Jamaican Housing Stock – Expensive and Scarce?

A recent Article in the Americas Quarterly contributed by Michael G. Donovan and Theresa Turner-Jones, titled, “Caribbean Housing Is Expensive and Scarce. How to Change That”, brings to our attention the endemic problem of housing in the Caribbean region. Closer home in Jamaica we see this dilemma being played out. Despite lethargic economic growth over several decades and stagnating incomes, housing demand in Jamaica remains relatively robust. At least in relative terms, where housing stock has not kept apace with the rising demand caused by new purchasers entering into the work force. Also, where upwardly mobile home owners seek to trade up into properties of higher value and amenities there remains a mismatch between this legacy demand and current supply.

In Kingston, Jamaica this phenomena is most stark where traditional single family home communities are being transformed into town home and high density apartment/condominium communities. This transformation is rapidly occurring and has accelerated in the past five years, as firstly, the National Water Commission has increased public sewerage capacity and access, housing developers are being granted approval for building densities upwards to 75 rooms per acre. Consequently, the number of multifamily residences has proliferated in once sleepy and exclusive communities. Secondly, as precedent is set with new developments that change the nature and character of some neighbourhoods, traditional single family communities with rigid restrictive covenants preventing the subdivision of land are being transformed. The impact of these two events is very marked in the Kingston 6/Liguanea area as the commercial and infrastructural realignment of the city has resulted in an increase in demand for housing. Additionally, increased vehicular traffic and the absence of a reliable and efficient public transportation system has resulted in home owners being pulled closer to urban centres. Liguanea, is the new “mid-town”, with the community being supported by a number of private and public primary and high schools. Shopping plaza, including major supermarket chains, medical services, universities and the main hospital in Mona.

The transformation being described is currently taking shape on Paddington Terrace in Liguanea. Paddington Terrace is separated by Liguanea Avenue with the upper section leading to Barbican Road and the lower section leading to East Kings House Road. Both upper and lower paddington have been part of the traditional upscale barbican area to include Chester Avenue, Dewsbury Avenue, Dillsbury Road and Hillsborough Avenue all apart of that enclave. However, lower Paddington Terrace has been transformed into a community of town homes and multi family apartments partly due to precedent being set for the approval and construction of multiple units and also the access to public sewerage lines along that main artery. These two events have resulted in the lower section of Paddington being transformed, while the upper section, with a number of strident and vigilant home owners preventing any attempt for application of a modification to the restrictive covenants that would lend them to the same fate. Many other traditional arteries in otherwise quiet communities are being transformed as demand persists and adjoining homeowners become less strident in their objection it is likely that this realignment of housing will continue. Of course if there is a drastic downturn in the economy caused by global events, or a sustained local recession, such as that experienced in the post FINSAC period, the supply-demand equilibrium could change. It would be prudent to be mindful of the indicators that could trigger this type of shift.