Cover Image
close this book Daughters of Sysiphus
close this folder Premises of the study
View the document Premise one
View the document Premise two
View the document Premise three
View the document The need for this study
close this folder Jamaica - A background
View the document Population
View the document Natural hazards and disasters
View the document Economy
View the document Politics
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
close this folder Overview of findings and recommendations
View the document Household distribution
View the document Occupations and education
View the document Expenditure
View the document Savings and loans
View the document Density
View the document Tenure and mobility
View the document Physical and social infrastructure
View the document The building process
close this folder Methodology
View the document Low-income household survey
View the document Case studies
View the document Methodological issues
close this folder Education and occupations
View the document Education
View the document Occupations
View the document The stories behind the figures
View the document Recommendations
close this folder Expenditure
View the document Expenditure on shelter
View the document Expenditure on food
View the document The stories behind the figures
View the document How to spend a windfall
View the document The stories behind the windfall figures
View the document Differences between men and women in money management
View the document Spending on entertainment
View the document Recommendations
close this folder Savings and loans
View the document Savings
View the document Attitudes towards the partner
View the document Choices of form of saving
View the document Recommendations
close this folder Density
View the document Household size
View the document Number of people per room
View the document The yard
View the document The experience behind the figures
View the document Recommendation
close this folder Mobility and tenure
View the document Mobility
View the document The stories behind the figures
View the document The experience behind the figures
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close this folder Infrastructure - physical and social
View the document Water
View the document Electricity
View the document Fuel
View the document Garbage
View the document Social infrastructure
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close this folder The building process
View the document Building a house
View the document Investing in improvements
View the document The stories behind the figures
View the document Vulnerability to natural hazards
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close this folder Conclusions, guidelines and further research
View the document Some guidelines for public-sector housing and shelter agencies
View the document Suggestions for further research
View the document Bibliography
close this folder Annexes
View the document Annex I - Glossary of terms
View the document Annex II - Overview of the women who served as case studies
View the document Annex III - Lena

The stories behind the figures


Auntie built a single room out of gleaned building material along the Causeway. Construction material for the tatoos or shacks were obtained from a variety of sources. Some were bought from lumber yards as "seconds" while others were gleaned from a garbage dump not far from the area.

Auntie bought the boards for her room from a man who made a living for himself salvaging building material from the dump and then selling it. She had to chop bush to set up her house. She stores building materials in the yard.

The houses themselves are very rough and basic. The floors are made of forklift pallets from a nearby factory which are simply thrown down on the sand. Wood from the pallets and off-cuts known as slab are also used for the walls, and the roof is made of rusty zinc. Extra zinc is used for additional walling material. The uprights for the frame of the house are simply rammed into the sand. The first room took three weeks to put together with the others going up over the following two months. The last unit was bought complete from a man who left the area. They moved it down the road from his spot to theirs.

The members of the household sleep on pallet covered in cardboard or pieces of cloth and there are no conventional beds. Some of the pallets have a foam mattress.

She has no interest in expanding or improving her present accommodation.


"I've started to build two room but I need some help. I mix the concrete, tek up a two block and help to fill the block pocket them."


"I get some men to come on and help me and they do the two sides of the house and a part of her but they left and didn't come back so I finished this boarding up myself by the help of borrowing a saw. Somebody come and eventually help me do it. At first the wood was close but after a while the space go far, especially after the rain. This is the door that I have put on myself, and I put on the lock and I dig out the lock hole by the help of a knife because I don't have a chisel. Even the site, me and my children dig it down.

"These round woods. This is what I was going to use first to build the house. I chop it in the woods by the help of a cousin of mine. He chop them down and I trim it, like strip it off, strip the bark off it. These bananas I plant it and built the road to come up here (steep track built into the hillside).

'And I also made my own toilet and bathroom

"You want the story of the house? Well. First of all when I come in I take a piece of land round the front there, but I hear a comment that it was too near to the centre (a government training centre) and I get reluctant and I left it there. I started to dug it out but I left it for about six months and when I come back passing I see houses on it.

"I decided now, and I tek a piece more up in the gully there, but I didn't have any wire to wire it round. I chopped it out and left When I go up back there I saw it wired out by a next person and I have to start over again up here. I started to dig the site. Well shortly after, just to keep the land, I put Up the round stick house. I never really intended to have a round stick house but I just decided I will put it up for the time being until I can get all the lumbers that I really need.

'1 put up the round stick, get some men to help me, and dig out foundation and put up the round stick until I could be able to accumulate up a portion of money and buy the lumbers. Clinkers I did want but I couldn't so I got groove and tongue and pulled down some of the round stick and put in the two by fours and put up one room first.

