The Department of Hous-ing will be investing a total of $72 million to relocate the residents squatting in shacks at the corner of Lombard and Broad streets.
Minister within the Ministry of Communities Valerie Patterson told reporters on Monday that her department will be working with Food for the Poor to provide homes for the residents at Barnwell North, on the East Bank of Demerara.
Responding to questions at the ministry’s Mid-Term Review, held at the Regency Hotel, Patterson noted that $42 million will be spent for the construction of 70 homes, while $30 million will be spent on infrastructure development, including a road.
The tendering process for the road has begun, with public advertisements already in place, Patterson said. Each home is expected to cost $1.2 million.
The squatting area came to public attention after former Minister of Social Protection Volda Lawrence in September, 2016, led a team from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) to the area as part of their first country visit to Guyana.
A statement from the IACHR on the September 21 to 23 visit said in part, “during its visit to the neighbourhood of Lombard Street, the IACHR delegation was shocked by the extreme poverty and precarious living conditions of its inhabitants. The community comprises approximately 40 adults and 80 children with clear housing, sanitation, and health problems, as well as limited work opportunities and scant social services provided by the State.”
Several visits to the area by Stabroek News saw the residents publicly declaring their requests for land on which they can establish their homes.
However, Lawrence had said in an interview that the persons in the area had previously been provided with land, which they were unable to develop. She explained that she was working with Patterson to provide them with homes.
Earlier this month, Lawrence, who is now Minister of Public Health, and Patterson visited the area residents to “iron out” some issues.
A subsequent statement on the meeting said that the ministers expressed the desire to have ‘turnkey’ homes built for the 56 families living in the space.
“We are looking at the possibility of building core homes so that when we remove the people from here, we’re going to put them in a house rather than (giving them a piece of) land,” Patterson was reported to have said.
Patterson made a similar statement on Monday, while noting that if the residents were provided with land, they would simply move their shacks onto the property and government would therefore be contributing to the creation of another shantytown.
Instead, government is prepared to match the contributions from Food for the Poor and upgrade infrastructure so that a viable community can be created.
The number of houses, according to Patterson, was set at 70, since a registration exercise conducted found that 68 adults and about 100 children were living in atrocious conditions as part of the area.
She further explained that the land belongs to a private individual, who has been granted a judgment against the squatters in the High Court. “The High Court has given them six weeks to move from that location and we have taken the initiative to relocate those persons,” she said.
This relocation is part of the ministry’s efforts to combat squatting across the country. According to Patterson, the ministry’s main focus at this time is Georgetown, where efforts are being made to relocate squatters from Sophia, East and West Ruimveldt as well as other central locations.