When 81-year-old Lionel Burgess of The Pine, St Michael talks about the state of the two bedroom Government structure he calls home, tears come to his eyes.
The passion is palpable as he lists the repairs needed to make the house comfortable again.
“I was living here now 13 years and . . . my ceiling mash up so the rats does come and go throughout the ceiling,” an emotional Burgess told Barbados TODAY, a day after Prime Minister Mia Mottley expressed concern about the standard of public living in The Pine and some other communities across the island.
“When the rain come the water does come right to my door. My house need big repairs and it is becoming a problem now,” he stressed.
While there are clear signs of disrepair, including watermarks on the ceiling and a bathroom that shows its age, Burgess’ home is not the most decrepit there is in the community.
However, the conditions in which he resides can be replicated several times over in the urban community, one of the most deprived in the parish.
And he was not alone in having the discomfort of having to share a home with rats, as another resident, Cecelia Worrell, also spoke of the concerns about rodents.
“We need repairs. If I don’t be careful the rats would come through my back door, and also the windows in the front are coming out. We can’t get a repair done to the house and I don’t know why. The houses are terrible,” Worrell said.
It is because of such conditions that the residents are holding Mottley to her word that she will “do right by our people” with respect to housing.
Resident and shop owner Rhonda Hollingsworth is among those looking forward to some attention being paid to the homes in The Pine.
For much too long, she said, tenants were neglected while their homes deteriorated.
“These are the old model houses, these houses want repairing bad. I don’t understand how we are paying water, light and rent and still aren’t comfortable in the houses we live in because we have to shift around,” Hollingsworth told Barbados TODAY during a visit to the community yesterday.
“I agree with the Prime Minister, some of the houses out there are really bad, but then there are some that good as well.
“If they are not coming to give us repairs then money should be deducted from our rents because it now means we have to buy material and pay someone for the service,” the disgruntled resident said.
A day earlier, while addressing a stakeholder consultation at the Lloyd Erskine Sandiford Centre on the reform of the Town and Country Planning Act Cap 240, the Prime Minister made specific mention of The Pine as she lamented the state of overcrowded, low-income housing districts.
“We have a situation in The Pine, in Wildey [St Michael], in Silver Hill and Gall Hill [Christ Church], and we wonder why we have the social problems that we have without recognizing that we have literally participated in the calcification of Government policy and programming over the years,” Mottley said.
In painting a picture of the claustrophobic conditions in which the tenants live, she contended that the houses, built in the 1950s and 1960s, were not as wide as the platform on which she was standing at the time to deliver her address, but were housing “three and four generations of people”.
“In the absence of effective planning, people have done what they wanted to do in order to accommodate the overcrowded aspects of those housing [units]. When I go through some of those areas, and I think in particular of The Pine, it is the closest thing to a favela that you would see,” she said, adding that “we have an urgent obligation to do right by our people, both in terms of density and functionality and aesthetics, with respect to our housing”.
However, Hollingsworth said the problem began with the National Housing Corporation (NHC), which she said provided little or no assistance when approached for help.
“When you call the people from National Housing sometimes they don’t turn up, then you have to buy your own equipment to fix your houses. It is a very poor system.
“You would call and say, well, your electric wants fixing and they would say, none is available. We need to be comfortable in these houses. I know they are Government houses but you can’t be paying for something that is no good. People live in these houses now for a number of years and I feel they should look into it.
“I would like to see the blocks painted in one colour. Things in the country are hard but I would like to see around our homes look nice because dogs don’t live in The Pine, and I know Ms Mottley is doing all she can to make people comfortable right now.”