With poor maintenance resulting in dilapidated structures at several National Housing Corporation (NHC) projects across the island, community activist Rodney Grant is concerned that overcrowding has become one of the social ills plaguing those communities.
Grant, the head of the Pinelands Creative Workshop, declared the housing areas were set up with no room for expansion and as a result, families desperate for more room are resorting to erecting shanties.
He told Barbados TODAY that the issue has grown to epidemic proportions in The Pine and was quickly turning his community into a slum.
“The problem is really widespread, and we have a situation now where there are shanties all over the place. We have scenarios where families are squabbling for space, and people are being put out for one reason or another,” He said.
Grant contends that it was clear that those who conceptualised the housing projects never factored in the stark reality that families grow, and now current residents were paying for this miscalculation.
He explained: “You have an area which has two small bedrooms [units] and there is going to come a time when families are going to grow and when this happens, one has to either find ways to provide additional expansion for the family or it is going to be a social problem.
“We have never really amended the law to ensure that people could really add on to their homes. It is either you allow people to add on to their homes to cater for the expansion of families or you build more housing stocks to deal with the increase in these communities.”
In Parliament yesterday, Minister in the Ministry of Housing Charles Griffith acknowledged that there was indeed an overcrowding problem in the public housing areas and revealed that Government was considering the possibility of making land available to residents to build on. The Minister did not go into time frames with regard to this possibility while noting that the NHC was strapped for cash.
But in his interview with Barbados TODAY, Grant painted a picture of a social concern which needed to be addressed urgently.
He declared: “If we don’t deal with this situation from a policy level and in a proactive way, we are going to have a situation where people continue to find their own means of housing themselves.
“The reality is that nobody wants to be on the streets, and we are seeing a situation where more persons are becoming homeless. So, this is a situation that we have to grapple with urgently.”
The community activist, who stood for Parliament last year in the St Michael South-East riding that envelops the sprawling Pine Housing Area, charged that the structures were being built in a shoddy manner and were not only creating a slum-like scenario but present a clear danger. He suggested the structures were fire hazards waiting to happen.
“These things can be serious fire hazards because they are makeshift structures that are not properly built. These persons are scrambling to keep their head from getting wet at night and truth be told, the safety of the structure is not the biggest priority,” he said.
The Pine, one of the earliest social housing projects in Barbados, dates back to 1947, when along with Belfield, Deacon’s Farm and Bay in St Michael and Clinketts Gardens in St Lucy, the houses, first out of timber and later, limestone blocks, were originally built by the occupants in self-help labour schemes.
Social housing was proposed in the aftermath of the 1938 Royal Commission into the 1937 riots, but large-scale projects were prompted by the devastating floods of September 1949 which inundated low-lying Bridgetown districts, Delamere Land, Ellis Village, Halls Road and Martindales Road, washing houses into the Constitution River and drowning seven people.