The beginning of the end of squatting (part 2)
How is it going?Sunday, December 05, 2021
Pearnel Charles Jr
My aversion to how we use the word “squatting” is common knowledge, particularly because the connotations that follow are often offensive and inaccurate.
Many individuals in these circumstances are themselves victims of the long-standing inequities in our society and have no reasonable likelihood of changing their fortune, without deliberate intervention.
We recognise though, that any attempt to resolve the existing proliferation of informal settlements and to mitigate against the expansion must begin with an intricate understanding of the genesis as well as the social, environmental and economic impact and challenges. The Government is working to ensure that every Jamaican can own land through lawful means and through land titling and regularisation projects. We are expanding the security of tenure while we increase the access and availability of affordable housing.
“Squatting” is a systemic problem that has remained detrimental to Jamaica despite ad hoc efforts to arrest the problem through the regularisation of long-standing squatter communities. The preliminary results from the National Squatter Survey that commenced in 2019 show that approximately 20 per cent of the Jamaican population still live in a squatter settlement across the island, and this is expanding. The 2008 Rapid Assessment of Squatting in Jamaica found that 55 per cent of Jamaica's squatter settlements are located on flat lands; and six per cent on very steep slopes, 24 per cent were located within 100 metres of a waterway, while more than 50 per cent of the settlements in the parishes of Kingston, St Andrew and St Catherine were located within 100 metres of a waterway.
Squatter settlements, especially those located on the southern coast of Jamaica, are at constant risk of being adversely affected by storm surges and general coastal flooding. The preliminary findings of the 2019 to 2021 survey underscore the 2008 findings, and the vulnerability of Jamaican squatter settlements to climate risks.
The impacts of and approaches to “squatting” in Jamaica
Beyond the deficiencies in infrastructure and amenities is the impact on the well-being and identity of individuals and families who reside in these settlements and are often subjected to ridicule and discrimination. Though many Jamaicans defy the stigma, the stain is evident and the prevalence of victims and perpetrators is established empirically. Our efforts to address this scourge ought to deliberately reshape the norms and our view of social structure. This is important as how we perceive ourselves influences our own behaviour in society.
Over the past two decades the Government of Jamaica (GOJ) has implemented policies that will aid in the regularisation, relocation, and curtailment of the expansion of informal settlements. Chief among these policies are:
Operation PRIDE Policy (1994)
The Programme for Resettlement and Integrated Development Enterprises (Operation PRIDE) is intended to provide affordable land and shelter for persons who would not normally be able to afford conventional housing solutions, particularly the most vulnerable groups.
National Land Policy (1996)
The goals and objectives of this policy are to ensure the sustainable, productive and equitable development, use and management of the country's natural resources. The National Land Policy speaks to establishing development limits for urban and rural settlements to safeguard against urban sprawl, and encroachment on agricultural lands.
Jamaica Settlement Strategy (1997)
This policy was designed to provide the framework through which the capacity of small and intermediate settlements would be strengthened to generate more widespread and equitable development.
Jamaica National Hazard Mitigation Policy (2005)
This policy provides a framework for integrating hazard mitigation into all policies, programmes and plans at national and community levels.
Housing Public-Private Partnership (HPPP) Policy (2008)
The HPPP Policy was developed to ensure that the best, technically sound, financially viable and economically affordable solutions are obtained to meet the national shelter needs through planned, sustainable communities.
Vision 2030 (2009)
Vision 2030 is a long-term national development plan which is aimed at enabling Jamaica to achieve developed country status by 2030. The goal of Vision 2030 is to 'make Jamaica the place of choice to raise families, live, work and do business', and the guiding principles which put people at the centre of Jamaica's transformation. According to the plan, by 2030 every household should be living in a well-constructed dwelling unit
Urban Planning and Regional Development Sector Plan (2009 – 2030)
The Sector Plan is geared towards supporting the economic and social development of parishes island wide within a coordinated, coherent and mutually beneficial framework. The plan targets areas of concern including inequality and poverty, unavailability of affordable housing, squatting, environmental degradation, fragmented subdivisions, urban sprawl, and unbalanced regional development among a myriad of other concerns.
Despite the development and implementation of a legion of policies by the Government, informal settlements in Jamaica continue to grow at alarming rates. The 2008 Rapid Assessment Survey identified approximately 754 informal settlements islandwide, and we expect that this has increased exponentially.
An assessment of the previous efforts by the Government identified a number of gaps that must be addressed to effect the change desired. This realiation has served to inform the development of the National Housing Policy, which will be the first-ever comprehensive housing policy to govern the sector in Jamaica. In part, it recognises and will provide policy measures to address the improvement of living conditions, including the transformation of spaces where informal settlements predominate.
Develop National Housing Policy
Figure 1. Showing the different policies that were implemented to remedy squatting.
The proposed National Housing Policy and Implementation Plan, which is to be tabled in Parliament by the end of this financial year, addresses, in an overarching manner, the complexities of the housing challenge with focus on key areas such as affordability, supply options, climate resilience and sustainable building practices.
Having regard to the critical need to fix “squatting”, we are keen on completing the National Squatter Management Policy and Implementation Plan which zooms in on this area and will provide the strategic direction and enabling framework within which we can realise our goal to address the challenges.
Of note, Jamaica continues to be a trendsetter in the area of policy development as one of the first countries to formulate a targeted policy that will comprehensively address squatting. Ultimately, through this strategic approach, life and property can be preserved, dignity restored, and a sense of community realised, and Jamaicans can ultimately enjoy an improved quality of life.
The Ministry of Housing, Urban Renewal, Environment and Climate Change is developing a comprehensive policy to address the increasing levels of urbanisation. Likewise, as a Government we also continue to examine the aspect of social housing with a view to redefining and reframing the current approaches to enhance coordination and ensure sustainable and practical interventions. Additionally, we look forward to completing the amendments to the Rent Restriction Act as the rental industry must be a part of the solution as it offers a viable option for individuals to access safe and legal housing solutions. Accordingly, we are developing an enabling environment to stimulate investment and a framework to guide sustainable development that considers the social, economic and environmental components, among others, within the framework of long-term strategies to achieve our wider national goals.
In the final piece, I will discuss where we are going in this effort to achieve sustainable development and build resilience.
Pearnel Charles Jr is Minister of housing, urban renewal, environment and climate change. Responses may be sent to: email@example.com