Fiji Times

SUVA. Fiji (Jan. 14) – Squatting has grown into a major problem in main towns and cities around Fiji.

It is especially bad in the capital city, particularly between the Suva-Nausori corridor.

How much of that problem was contributed to by the expiry of land leases in the northern and western divisions is still unknown.

But there has been a corresponding increase in squatter settlements and population within this small and confined residential corridor.

The Housing Authority is one of several agents doing the best it can to resolve this challenging problem.

With limited funds and land available, Housing Authority is building low-cost homes to house these squatters so that they get a chance to own a home and live in dignity.

And part of the challenge for the Housing Authority is to ensure that the squatters who get that chance are the ones who really deserve it.

Its no secret that some families living rent-free in squatter settlements are not poor at all. In fact, some of them have built small units in squatter settlements and have rented them out to other squatters for a monthly fee.

Others have cars parked in front of their homes and satellite dishes sitting on top the roof.

While they squat rent-free on land that doesnt belong to them, they have free use of city and town council facilities such as street lights and garbage collection that ratepayers pay for.

They also enjoy the basic amenities of piped water and electricity.

It is these kinds of people that the Housing Authority must guard against so that they do not free-ride the system again or stay at the village that the Housing Authority is planning to build for squatters.

While the idea of a village as a transit point for squatters is commendable, it must be carefully managed and monitored at all times.

There should be standards for hygiene, cleanliness and law and order. Otherwise it could become an eyesore, a breeding ground for infections and diseases and a haven for criminals.

Housing Authority should continue to encourage tenants to stay no more than three years.

After three years, they should be encouraged to buy their own homes and leave the village to make way for families that, as yet, do not have the financial power to own property.

We may never be able to solve the problem of squatting in Fiji but we can certainly manage it properly and work towards getting the number of squatters and squatter settlements down.

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