We need more time

the instruction given to vacate the rundown community centre in Back Bush, eastern St Andrew, to make way for its demolition and rebuilding of a modern apartment complex, residents who have made the space their home are asking for more time to relocate.

“Some of us don’t have anywhere to go, and we can’t take three months to find somewhere so fast because some of us don’t have anywhere else; we are [living] here so long,” one occupant of the derelict building told the Jamaica Observer.

The resident said Member of Parliament (MP) for the area, Fayval Williams gave occupants until December 2023 to find alternative shelter when she met with them last month to show them the plans for the new structure.

The occupant suggested that the residents be instead given until February or so next year to relocate, and for those who have nowhere else to go be provided with makeshift structures nearby in the interim.

The MP first pledged to work on getting proper housing for the residents during her contribution to the State of the Nation Debate in the House of Representatives last year. She gave a recommitment during this year’s debate.

“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 October 25.

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 dilapidated 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 then.

The resident, who spoke to the Observer, said she was among the occupants who saw the plans for the new building, noting that Williams had disclosed to them that the new structure would take nine months to be completed.

“The plan looks good, because you have first floor, second floor, third floor… We are happy for it, at least I know we are [going to be] living somewhere comfortable. We won’t have to be running up and down every minute and say Government going to come in to take away this from us,” she said.

The occupant said the MP had also begun to work out how the apartments would be distributed in terms of the number of rooms each family would be assigned.

The 62-year-old, who said she has been residing in the inner-city community since 1996, and has been living at the centre for the past three or four years, further quipped that, with better living arrangements, “I know I am going to live a happy life before God take me.”

Located off Mountain View Avenue, the centre is home to about 30 individuals comprising adults and children from 12 families — including three generations of one family.

When the Observer visited the community, formally known as Hampstead Park in the St Andrew Eastern constituency, last year, 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 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. Still they 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 tief it. When she bring it, by the night, half of it gone,” the resident said.