KINGSTON, Jamaica – Opposition backben-cher Ronald Thwaites has challenged Parliament to act decisively in crafting policies aimed at tackling the squalor in which many poor Jamaicans live.
The Central Kingston member of parliament, who was speaking on his motion targeting urban blight, said the State has a responsibility to create housing solutions for persons who cannot afford market rates.
“Food For the Poor should not be the major source of working-class housing, poor-people housing in Jamaica,” Thwaites said in the House of Representatives last Tuesday.
Unique housing needs
The charity, on its website, says: “Jamaica’s housing needs are unique in the sheer numbers of the poor who lack adequate homes.” Food For the Poor (FFP) has said that 15,000 Jamaican families are awaiting houses from the organisation.
While acknowledging the role of FFP, Thwaites said Government had a greater role to play in providing housing solutions for the population.
“Charity can never take the place of justice. In this dignified and independent society, we should be able to offer, at reasonable prices, not for free except in case of emergency and situations of dire poverty, (housing for the poor),” Thwaites said.
Housing Minister Dr Horace Chang told the House that his ministry was positioning itself “to work with communities to find solutions to what is a critical problem this country faces”.
The housing minister said that Government would soon be partnering with the international charity group Habitat for Humanity to address the problem of housing decay in the towns of Montego Bay, May Pen and Annotto Bay. Chang also said that experts from overseas had committed to visiting Jamaica to help in coming up with suitable housing solutions in St Catherine, Clarendon and the Corporate Area.
There have been attempts in the past to regularise squatter communities, as well as to provide housing solutions for the poor. An inner-city housing project started by the last administration was scrapped by Prime Minister Bruce Golding in April, but he later backtracked on that decision.
Golding justified his decision to suspend the programme at his constituency meeting in West Kingston last month.
No more money
“We had to suspend it because it couldn’t continue the way it was going. There was no more money to continue to build houses for $3 million and $4 million, sell them for $2 million and hug up the loss of $2 million,” Golding said.
On Tuesday, however, Thwaites said that money should not stand in the way of allowing people to live in dignity.
“I do not believe that the expenses of construction are such that they can be prohibitive for building a simple structure without frills, and perhaps without many of the amenities, but nonetheless sound against the elements,” Thwaites said.
Thwaites also blasted the National Housing Trust for not doing enough to put the brakes on the housing dilemma.