A previously abandoned community centre in Back Bush, located off Mountain View Avenue in eastern St Andrew, which is now home to about 30 people living in destitution, could soon be transformed into a modern, habitable facility.
This is the promise of Member of Parliament for the area Fayval Williams who had first pledged to work on getting proper housing for the residents during her contribution to the State of the Constituency Debate last year.
“After much perseverance, we will be addressing the plight of 12 families that live in a building that was built to be a community centre but, over the decades, it got converted into living spaces that require a lot of work to make it safe. We did the survey of households and it is going through the process. I was told today that we received permission to build from two agencies, and now the project is on its way to get other approvals to go to design,” Williams said then.
She again gave the commitment during this year’s debate in the House of Representatives on Wednesday.
Williams pointed out that “no sooner had I talked about it [the building] in the Parliament, the very next day it was splashed in the media all over and there were pictures showing the state of the building.”
She was making reference to the Jamaica Observer article published on October 3, 2022 which highlighted the deplorable conditions in which the families live.
“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.
Last October when the Jamaica Observer visited the community, formally known as Hampstead Park in the St Andrew Eastern constituency, it was revealed that the building is 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 say five children have 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 this squalor, they have no choice.
While some occupants had welcomed the announcement by Williams then, there were others who were sceptical, with one resident saying she would have to “see it to believe it”, pointing out that she had heard that work was to have started to renovate the building but nothing has been done so far.
“I heard that she [Williams] was going to start it last month and she buy some whole heap a sand, but the people them thief it. When she bring it, by the night, half of it gone,” the resident said.
Former MP for the constituency, the Jamaica Labour Party’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 afford.
“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.