The National Land Agency (NLA) has placed a hold on the eviction notices previously served on residents of 87 East Street, in downtown Kingston, who are deemed to be occupying the property illegally.
Deferment of the notice has extended the timeframe in which the agency will continue to accommodate the residents, until they are able to identify alternative living arrangements. The duration of the extension is, however, still to be determined.
The property, which is located at the corner of East and Beeston Streets in West Kingston, is being occupied by 73 residents, including 28 children and 45 adults.
The NLA had previously issued eviction notices of 90 days to the residents after investigations showed that the wall that separates 87 East Street from a neighbouring property had collapsed.
Minister of Water, Land, Environment and Climate Change, Hon. Robert Pickersgill, told the residents on April 13, that their cries for leniency and compassion had not fallen on deaf ears.
"We have heard the cries of the residents for leniency, and it is not, nor has it ever been the intention of this administration to penalise persons for the circumstances in which they find themselves," he assured.
Mr. Pickersgill was conducting a tour of the facility, along with Minister with responsibility for Housing, Hon. Morais Guy; Minister of State in the Office of the Prime Minister, Hon. Luther Buchanan; Member of Parliament for West Kingston, Desmond McKenzie; as well as representatives of the NLA and the Social Services Unit in the Ministry of Transport, Works and Housing.
He further gave the residents the assurance that the government would be exploring several options to resolve their situation, including the possibility of relocation.
The Minister, however, said that although eviction might be seen as a hard line stance, the government cannot continue to condone the illegal occupation of government and private lands.
"Persons cannot lay claim to government lands unless they have occupied said lands for 60 years and for private lands, it is 12 years quiet possession,” he informed.
In the case of Beeston Street, the longest tenure has been 20 years. He said the government was therefore well within its rights to have them removed. “No one can deny that spontaneous settlement is a persistent problem for this country," he added.
For his part, Mr. Guy also informed that representatives from the Social Services Unit of the Ministry would be conducting a survey to determine the socio-economic status and the needs of the residents, in an effort to provide further assistance.
"We will be granting this extension but with the understanding that within that period of time you make positive moves to find alternative accommodation," he said.
He also encouraged the residents to give the representatives of the Social Services Unit their full support as they carry out their task. "Please give (them) all the information that they will need, because that will inform the decision that the government takes," he said.
Meanwhile, Mr. McKenzie encouraged the residents to use the extension as an opportunity to find alternative accommodation.
"This should not be used as a passport for continuous living. They must make an attempt in whatever way they can, to try and find alternative accommodation, and we will be working with them to see how best we can respond to them," he said.
Resident of the area, Jacqueline Smith, who spoke on behalf of the other residents, expressed appreciation to the government for its leniency.
A rapid assessment of illegal settlements on government lands undertaken in 2008 by the University of Technology, identified approximately 745 such settlements islandwide.
Before the assessment was conducted, it was estimated that there were 595 such informal settlements. However, the research uncovered additional sites on which spontaneous settlement had occurred.
The research also showed that illegal settlements are concentrated in five parishes, namely, St. James, Westmoreland, St. Ann, St. Catherine and Kingston and St. Andrew.
By Athaliah Reynolds-Baker, JIS Reporter