Jamaica Gleaner / Member of Parliament for Central Kingston Ronald Thwaites is preparing to go to battle with the National Housing Trust (NHT) over its attempt to acquire property in at least three communities in his constituency.
The NHT is trying to acquire a large swathe of land in Central Kingston under its Urban Mass Regeneration Project, but Thwaites has joined with residents of Allman Town, Kingston Gardens and Campbell Town in criticising how the land valuation and acquisition phase of the project is being done.
According to Thwaites, what appears to be happening now is the arbitrary eviction of the residents.
“If you write and tell me that I am going to be evicted without having sensitised me or offered me any option, then undoubtedly that is so,” charged Thwaites.
“I have asked for the letters to be withdrawn and I have been in touch with the housing trust to tell them that is not the way to approach any redevelopment of the area,” added Thwaites.
No plans to sell
Kingston Gardens resident Doreen Palmer, who is glad for the backing of her MP, said she first received a letter four months ago giving her husband the option to sell, as the NHT was trying to acquire property in the area.
“We told the persons who came that we had no plans to sell and were actually in the process of refurbishing,” said Palmer.
“They still offered to value the property at no cost to us, so we told them to go ahead as we didn’t mind learning the value. They sent two different evaluators here but we were never told the value.”
Palmer said they received a second letter on September 29 once again notifying them of the plans to acquire the property.
“It is very disrespectful because they are sending letters and they didn’t come in the community and call a meeting,” Palmer lamented. “I didn’t tell them I was selling. I have five kids and all of them have a room here and I have tenants,” charged Palmer.
But senior general manager at the NHT, Donald Moore, told our news team that there is no plan to forcefully evict the residents.
“The first order of business is to find out who wishes to sell the properties that they have. It is not to force anybody to sell,” said Moore.
“We want to acquire those properties that we can, and if we acquire enough properties from people willing to sell, then it means the project may be a go. If we can’t, then we may not bother.
“We are also doing a general assessment so we know what the state of all the properties in the area is. What we want to do is an overall plan for the area and then to see how we go about implementing the plan,” added Moore.
He said the NHT’s thinking is that this area is perfect for redevelopment into a mixed use zone in which you would have residents and those types of commercial operations that are consistent and complementary to residential living.
“Kingston Gardens is sitting in the centre of a lot of educational and employment opportunities so it is ideal for young families, and so on. But it must be that they are able to find places for recreational, general commercial and support residential as well.
“So if you look at putting residents on top floors and at the bottom, different businesses that residents require. That is what we are looking at, and to have it done at a higher density and to ensure that all First-World standards are observed,” Moore told The Sunday Gleaner .
The NHT has contracted Easton Douglas Consultants Limited to carry out the first phase of the project, with Kari Douglas, the director of marketing and sales for the company, as the lead on this project.
Last week, Douglas told The Sunday Gleaner that the aim is to wrap up the land-evaluation process quickly so the acquisition of properties can commence.
“Evaluation will probably take place over the next couple of weeks while acquisition may last several months or even a couple of years, depending on how much the people buy into it and how quickly and how easily the NHT will be able to compensate and relocate those who will be dislocated once the project starts,” said Douglas.
“We have started delivering letters to proprietors or occupants of the lots for which the NHT will be developing,” added Douglas,
But Thwaites has taken issue with the distribution of these letters to members of his constituency before discussions are held with them to outline what is being done and the relocation plans.
“I reject the terms of the letters that were distributed on behalf of the National Housing Trust,” Thwaites told our news team.
“For this peremptory and inconsiderate letter to be sent out by the housing trust has only served to put everyone’s feet on edge. Eventually, it is going to delay, if not displace, the whole process that could have gone smoothly.
“I never knew anything about it and it goes entirely contrary to a discussion that I had in Parliament with the prime minister on the subject, when the whole issue of the memorandum signed by the Chinese was the subject for discussion, and I rose and pointed out that all of the discourse about redevelopment could only happen if due care was given to the needs of the residents in the area,” added Thwaites.