Fire victims, 14 other Lombard St families awarded house lots in CH&PA lottery

Onicka Brammer, one of the first residents to be allocated a house lot yesterday, celebrates after pulling her lot number. (Photo by Terrence Thompson)

Residents of the Lombard Street squatting area were all smiles yesterday as 20 families were allocated house lots by the Central Housing and Planning Authority (CH&PA).

As a result, Food for the Poor (FFP) will now spend the next 10 weeks building homes as part of a $70 million squatter relocation programme.

This is the first phase of a development project that was announced in 2017 to facilitate the relocation of squatters from Lombard Street and Sophia. FFP has committed $43 million to the project.

Donell Bess-Bascom, CH&PA’s Deputy Director of Community Development, explained to the more than 40 families gathered at the Ketley Primary School yesterday that since young children are much more vulnerable to the health risks inherent in poor housing conditions, a decision was taken to prioritise those families with younger children. The authority, she reminded, had conducted an inventory in July 2018 and registered 16 families who were in need of immediate relocation but following the fire two weeks ago, the six families who lost their homes have been given priority.

The fire victims, Rexanne Austin, Whitney John, Charmaine George, Onika Brammer and Roxanne Brammer were allocated lots at Prospect. The sixth victim, Abiola Khalil, who is already a land owner, is currently being considered for assistance through the Core Home Development Project.

Also allocated land were community leader Phillip Chase and his wife Lavorne Brammer.

A second lottery led to 14 families with children under the age of 16 being allocated lots in the same area. Among the 14 were Shonnette George, Dion Brammer, Destra Bell, Tiffany Solomon, Shyon George, Keisha Smith, Melissa Abrams, Tessa Solomon, Ashana Nestor, Donna Pilgrim, Marrisa Allene, Onessa Thorne, Leslyn Shia, Tomika Clement.

The other families will be relocated to Cummings Lodge later this year, when that community is developed as part of a programme to relocate squatters in the Sophia area.

Buoyed by a rendition of “Movin’ on Up,” the theme song of the 1970’s show “The Jeffersons,” the residents celebrated the fact that after eight years of squatting and a lifetime before that living in two dilapidated houses, they are finally “moving on up.”

Phillip Chase, who as the community’s leader has over the last two years worked closely with the various agencies to facilitate the relocation, told Sunday Stabroek News he was elated.

“I’m so joyful. Thank you God. Thank you Minister Volda Lawrence. Thank you CH&PA. Thank you Food for the Poor,” he said.

(Lawrence, then Minister of Social Protection, had visited the area in 2016, spurring the project.)

Shonnette George, also known as Amanda, was equally pleased. “I just feel blessed. I can’t even explain how happy and thankful we are. We finally have a piece of the pie,” a chuckling George related.

It was George who in 2016 told this newspaper that the only help she and her neighbours wanted was “land” so that they can build a community which is physically and psychologically healthy.

“What children see that’s what dey are gonna wanna become. Nobody want dey children become what dey see going on here. We need land. People with their little children want to move out from here. People need to go somewhere with space where you can bring up your children in your own way. You need your own place to bring up your children you own way,” she had said at the time.

She will now get that chance as she and her children will by June have their own home and yard space at Prospect, on the East Bank of Demerara.

Minister with responsibility for Housing Valerie Adams-Yearwood, who was present for the lottery, explained that the residents will not be left alone once they move.

She acknowledged that much more needs to be done to turn the residents from squatters to homeowners.

They will be required to attend a homeowner’s workshop, where they will be taught their responsibilities, including the payment of rates and utilities. Building regulations and sanitation guidelines will also form part of the curriculum and steps are already being taken to have persons trained to create and maintain backyard gardens.

The land having been allocated by the CH&PA, building will begin in April, with FFP promising that construction will be completed in two months.

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