Thomas KlakandMarlene Smith
Miami University, USA, and the National Housing Trust, Jamaica
The ‘dream home’ of most Jamaicans is a house built in block and steel with at least two bedrooms and a garden. But, owing to a wide and increasing gap between income levels and house prices this aspiration has proven to be elusive as shelter costs have greatly exceeded wage increases. Consequently, although 70 per cent of Jamaicans own their homes, this includes shelter of varying quality, occupant density and security of tenure (Eyre 1997). In order to resolve the housing problem, the national debate has centred around the role of the state. From the 1960s to the 1980s, there was consensus among both economic and political elites that state intervention in the housing market was essential if shortages and inadequacies were to be addressed. Today, this consensus no longer holds and formal sector investment in housing has declined steadily as a share of GDP (which itself has grown only modestly). In part, this can be attributed to the unleashing of market forces through structural adjustment programmes with their emphasis on exports, foreign exchange earnings and privatization. Such free market sentiments have impacted upon public housing policies because of their consumption of scarce foreign exchange and have left little room for an interventionist state. Consequently, state activity in housing has been transformed in the neo-liberal era which assigns it the role of ‘enabler’ or ‘facilitator’.
An organization which has survived this transition to privatization is the National Housing Trust (NHT), the state’s main housing agency, which was established in 1976 with the clear mandate of promoting the housing needs of low-income households. The survival of the NHT in the face of both domestic and international pressures is due largely to the fact that it serves two critical constituencies: middle-income groups, especially those employed by the state, and the two major political parties, the Jamaican Labour Party (JLP)