Residents who must leave never received a certificate of occupancy
More than 30 families in substandard government affordable housing in West Bay are being told to leave their homes, a few of which have no electricity or running water and show signs of mold on the walls and ceilings.
Government is tearing down the homes – whose owners, in most cases, are delinquent on their mortgage payments – because the properties are a major potential liability. But before any more homes are demolished, there will be a meeting with residents later this month to advise them of the demolition of homes that are “unfit,” said George Powell, chairman of the National Housing Development Trust.
“The homes are not legally occupied, and in their current state, serve as major potential liability to the government. Residents never received a certificate of occupancy,” Mr. Powell said.
“We cannot allow it to go on because someone could get hurt down there. Houses are debilitated, old cars and dangerous metals are lying around the place, and there is a lot of infestation, which has made the place a slum.
“We are not tearing down the homes just for the sake of tearing them down,” he said. “Government needs to demolish the rundown estate and rebuild a more modern version that meets the building code standard of the Planning Department.”
In the meantime, he said, the National Housing Trust will work with Children and Family Services to find alternate accommodation for families while construction take place.
Among the Apple Blossom development residents about to be displaced is Josefa Carter, who recently sat crying and puffing on her oxygen machine as she spoke about losing her home of 10 years. Ms. Carter said she had a mortgage, but when she became ill, she became delinquent in her payments.
Ms. Carter suffers from a heart and lung disease and can barely walk. She depends on her daughter to assist her with care.
Two of her sons are also not in good health, and one of them also on a breathing machine. One of her sons said the home is a health hazard as mold covers the ceiling. Fourteen people live in the condemned home, including seven of Ms. Carter’s grandchildren.
Across the street, resident Daubrene Maxwell suffers from arthritis and heart problems while taking care of two sick sons. She also has a mortgage but had to stop payment because of health issues.
Beverly Ebanks, 66, who lives in Apple Blossom with her 67-year-old husband Mitchell, says she is too old to qualify for another mortgage and not able to go searching for a rental home.
Meanwhile, resident Selene Paz also waits. She has heard rumors that the homes will be torn down, and like the others, she was told an appointment had been made for her at Children and Family Services by the National Housing Trust.
Ms. Carter, Ms. Maxwell, Ms. Ebanks, and Ms. Paz all say they had secured a mortgage before moving into the houses after Hurricane Ivan in 2004.
Ms. Maxwell said she got the home through a mortgage in 2005 after her home in Prospect was destroyed in Ivan.
Ms. Carter also got a mortgage during that time, but by 2010 she could no longer afford to make payments. Her family lives in the home without electricity, she says, after they were refused more assistance by the Department of Children and Family Services. “We were told we had to get out of here,” said Ms. Carter’s daughter Nisby.
Nowhere to go
Most of the families are not upset because government is demolishing the homes, which they say are in a deplorable state. It is just that they cannot find anywhere affordable to go.
“When we move out, we don’t know if we will ever get another house,” said Ms. Carter. “I paid my mortgage, now I [am] sick.”
She said, “Politicians promised to help when they got in, now they don’t come. Government never tell us we can reapply; they only say ‘get out.’”
Homes were condemned
Mr. Powell of the National Housing Development Trust said, “I do not know how the people got into the homes in the first place. The homes were condemned [after Hurricane Ivan] and they never received an occupancy permit from the Planning Department.”
He said 95 percent of the people in the housing scheme were delinquent in payment and whatever equity they had invested had been eaten up.
Minister of Education, Employment and Gender Affairs Tara Rivers, who is also a West Bay MLA, visited the site Wednesday with Mr. Powell.
“We need to ensure that there is suitable housing and environment for people to live in,” she said. She said she had no magic answers or quick fixes for the problem.
“I think what we need to do is look at individual cases of the families and their circumstances and see how we as a government can help to facilitate. Government wants to help empower the families – if they are not in position to do so now – to be able to help themselves.”
Ms. Rivers said the children are a key concern of hers and she is concerned about ensuring an ability for families “to create the kind the home we want our children to be raised in.”
In 2011, government’s affordable homes built in Windsor Park were also demolished to make way for better-constructed homes.
According to officials with the National Housing Development Trust, the government had the remaining few residents at the site moved elsewhere before demolition began.
After that process was completed, 26 new homes were built on the George Town site.