A resident of Back Bush in eastern St Andrew who has built a modern family home in a section of a dilapidated structure which houses 30 other people is worried that she will be impacted by the plans of Member of Parliament (MP) Fayval Williams to demolish the rundown building and erect a new apartment complex.
Her two-storey, three-bedroom home, which she shares with her two adult children, is attached to a once-abandoned community centre located off Mountain Avenue.
The resident told the Jamaica Observer that she has been building the structure over the last 14 years after being given permission in 2009 to occupy the section by Dr St Aubyn Bartlett, the then Member of Parliament for the area.
In a letter bearing the letterhead of the MP, which was seen by the Sunday Observer, Dr Bartlett said that she now had the “responsibility for apartment #[redacted] which you now occupy on the Ed Bartlett building [the community centre]”.
“You will be required to ensure that your apartment is kept in good condition and do any repair required. You can, however, be evicted from the building if you fail to ensure proper maintenance,” the short letter read.
The resident, who said she has spent millions on her house, expressed that she is apprehensive that the structure, which has modern amenities and fixtures, will also be torn down. She and at least three other residents have built, or are in the process of building, modern homes on to the community centre building.
The woman said that she was not at the meeting that Williams had with occupants in which she showed them a mock-up of the proposed apartment complex, but heard “my name [is down] to get two rooms. How can I get two rooms when I already have this house?”
The clearly apprehensive woman said that “Miss Fayval would have to pay me back for this if it is hit down”.
“I would just leave here because it wouldn’t make no sense, because mi nah go live with them inna no apartment when I already have my house. My house is a home,” she stressed.
The resident said she and her small family have properly established themselves in the home, which also has two bathrooms, a living room, kitchen, verandah, and upstairs patio.
She said she also has legal electricity from a Jamaica Public Service (JPS) pole, which she was able to secure with the letter from the MP establishing her proof of address. She said she is willing to pay property tax if the area is regularised.
The resident, who has lived in the inner-city community for 25 years, said she is not in agreement with a complete demolition of the structure.
“I believe contractors can be sent in to fix up the building instead of hitting the entire building down,” she said.
She also suggested that the MP should make the people who can help contribute towards fixing up the building and to construct bathrooms for people who don’t have the facility.
The resident further suggested an alternative solution to a complete demolition. She said a nearby abandoned basic school could be the location for the new apartment, and the community centre renovated and converted into homes instead of apartments.
“Miss Fayval can do the apartment over the school, and then people who decide to build and extend can stay on the building,” she said.
There are, however, other residents on the other side of the derelict building who welcome the move to transform the structure into an apartment complex.
Williams had first pledged to work on getting proper housing for the residents during her State of the Constituency Senate contribution last year.
She again gave the commitment during this year’s debate in the House of Representatives last Wednesday.
“I am happy to say that recently I showed the residents a mock-up of the design that will go to procurement shortly,” Williams told the House on Wednesday.
Included in her presentation was the architect’s rendition of what the building will look like. It depicts a state-of-the-art apartment building with modern aesthetics, complemented by green spaces and a parking area, which is a far cry from the current derelict building.
“It is in the final design stages to go to tender. My very ambitious goal is to cut the ribbon on this in the not too distant future,” Williams said.
The 30 people now living in the abandoned community centre comprise adults and children from 12 families — including three generations of one family.
When the Sunday Observer visited the community, formally known as Hampstead Park in the St Andrew Eastern constituency last year, it was revealed that the building was a significant health hazard for its occupants, with no running water, a leaky roof, and pools of green, stagnant, mosquito-infested water settling in the foundation of the unfinished segments of the two-storey structure.
Residents not only reported outbreaks of viruses and various skin infections, but they expressed concern about a dangerous unbarred ledge on the second floor from which they said five children had fallen and sustained injuries ranging from a broken arm to a cracked skull.
Some residents have been living in the “captured” space for most of their lives but insisted that while they do not wish to live in that squalor, they have no choice.
Former MP for the constituency, the JLP’s Edmund Bartlett, who represented the area from 1980 to 1993, told the Sunday Observer that no one was living in the unfinished building when he had started work on it.
“I left there when we were creating the facilities, and then we lost the election  and then… nothing happened there. It’s inner city. You know people don’t make building go to waste, so them end up capture it and take it over…and that was the end of that,” said Bartlett.
“It really was, in my mind, a real travesty of development, because the building offered a chance for development and enrichment, but it ended up being totally neglected and left to be overrun,” he added.
Bartlett’s brother, St Aubyn, who served the constituency until 2011, claimed that help was given to the residents in whatever ways he could.
“When I went there, I actually saw persons occupying parts of it. That is a facility that also had a school, not attached to it, but there was a basic school that was close by,” he told the Sunday Observer.
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