HAJ owed $2 billion

MONTEGO BAY, St James — The Housing Agency of Jamaica (HAJ) is waiting to collect about $2 billion in unpaid mortgages so it can present roughly 7,000 Jamaicans with titles that are tucked away in its vault.

But an even greater challenge is untangling the cobweb of property lines that often exists in the informal communities it is attempting to regularise. It does not help that land surveys, which are supposed to be the State agency’s guideposts, date back to a quarter of a century in some cases.

“[Unpaid fees] is one of the issues. But [there is] another one that might be a bit more technical, and I am a little hesitant to go there. What we find, at times, a lot of the surveys for informal communities are dated,” HAJ Board Chairman Norman Brown told reporter. “You’ll find that the government entity — whether those from NHDC [National Housing Development Corporation] or Ministry of Housing — did a survey that is more than 20 or 25 years old and the owners were determined by that. Some of the titles are drawn up with that information, and then… when you go now to actually deliver the titles to the residents, you realize that there are serious levels of encroachment, because other persons just go and take piece of land beside the person and just build. So you might find that my kitchen is now in your front yard.”

Where the encroachment is minor and can be solved amicably between neighbors, that avenue is pursued. However, the more complicated cases may mean legal help is required. Recognizing that untangling encroachment issues can be a costly affair, Brown said the HAJ’s approach has been to spare residents this expense. The agency has now taken on the job of working with other government bodies to fix the issue before they carry out wide-scale distribution of titles.

“Remember, we deal with affordable mortgages, which is for the low-income folks. To go burden them with legal fees is almost defeating the purpose for which we exist. It doesn’t make sense, that’s the view of the board,” said Brown.

The HAJ, which was set up in April 1998, was originally called the National Housing Development Corporation Limited (NHDC). The NHDC came out of a merger of Caribbean Housing Finance Corporation Limited, the National Housing Corporation Limited, and the scandal-plagued Operation Pride. The name was changed to the Housing Agency of Jamaica Limited in September 2008.

According to the HAJ’s website, in the first 10 years of its existence it got titles into the hands of about 8,000 people and there was an equal number of titles left in its vault. Brown estimates that the number yet to be disbursed may be as much as 7,000.

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