Patricia Green | Fix housing, fix crime and violence
Does crime and violence mitigation require more zones of special operations/states of emergency (ZOSO/SOE) or creative housing situations for the poor?
Across Jamaica are numerous communities marginalised by poverty of basic infrastructure systems in sewerage, water, electricity, and, inside a COVID-19 pandemic, Internet must be added.
It amazes me to watch presentations referring to many of these communities as ‘informal’ or ‘squatter’. Close examination of images of them oftentimes reveals remnants of a settlement order containing Jamaica vernacular architecture, suggesting they are primarily ancestral lands close to urban centres.
These communities belong to generations whose ancestors settled there after 1838 full-free Emancipation from slavery. The majority of communities close to Montego Bay in St James fall inside this grouping of ancestral lands shown on historic maps, often documented as ‘negro’ [African] settlement/freehold/free-town inside sugar estates and plantations that had 3,000 acres and more.
Historic global settlement patterns evolved around rivers providing domestic use and transportation, likewise on Jamaica. In St Catherine, former enslaved African plantation settlements are around the Rio Cobre, such as Rivoli, and in St Andrew around the Sandy River and its tributaries, aka the Sandy Gully system, for example, Grants Pen.
Generations later, residents inside these communities continue to occupy these lands without official acknowledgements, including without titles. Pre-Independence ancestral land marginalisation intensified with bauxite mining.
The Gleaner of December 31, 2021 states Government’s desire to “right a historic wrong” where, from as far back as 1953, about 3,700 displaced persons are still due titles for lands on to which they were relocated. The same applies over highway developments across the island, where segments of ancestral lands have been compulsorily taken without due regard or compensation to affected citizens and their agricultural activities, because they are without titles.
Such marginalised urban communities across Jamaica contain high levels of crime and violence. When speaking with citizens inside these communities, the repeated cry is for basic services, for ‘decent’ housing, for ownership so they may avoid being pushed out, or worse, burnt out.
Is ‘decent’ housing a real national priority? Examine the various names of the ministry across the years: (a) Housing; (b) Works and Housing; (c) Water and Housing; (d) Water, Transport and Housing; (e) Water, Housing and Infrastructure inside the Ministry of Economic Growth and Job Creation; (f) on January 10, the prime minister announced a reshuffle for the Ministry of Economic Growth and Job Creation to reincorporate the Housing, Urban Renewal, Environment and Climate Change, a portfolio formerly under the Ministry of Housing and Urban Renewal.
Historically, property ownership was the domain of plantation owners, merchants, and government. From as early as the 1930s, the colonial government established the Central Housing Authority (CHA) to address urban squalor. This stemmed from pressures on ancestral lands through rural migration of persons seeking employment in urban centres.
The primary focus of the CHA was meeting housing needs in Kingston, St Andrew, and St Catherine. From this came new urban developments, including Trench Town and other areas along the roadway and train line linking West Kingston to Spanish Town.
Note that the 1692 Plan of Kingston terminated at West Street where the Coronation Market is now situated. West Street abutted an area of surface water generated by the St Andrew river systems entering the harbour. West Kingston was also the city refuse dump (later called ‘Dungle’) and burial ground (later called ‘May Pen Cemetery’). The surface water attracted non-titled/informal/squatter settlements from the inception of the city.
Historic records state it was inhabited by ‘runaways’ from plantation and urban slavery. However, many freed persons and others seeking employment at the Kingston Harbour settled there in the absence of the ability to obtain housing or land entitlement.
Private subdivisions and housing developments with land titles increased after the 1907 earthquake. After Hurricane Charlie in 1951, a number of legislations came into place, including The Housing Act (1958), bringing ‘Housing Schemes’. One such is the subdivision of the Hope and Mona estates, creating Mona Heights Scheme, giving titles to government employees. Even after the 1962 Independence, the government housing provision for the poor retained the CHA colonial model of rentals on government lands, which persists today.
Is it that the colonial Jamaica housing framework for residents in communities with poor infrastructure entrenches a sort of neo-government feudal system? Why does there remain even today marginalisation in the housing sector through non-titling of many of these properties?
Why are certain residents denied access from the formal building sector and improvement of housing in their communities? What priority has successive governments given to infrastructure improvements in ancestral communities?
WHAT IS BEING DONE?
The Final Draft of the Housing Policy July 2019 provides some terminology. ‘Social Housing’ is a housing option which refers to housing that is managed either by government or by non-profit agencies, for the specific purpose of providing accommodation for households in need, and for social and community benefit. The term encompasses public rental housing, subsidised community housing, supported housing and emergency accommodation.
‘Affordable Housing’ is a relative term; the common definition used by most local housing agencies when the cost of housing does not exceed 30 per cent of gross household income.
What sorts of creative mechanisms are in place to encourage high-end housing developers to plough back into upgrading infrastructure and housing inside marginalised communities across the nation, thereby helping to stem crime and violence?
Patricia Green, PhD, is a registered architect, former head of the Caribbean School of Architecture in the Faculty of the Built Environment at University of Technology, Jamaica. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.