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close this book Daughters of Sysiphus
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View the document Population
View the document Natural hazards and disasters
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View the document Urban kingston
View the document Historical aspects of the household in Jamaica
View the document Shelter policies
View the document The construction labour force

Shelter policies

Jamaica's experience with respect to low-income housing has differed little from that of many other third world countries. The supply of formally-constructed housing has proved almost totally inadequate and largely unaffordable to the people whom it was intended to benefit. The vast majority of the low-income population, which comprises (by the Government's own reasoning) nearly 70 per cent of the population, has had to rely on their own ingenuity to provide shelter for themselves and their families. Indeed, in this study less than 7 per cent of the households surveyed believed that they had benefited from any governmental shelter intervention. As a result, much of the housing that does exist has been informally constructed in an incremental fashion with no regard for the formal building approval process and usually without any assistance from formal financial institutions.

As a result of initiatives taken during 1987, the International Year of Shelter for the Homeless, Jamaica developed a national Strategy for the Shelter Sector. The major objectives of this Strategy were stated as being:

(a) To create the market conditions, provide the incentives, and facilitate the flow of resources to augment the supply of shelter:

(b) To accelerate home improvement and the upgrading and transformation of the housing stock in order that shelter of adequate quality may be available to the population as a whole;

(c) To make shelter programmes more accessible to the poor;

(d) To encourage greater private sector participation.

Within the Strategy the public sector is required to focus on two main forms of intervention:

(a) Activities targeted at those disadvantaged groups living in slums and squatter communities;

(b) Stimulating and facilitating household investments in shelter.

According to the Strategy, the Government was to "reduce the large-scale construction of new units which cannot be afforded by the target group" and finance the following solutions:

(a) Site with minimum services (unsurfaced roads, drains and water, cess pit);

(b) Site with full services (household connections plus septic tank);

(c) Core-house (unfinished unit);

(d) One bedroom starter home (300 sq ft);

(e) Comprehensive urban upgrading areas;

(f) Settlement upgrading;

(g) Private upgrades (home improvement).

While the 1987 Strategy for the Shelter Sector was in many ways an extremely forward-looking document, it failed to address a number of critical issues. In particular the Strategy failed to focus on:

(a) The significance of the formal and informal rental markets as major suppliers of shelter for the low-income population:

(b) The shelter implications of demographic patterns which demonstrate extremely high rates of female household head-ship in the urban areas.

These omissions were serious because they allowed the shelter requirements and experiences of large numbers of low-income households to remain effectively invisible.

Unfortunately, political realities, especially those associated with impending elections, have led to a continuation of the old pattern of public sector support for large concentrated investment in completed housing units in the constituencies of influential Members of Parliament. Solutions designed for the lowest end of the income scale, settlement upgrading in particular, have received relatively little real financial backing, and the land-titling process has remained as bureaucratic as before. Those who do manage to benefit from upgrading are often left without the titles they need to ensure water connection and the right to sell the property they "own".

Private upgrading, utilizing small-scale improvement loans, has been introduced but is only available to householders with secure land tenure. Minimally serviced sites have also proved difficult to provide in the numbers that would be necessary to create a real impact, largely due to high land prices and the lack of a clear land policy to complement the Shelter Strategy. The lack of these sites has tended to restrict solutions targeted for the lower end of the income market.

As will be seen in the following chapters these patterns of public sector intervention are likely to have had a particularly negative impact on female-headed households which tend to be the least likely households to have secure land tenure and also tend to have the lowest levels of disposable income.

One of the critical factors affecting investment in shelter was clearly the 1988 hurricane which led to widespread and severe damage to the housing stock. However, it also led to the influx of unusually high levels of foreign assistance for emergency shelter interventions. The main assistance programme developed by the Government relied on a building stamp system with stamps being provided by the Government to those in need of assistance. The stamps were then exchangeable for building materials supplied from existing hardware merchants. However, one of the first criteria established for the granting of stamps was secure tenure, either in the form of owner-occupier land status or by means of demonstrable long-term lease. This effectively excluded thousands of people who had been severely affected by the hurricane but who were renters or squatters with no long-term rights to the land that they were occupying at the time of the hurricane.

After the 1989 election it is not clear whether the Strategy adopted in 1987 will be retained. Election of massive building of completed units and subsequent threats to evict squatters on Government land tend to indicate a reversal to older policies. However, with severe shortages in the public sector housing budget pragmatic adaptions of overly ambitous election promises can certainly be expected.