Abaco Shantytown Relocation Committee: ‘We had a plan’

Abaco Shantytown Relocation Committee: ‘We had a plan’

Former chairman says low cost housing will be critical post-storm, legal migrants must be assimilated

NASSAU, BAHAMAS- The now-defunct Abaco Shantytown Action Task Force had already identified an area to relocate Haitian migrants from shantytowns before they were blocked by legal action, said Victor Patterson, former chairman of the task force’s relocation subcommittee.

Patterson believes Hurricane Dorian’s deadly impact may have been lessened had the government been able to move forward with its relocation plans.

However, he stressed it was not the time to point fingers as “every part” of the community held some responsibility.

Underscoring the need for low cost housing on Abaco, Patterson told Eyewitness News Online Haitian migrants legally residing in the country could no longer be ignored and must be assimilated into the Bahamian society.

“One thing that I did verify is this area that we had identified as a good site for low-cost housing did not flood during the storm,” Patterson said.

“The land was all above ground. So anybody whose house was in that area, I can’t say it might not have been blown down but it wouldn’t have flooded.

He said: “So I think that this is very much an area (to consider) because regardless of anything that happens, Abaco is going to need a low cost housing area.”

The subcommittee was reportedly scouting an area immediately north of the Marsh Harbour airport and west of the bypass road. Patterson said the site was government owned, vacant and close to all necessary amenities.

“The electrical line went right by it,” he said.

“There’s a water main there, so other than the cost of putting in roads and taking the utilities to the various lots, a lot of the infrastructure was conveniently present.”The Minnis administration formed the task force early last year to deal with the regularization of shantytowns throughout the country. The preliminary Abaco Shantytown Assessment Report, 2018, estimated the total population for the six communities was 3,581 – with 20 percent of residents undocumented.

“You have a fair amount of documented people that have every right to be here and who have jobs, or did, and all the stores [that were] in Marsh Harbour, every functioning economy needs immigrants, that’s just simply the way the world works,” Patterson said.

“We need to make sure that people who are living in our community are integrated in our community. And you cannot have people who are integrated if they are living in substandard housing.

He continued: “I’m not pointing fingers because if so fingers can point everywhere. Every part of the community holds some responsibility, but we are pass that now, we need to find a way forward.

“It seems to me if we identify a place where people can have low cost housing, and then we say ‘look here’s the deal, if you are going to stay, we want you to be part of our community, but being part of our community means you follow our laws, which is our building code, you live the way Bahamians live’.”

Patterson said: “I think those people do want to better themselves and don’t want to live in slums.

“So it may cost you more to live this way, to live with our standards of living, and I definitely understand why you want to help your family back home, but if you have to spend a bit more money to live in our standard of living and you have a little less money to send back home, that’s simply part of the deal.

“You have to pay the same cost and taxes that we do.”

Shantytown residents in New Providence were initially given until August 10, 2018 and residents in Abaco shanties were given until July 31, 2019 to clear those communities.

However, days before demolition was to begin, attorneys representing 177 of those residents from both Abaco and New Providence were granted leave for a judicial review of the government’s actions regarding the communities and an injunction preventing the demolition.

Minister of Labour Dion Foulkes, who headed the task force, announced in September that the group had been dissolved as it awaited the outcome of that court hearing.

However, with 18 to 23 feet storm surges and 220 mph gusts, Dorian decimated portions of Abaco and flattened two of the country’s largest shantytowns – The Mudd and The Peas. The other affected shantytown communities on Abaco include Sandbanks, Farm Road, L&H and Elbow Cay.

In the days after the storm, the Ministry of Housing and the Environment issued a Prohibition to Build Order for The Mudd, The Peas, Sandbanks and Farm Road communities with immediate effect, “to allow for recovery efforts and the removal of storm debris related to Hurricane Dorian”.

The order is valid for six months but may be extended for further periods of up to six months as required.

“We always felt that the shantytowns, particularly The Mudd and Sandbanks, were in land that was not safe,” Patterson told Eyewitness News Online.

“…Our thought was, we needed to identify another area within Marsh Harbour where we could create a low-cost housing subdivision.

He added: “By that I don’t mean the government would be giving away land. I mean the government would sell land very inexpensively and have conveyance so that people could bill low cost housing, not shanties, inexpensive homes, up to code and all that sort of thing.

“That was the plan we had in place.”