Thu | Dec 12, 2019

Mona Commons – déjà vu all over again

Published:Tuesday | December 3, 2019 | 12:45 AMJason Cross/Gleaner Writer
Anthony Phillips showing a tattered mattress at his home in Mona Commons, St Andrew.
Anthony Phillips showing a tattered mattress at his home in Mona Commons, St Andrew.

Despite an endless number of eviction threats and pledges to regularise squatters on lands owned by The University of the West Indies, stakeholders and residents of Mona Commons are seemingly no closer to fixing a problem that took root some six decades ago.

Anthony Phillips, the father of four pairs of twins, knows that only too well.

He is in the process of renovating his three-bedroom house in the hope of bringing his family back under one roof. Like his neighbours, he has no title for the plot of land on which he is building.

The informal settlement located across from The University Hospital of the West Indies (UHWI), like several other squatter communities across the island, is a hodgepodge of makeshift homes and shops, a den of disorder creating frequent traffic headaches as it also battles a range of social problems, including violent flare-ups.

Last night, St Andrew Eastern Member of Parliament (MP) Fayval Williams admitted that there is no end in sight for what she describes as one of the toughest challenges in the constituency.

“It is an area that remains one of the target areas for us to deal with in the constituency, especially as it relates to the front and the congestion that happens in the hospital area,” she told The Gleaner.

“I am committed to helping the people to have suitable accommodation. There was a point when I was working very closely with the university to understand the demographics and look at how it could be restructured,” she added.

PORING OVER PROPOSALS

Williams said she has been looking over various proposals but admitted that it has been difficult to arrive at a consensus.

“I have seen plans, but you are dealing with people who have invested lots of years living there. You have to sort out the cost of doing it as well. There are a number of concrete structures. The next agenda is to see how we can move into an implementation phase,” she said. “Land titles are an issue. The land belongs to the university and it is not subdivided, so nobody has a title to the land on which they have been building all these years. That is a major issue.”

Williams said that about two years ago, The UWI had indicated that it could look at making the lands available to the settlers.

“It would have to be subdivided and it would need roads in there, electricity infrastructure, sewerage and a whole lot of things to make it a community far beyond what it is now,” said Williams, who is also minister of science, energy and technology.

During a visit by The Gleaner to the community yesterday, many residents recounted hopes of getting jobs, while others were others had no appetite for work.

A few, like 32-year-old mother of four girls, Latoya Brown, who, although currently unemployed, have made use of short courses, including entrepreneurship, offered by UWI, and try to earn a living by projects like raising chickens.

She would like The UWI to help provide jobs for residents who participate in the courses.

“There is no real benefit living so close to The University of the West Indies,” she said. “If you look at the map, we are not even on it. It’s like we don’t exist.”

Over 20 years ago, then Prime Minister P.J. Patterson had announced that Mona Commons residents would have been relocated because of the threat of the UHWI being decertified as a teaching institution. That did not happen.

“Despite all the promises, they have never done the relocation, giving rise to a much bigger problem than before,” one political commentator weighed in yesterday .

jason.cross@gleanerjm.com