International
Federation for
Housing and
Planning

Housing Situation in Jamaica

Jamaica’s housing problem reflects the challenges of urbanization and uncontrolled development and mirrors the housing problems of other developing countries.

With an urbanization rate of 54% (Statistical Institute of Jamaica [STATIN, 2011]) and 20% of total population squatting in over 700 informal settlements (Ministry of Water and Housing [MWH, 2008]), national and local authorities face a serious development problem. Research undertaken for the National Housing Policy (2008) revealed that 15,000 new units are required annually up to 2030 to clear the backlog. However, between 1980 and 2012, the average annual production of housing stood at 4,456 in the formal sector (MWH, 2011).

 

Meanwhile, the gap between supply and demand continues to widen despite attempts by successive governments to make more lands available for housing and repeated changes to housing finance by the National Housing Trust (NHT) and major housing finance institutions. Private sector housing finance institutions serve primarily the top 30% of income earners (MWH, 2011), while only 25% of contributors to the NHT have benefitted since its inception (Henry, 2013), although established to increase access to affordable housing for low-income households. It should be noted that the NHT has about 440,000 contributors on its books, which indicates that over 330,000 contributors have not been able to access loan packages; a major flaw in its operation and an aspect that requires urgent legislative and policy attention.

 

All these factors have contributed to the urban sprawl and increased incidence of squatting that has characterized all major towns in Jamaica. Informal settlements have been proliferating and pose serious threats to sensitive environments. While policies have been lacking to cauterize the spread, persons have continued to capture lands, most of which are owned by the State and establish housing. The reality is, the State has failed to create a truly enabling environment to attract and stimulate greater private sector participation especially in the low income segment of the housing market. Neither has it been able to widen the housing sector to include other actors and providers of housing such as; community associations and provident societies as well as non-governmental organizations.

 

The main challenges to improved and increased access to housing have been well documented. Low income households find it difficult to access loans through the formal financial institutions, as many households are engaged in informal economy where they secure their livelihoods and incomes. Policies have not yet captured the role of micro-financing and flexible financing that could assist increase access to formal housing for low income groups. As such, low income households resort to the informal sector and continue to undertake incremental housing development to house themselves.

 

The land registration and development approval processes are also too expensive, rigid and cumbersome and thus; act as hindrances to low income households in accessing affordable formal housing. However, there are programmes developed by the Government to divest and distribute lands to low income groups, but these efforts are sometimes plagued with political interference. These are factors that cripple the poor in accessing affordable housing.

 

Author

Raymond Poyser, Community Development & Planning Officer

 

For more information

Contact Project Manager, Viviana Rubbo: v.rubbo@ifhp.org