"Someone bought the lumber for me at Carib Hardware. And then I decided to put on another room so I just put on this one. Well it tek me a good little while to complete the house - about, to be honest, about a year to complete everything. I well wanted to finish quickly but at the same time the little pitchy patchy board them, I don't like them. So I prefer to wait until I can get a source of money to buy a strong form of material.

"I worked mainly at weekends. I got men to assist me. I just put on a pot.

"Well I also made the latrine since I came. I get somebody to dig the hole and this gentleman help me to build it up. I buy the cement and boards and things and slab it.

"The cost of the house? Well I never really sit down and check up everything but pretty near over fifteen thousand dollars. But this is last set of boards if is wolmanised lumber. Because sometimes when you go to the hardware to buy one something and they don't have it, instead of going home back with the money to buy a big dinner you just buy the lumbers that you see because once you go home back with that money now that money mash, so I don't want it to mash up so I end Up buying this type of board."

If she had a windfall of $5000 she would add another room. If she had $10,000 she would put on a room, a kitchen and a little verandah.


Icie is currently in the process of buying the land she is on through a lease purchase agreement with the Government.

"Mek me tell you something. Is buy we buy the house from a man. The man die and his wife sell the house. He put wire in there. He put brick. It carries wattle and daub and then he put on mortar but the whole entire house want repair." (This is a rough description of a mixed wattle and daub and nog house).

"We have four rooms, one bath and a little living room but then the ceiling dropping down and the door want to fix. I never make any improvement because I don't have any money to improve it. The tap want to fix because it leaking all the time."


Lena's experiences of building have been described in the main case study.


Letty's house is built of block and steel and is in good condition. The roof is made of zinc but there are ceilings in all the rooms and the windows are made of glass louvres.

The original construction of the house was managed by Letty herself with the help of her son and his friends. One of her other sons in England sent money every month to help and she also saved quite a bit of money through various partners.

She would like to make additions to the house she lives in at the moment but has insufficient money. She would like to add on another two rooms to the unit where her nephew is living. He is saving towards this goal and they might accomplish it over the next year.


The house is a board house with a small zinc lean-to extension which is used as the kitchen. It was built by Houseman who had initially built the house for himself but sold it to Megan for $200 when she first moved to the area. She still owes him $50 on it. Houseman provided the house because he was paid $300 by one of the area leaders who asked him to help Megan. Houseman saves scrap and second-hand building materials and also gleans material off the garbage dumps to build people houses.

The house was carried from his yard to Megan's. Initially built on stilts the house was reconstructed on a concrete base to raise it up as Megan's piece of land frequently floods when there are heavy rains.


Over the last five years she has gradually upgraded her house by building block and steel extensions. Every month she puts a little money aside to expand or improve her house. At the moment she is putting on an extra room and a bathroom for her mother. She hopes that she'll be able to put a ceiling in this year as well. Her son would help with the work.

Pansy gets building materials relatively cheaply on the second hand and "seconds" market. The seconds market centres on the sale of damaged materials by formal sector producers and wholesalers. The second-hand market is essentially informal and has a particularly strong presence near to the city dumps. Her main building expenses are materials because her sons do most of the construction work and friends in the community also help once she has enough materials saved up. "I just ask them to give me a days work and put on a pot and everyone work and eat."

The basic house was built by the Ministry of Construction and was composed of three rooms on a concrete foundation. The roof was made of zinc and the floor of wood. Soon after moving there Pansy added on two more rooms and then later a kitchen, a bathroom and an additional bedroom. The third addition was started four years after the first and will, she hopes, soon by finished. Her extensions are all in block and steel. Pansy believes that lumber is more expensive than concrete. Her daughter has helped her to get a home improvement loan from the National Housing Trust because Pansy herself was told she was too old to apply for the benefit and that is what she is using to pay for the current extension.


The walls of the house as well as the floors are made of board. The roof is of zinc. The bedroom windows are made of board but there is a set of louvre windows in the living room.

Verona built the house herself over a period of time. She first bought a one-room frame and then gradually bought secondhand zinc and board from people in the area. In the second phase she added a second and third bedroom. The living room, verandah and shop space came next. All of this was organized by her son Leroy and his friend. Leroy worked for a building contractor at one time and therefore has some building skills and his friend is a cabinet maker. Both of them provided their labour free and each phase of the house was added once sufficient materials had been saved up.

Verona borrowed nothing at all to build the house. She plans to make further extensions but these will be limited because of the small space of the yard. The only building material she used that was not second-hand was cement which she used for the foundations and which she bought from a nearby hardware store.

If she had $ l 000 she would spend it on improving the shop. If she had $5000 she would also make some improvements to the house. She would fix the zinc so that it didn't leak and put in some new boards to replace the ones that have been eaten out by termites. By choice she would prefer a concrete house but as long as she is a squatter she believes that is out of the question.