Youth parliamentarians on Monday proposed an amnesty and a house ownership initiative as solutions to the long-running problem of squatter settlements developing across Jamaica.
The young people made their suggestions during the 13th staging of the National Youth Parliament which was held under the theme, ‘REIGNITED: Empowering Youth for Jamaica 60 & Beyond’.
Kevar Bennett, youth parliamentarian for St Elizabeth South Western who represented the Opposition, said since the Government has the role of providing affordable housing, it should extend a five-year amnesty which would allow squatters to have their houses formalised and regularised.
“This amnesty would contain measures to address informal settlements on all crown lands. A major objective of this policy would be to implement the needed infrastructures within these communities. This would serve to enhance the overall suitability of these environments for human habitation,” Bennett said while making his presentation in Gordon House.
“An amnesty is needed because they are currently engaged in illegal acts and as such are liable to face criminal penalties. This amnesty would temporarily relieve them from unjust legal jeopardy,” added Bennett.
He further said that through the amnesty, squatters would enter into a viable arrangement with the Government to contribute monthly payments for their houses, towards their full ownership over a 10-year period.
“While we cannot negate the fact that squatter settlements are often a hub for increased criminal and illegal activities such as electricity theft, it is precisely for this reason why it is imperative for these settlements to be regularised and thereby brought under lawful regime,’ he said, to much desk pounding.
“I urge the Government of Jamaica to delay no longer in adoption of this and implementation of this much-needed solution to the crisis. A crisis which is faced by so many poor Jamaicans. These are Jamaicans who for centuries have suffered at the hands of a system designed to oppress them. A system which has made them poor and kept them poor for far too long,” he added.
Speaking from the Government benches, Jaun Henry called for an ‘Own it initiative (OWI)’ which he said would involve an organised and active registering of squatters.
Outlining conditions under the initiative which would allow Jamaicans to qualify, Henry said they should be living in areas considered small, proof of occupying a house for a minimum of least seven years and proof of acquiring legitimate utility service.
“We will seek out those committing the offence and we will work with them to have them regularised. Operation OWI will present qualified persons, who are squatting on crown lands, with an opportunity to purchase or enter a rent to own agreement to obtain legitimate ownership of these lands,” said Henry who represented St Ann South Eastern.
“In 2022, we note that in the absence of affordable housing, squatting becomes a viable option, so as trying youths, we are left to ask the question, ‘A weh youths get dah system yah from?, bout seh mi live pon squatter land, nuh true me nuh rich like Matalon, mi a born Jamaican’,” he added.
Henry pointed to reports from the draft national housing policy which showed that the National Housing Trust and major private developers provided and average of 11,152 housing units per year
“Given that the targeted number of houses per year is 15,000 units, we currently have a national squatter management policy that greatly and gravely underserves the issue of squatting. This Government intends to recondition this,” said Henry.
“I want you to understand that this is not a free for all. It is not a he, she and the old lady approach. What we are not saying is that any and everybody can just get up and squat as they please and believe that the Government will allow them to purchase the land after. We don’t condone that indecency in this Parliament, therefore there must be some sort of control,” added Henry.