the next three years. The project will also include the completion of an upgraded infrastructure for over 1,300 serviced lots at Belle Air 1 and 2 and Mount Edgecombe 4.
The project will be undertaken by the Housing Agency of Jamaica (HAJ), through a US$71 million (approximately J$6.5 billion) loan from China. The contract has been awarded to China National Complete Plant Import and Export Corporation (COMPLANT), which also built the Montego Bay conference centre in Rose Hall, St. James, and the Trelawny multi-purpose stadium. Construction is scheduled to commence by March, pending Parish Council approval of the plans.
The Prime Minister, the Hon. Bruce Golding, who broke ground for the project in December, said it will assist low and middle-income wage earners, who have been struggling to find affordable housing, to achieve this goal.
Mr. Lawrence has welcomed the project, as a major step in easing the problem of informal settlements in the constituency.
“People, who have been suffering and had to be squatting all these years, can now become a part of the system, because there will be home solutions available to them,” he said, warning that it would signal a new “zero tolerance” approach to squatting in the constituency.
Mr. Lawrence explained that tourism developments in the area have constantly employed people from outside, at the expense of residents. This has led to an influx of non-resident workers who, eventually, have to find accommodation in informal settlements, expanding squatting in the area.
“This is one of the reasons why Runaway Bay was chosen for this programme and, after we have relocated the people and regularized the situation, we are not going to tolerate any more informal settlements,” he explained.
He said that, while there have been several attempts in the past to address the matter, this is the most substantial and comprehensive response.
Mr. Lawrence added that a committee will be appointed to work with the contractors, to ensure that jobs created by the project are given to qualified persons from the area, and not strangers.
“I believe that people in the constituency who are qualified should be given work. Many of them have been unemployed for years, yet others have come in and taken the jobs. I want to ensure that they are given the preference, this time,” Mr. Lawrence said.
The MP promised to take a hands-on approach to the project, especially the distribution of houses, to ensure that only people who need housing get them and to prevent political bias. “We are not going to tolerate any ‘hanky panky’ in the distribution of these houses. I am personally going to monitor it, to ensure that only people who genuinely need houses are given priority, not people who already own their own homes,” Mr. Lawrence said.
He added that both the Prime Minister, the Hon. Bruce Golding and the Minister of Water and Housing, Hon. Dr. Horace Chang, have entrusted their confidence in him ensuring that the process is fair and unbiased.
The HAJ says that the project is one of the largest housing developments it has ever undertaken, and will involve the completion of a total of 3,500 housing solutions, including 828 in Brampton, St. Elizabeth.
CONTACT: BALFORD HENRY