Squatting is on the increase in Barbados.
In his 2018 report, Auditor General Leigh Trotman said a follow up audit to a 2013 report showed that illegal occupation of Crown lands remained extensive across the island.
Following the 2013 report it was expected that the Ministry of Housing would have enforced strategies to ensure that there was a reduction in squatting on Crown lands, but based on a follow up audit covering the period April 1, 2015 to March 31, 2018, Trotman said: “The results of the site visits in February 2018 indicate that there has been an increase of 79 per cent in the areas known for squatting”.
Special focus was placed on My Lord’s Hill, Licorish Village, the Belle, Howell’s and Ivy and Belmont in St Michael; Six Men’s Tenantry, St Peter, Emmerton Lane, The City and Bath Tenantry, St John, which were identified in the previous audit.
The illegal use of Crown lands for vending and advertising was also examined.
Research showed that the number of illegal structures in the concentrated St Michael areas moved from 77 in 2013 to reach 130 in 2018.
However, the largest increase in squatting during the period was recorded for the Bath Tenantry, Welch Town, St John location, which saw the number jumping from 25 to 65, a 160 per cent increase, over an average of 443.5 acres of land space.
The number of illegal sites in Six Men’s, St Peter went from 170 in 2013 to reach 197 last year, over an average of 29.46 acres of Crown land.
The report said the illegal structures in Licorish Village/Belle, Belmont, Blenheim and Howells and Ivy, St Michael were located within a zone one ground water protection area.
“Included in these structures were a restaurant/caterer and two shops. Fifty-three additional houses were also found in this area,” said Trotman.
In St John, he said the foundations and walls for new structures being erected were not included in the percentage.
“There was no evidence presented to indicate that ministry personnel were aware of this activity since no site visits took place at this location during the period 1st April 2015 to 31st March 2018.
As it relates to Six Men’s St Peter, Trotman said about ten of the structures seen were at various stages of construction, two of which were retail shops and one was a barber shop.
While no water connection was evident on most of the illegal structures, it was noted that most of them were outfitted with electricity, telephone and in the Belle Gully area, natural gas.
“Personnel from the Ministry of Housing indicated that the Ministry of Transport and Works constructed asphalt roads within the Licorish Village/Belle area, which provide easy access to the land for the squatters,” said Trotman.
He pointed to an increase in vending and advertising on Crown property, stating that “Personnel from the Ministry of Housing indicated that it is difficult to contain these operations as there is a level of sympathy and empathy from the public and politicians for persons operating these businesses.”
He said several reasons were identified for the increase in squatting including a need for affordable housing for individuals who were destitute or homeless, non-enforcement of eviction action by the Ministry, low priority being placed on land control matters and diverted resources within the Ministry, an absence of regular inspection of targeted areas and the lack of personnel to conduct inspections in a timely manner.
To address the issue of squatting, Trotman recommended more site visits by the property management unit and the issuing of encroachment, enforcement and government notices.
He said failure to act “allowed persons to construct houses without fear of any consequences”.
He said the long-term occupation of Crown land would impact on the social and economic landscape, explaining that the economic costs would ultimately become the burden of Government to adequately resolve the issue.
He also pointed out that squatting in zone one ground water protection areas could put the country’s ground water at risk, adding that squatting could also put the offending individuals at risk since some of them build homes within five feet of the main natural gas line.
“Critical decisions are required in handling the matters pertaining to the current squatting community, and these matters should be treated with some degree of urgency by the relevant authorities,” said Trotman, adding that the problem would not go away on its own.
“The evidence suggests that it is likely to grow, resulting in further unplanned development through the illegal seizure of additional state lands. This prevents the orderly development of infrastructure such as road works, proper drainage, wastewater disposal, access by emergency vehicles and the provision of potable water and other basic amenities. Squatting also results in the State being denied revenues from the sale or rental of land,” he added.
Trotman recommended that attention to be given to provision of greater access to land and housing at affordable rate, while ensuring it meets development goal #11, which speaks to the provision of adequate, safe and affordable housing for citizens.