Minister of Housing Denis Kellman and his Cabinet colleague, the Member of Parliament for St James South, Donville Inniss, appear to differ over who is responsible for maintaining National Housing Corporation (NHC) units in Haynesville, St James.
Following a Boxing Day fire which destroyed one dwelling and damaged two neighbouring units, and which some residents blamed on faulty electrical wiring, Kellman told Barbados TODAY the units were “technically owned” by the occupants since they fell under the rent-to-own programme, and therefore it was up to them to rewire their homes if they so desired.
“Technically, the only thing that is left to the tenant now is for them to receive their conveyances, which I am pushing for them to receive . . . but technically they are the owners of the property just awaiting the transfer,” he said.
“There is nothing stopping the residents from going ahead and behaving as if the homes are theirs by doing all the necessary things that need to be done. I have made this statement over and over,” he added, while going on to insist that tenants in Government housing across the country who are concerned about safety should make the necessary legal changes once they own the units, even if they were awaiting the title deeds.
However, while not directly contradicting Kellman, a cautious Inniss said that was a “grey area”.
“The legal issue remains as to who shall be responsible for matters such as maintenance of the property and insurance, and that I submit to you, is the little grey area there,” Inniss said.
It was in the wee hours of Boxing Day that 48-year-old Sinclair Alleyne lost his home to the blaze, which also damaged two other housing units.
Residents have long feared outright disaster due to what they complain is faulty wiring.
After fire destroyed one of three bedrooms in one of the NHC units occupied by a family of three in late October, 43-year-old Ryan Odle, who shared that unit with his mother, Judy Carrington, and his seven-year-old daughter, told Barbados TODAY it was plagued by some kind of electrical fault.
“We got a problem with [electricity] here. . . . I does got to buy bulbs every two weeks. The plugs ain’t working. These units want rewiring,” he said then.
While pointing to a box that housed the electrical meters for the five units that make up his block, Odle also complained that “the last time someone from [NHC] come and fix the box, they did the job halfway and left it.
“All they come and do was put on a piece of electrical tape and left it exposed,” he said, while reporting that as a result of a fire, which had broken out in the box three months earlier, the NHC had bypassed the main breakers and ran electricity directly to the unit.
Back then Kellman had said the NHC was in the process of carrying out an assessment the situation, and had promised that Government would take whatever remedial action was necessary.
“As you know we are doing the 20-year programme – the engineering work and all those things are being done right across the board and I will have to check to see how far advanced that is in this particular area. But the engineers are seeking to bring closure to these issues,” he told Barbados TODAY at the time.
Opposition Barbados Labour Party (BLP) candidate for the area Sandra Husbands had also called on Government and the NHC to quickly resolve the problems facing the resident in the development, which is over 40 years old.
Husbands had noted that there had been similar fires in the neighbourhood in recent times, adding that she was fearful that an entire block would eventually go up in flames if the current problems were left unchecked.
“I want to appeal to Government, I want to appeal to the NHC . . . . We need to address this problem before people lose more of their property or someone loses their life,” Husbands said then.
Today, the BLP candidate repeated her charge that tenants had been ignored despite a petition bearing close to 200 signatures demanding that the NHC makes rewiring of the Haynesville units a priority.
However, with Alleyne having been the tenant at the unit for more than 25 years, Kellman stressed that it would “technically” not be Government’s responsibility to make any of the desired changes to the premises unless the tenant was still paying for the unit.
“Technically it is not the fault of the Government because if you are living in a house and the house is going to be yours and there is a problem, I think the best thing to do to protect yourself is to make sure that it is right.
“If they are under the 20-year programme, technically the house has been transferred and they would not be paying rent and the social responsibility will follow to them because the only thing that they will be awaiting now will be the documentation to show true ownership,” he stressed, while adding that the NHC should “correct those problems” experienced by those still paying rent.
The minister could not say how many tenants were awaiting their conveyances or how long they would have to wait, nor could he give the delinquency rate for tenants still under the rent-to-own housing programme.