Walker at the helm as Gov’t starts work on social housing programme

Walker at the helm as Gov’t starts work on social housing programme

BY ALPHEA SAUNDERS
Senior staff reporter
saundersa@jamaicaobserver.com

Friday, June 07, 2019

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The Government has started work on the roll-out of its promised social housing programme to provide shelter for the indigent and upgrade “big yards” in urban areas across the island’s 63 constituencies, beginning with a budget of $1 billion this year.

Danville Walker — who has been appointed national director for the new initiative which is being administered under the Housing, Opportunity, Production, Employment (HOPE) programme — says while it will not be a panacea for the housing needs of the poor, the plan is to continue providing this intervention where the need exists.

“We expect that once we have a sustainable funding mechanism that it can continue until this type of need is finished. We have already looked at some of the solutions, but we may need to be a bit more creative and open-minded about what that solution will be… if you don’t do proper re-engineering then you’re just automating a bad process and that’s true for housing too. I’d like to have a better housing solution, one that will take a bit more planning, build a better community, rather than build a better house or a better board house,” he told the Jamaica Observer a week into the job.

He stressed also that there will be equity and transparency in the process, and that the programme will not be a “raffle”.

“People will have to complete an application form. We don’t have unlimited resources; we expect to have more each year, we just need to be transparent about how it works and involve the leadership in the constituency, giving everybody an equal opportunity,” Walker said.

“We will have that as a challenge, but I believe we will be able to monitor and respond to that challenge. Some of the needs are obvious, some constituencies are far more vulnerable, and I expect (that) if we can roll out this programme that everyone feels is fair and implemented with transparency, it will get support and more resources will follow,” he asserted.

With the programme office now set up in New Kingston, work has already begun on designs for the housing solutions for submission to the various parish councils. He pointed out that there will be new construction, as the infrastructure for the decades-old tenements cannot withstand the type of rigorous rehabilitation that is necessary.

“We have designs that we will be rolling out to the parish councils, but we have to first see the lands and the needs [and] whether it’s board or concrete. What we have to do now is figure out the implementation plan, because you have to find a way to deliver the solutions quickly. We are sure that the needs far outweigh the resources, but we will put as much resources as we can together and try to address the needs of as many as we can,” he assured.

Walker expects that there will be challenges in the land acquisition process for those people who do not have security of tenure, but says political representatives and other authorities will be asked to make an input in resolving those issues. “There will be some requirement of proof of land — those are the easiest ones, when they own the land. But many of these, for years, the land and who owns the lands is in question. So I think that’s going to be our biggest challenge quite frankly. Some lands we may have to relocate them off of it… those are going to be some of the biggest challenges, but we are going to work closely with the MPs [and] councillors who will know very closely their parochial divisions, and we expect through forging a relationship with those persons who are responsible for these types of issues that we will have sufficient applications coming in,” he outlined.

The housing programme will also feature an oversight committee comprising representatives of HOPE, the Ministry of Economic Growth and Job Creation, the National Housing Trust, and HEART Trust, which will monitor implementation, and make recommendations to the minister of housing for approval of beneficiaries, as well as upgrading and relocation of sites. The committee will also be responsible for reviewing and approving the initial construction costs for the units and variations.

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