Living on the edge
Relocated residents defy danger as gov’t homes remain unfinished
MARJORIE Dyce gingerly steps up to the edge of the ravine located just metres from her front door on a hillside in Kintyre, St Andrew. Her calm, resigned demeanour belies the fact that her very life and property could be lost in a heavy shower of rain or an earthquake could send her dwelling sliding off its precarious perch without warning.
Much of the loose shale and sand that lies just under the surface of this slice of land where she is standing has been eroded, leaving a hollow space, held up by what, neither she nor her dozen or so neighbours on the property really knows.
They just know that they could be killed while they sleep if they continue to live there.
"The land keep on cutting (deteriorating). Some of the houses went over in the river and that made me scared to live here," Dyce told the Jamaica Observer on a visit to the area.
"The houses that were in front of my house, most of them went over; they were like, right on the bank, and then when the other flood came, they went over."
This was in 2008. No one was in the house at the time, but it terrified Dyce.
She showed the Sunday Observer an outdoor bathroom that has had to be abandoned in the years since, because the ground underneath it is hollow and it is only a matter of time before it follows other buildings and tumbles down into the ravine below.
"This land used to go way out," she said pointing to where a sheer drop with jagged edges revealed the path previous buildings had taken when they collapsed into the river.
"Don't go any further", she instructed as the Sunday Observer team timidly shuffled closer to the edge to get a look over into the gully.
From the remnants of one of the houses that had slipped off the ledge, foundation and all, into the Hope River — then in spate due to Tropical Storm Gustav — it was easier to see that the residents of Tavern on the opposite bank of the river are in the same predicament. Abandoned buildings with their concrete bases now exposed to the elements due to the erosion of the earth beneath hang over the jagged boulders in the river bed below. Residents said no one really goes inside them, but across the distance laundry dries on lines strung across their slab roofs.
Upon assessing the damage caused by the Hope River during Tropical Storm Gustav in 2008, then Prime Minister Bruce Golding announced that members of Parliament would be receiving $2 million to assist persons with damaged property.
In 2010, it was announced that 179 households from the Hope Valley and Spanish Town, that were totally destroyed by the passage of Tropical Storm Gustav, were be relocated to West Albion in St Thomas.
Then Minister of Water and Housing, Dr Horace Chang, said the ministry would develop the 23-hectare property at West Albion, subdividing it into 217 lots.
The recipients were to be granted $600,000 each — $500,000 for building materials and $100,000 for labour costs. They would be asked to repay Government just $3,000 a month on average, for a basic dwelling that in all would cost them $800,000.
But why, in the middle of the second hurricane season since that venture was launched are people still living on the river banks?
Marjorie Dyce told the Sunday Observer that she just doesn't have the money to complete her West Albion house.
She thought her prayers were answered when people from the Ministry of Water and Housing came around and offered a lifesaver and asked if she and her neighbours wanted to be relocated.
"At first I thought that it would be free, because the land that we are living on it was bought; is not capture land. So I thought that we would get back some free land. But that wasn't the case, because we have to pay, like $800,000 for lease over time. Is about $3,000 a month, I think. When I have it to pay, I pay, but sometimes I don't have it to pay. We get some funds from [Ministry of] Water and Housing to help us with the structure, but we still have to find more money again."
"It is a help, it's really a good help, but to complete the structure, it really cost a lot."
Dyce's house remains unfinished because she is still working on it, and "it don't reach the stage to live in yet... we need some more help so that it can be livable," she added.
'Ms Little', her neighbour, shared her concerns.
"My concern is about the house and we would like fi get little more help with the money to finish up the other house in St Thomas. I not working right at the moment and, right now, I worry about wake up and find meself sliding down in the gully. I want to speedin up the house, but is the funds is the problem."
"The Government help us out already so we have to help ourselves now; but it kinda stiff, it difficult. Because me now, mi go and look a job, but they tell me I'm too old to get the work. They don't want to give you no work. I tried to get a work in a hotel bout two years ago and they say they don't want no over-50-year-old, " she said.
She was the one who was building the bathroom that has now been abandoned and described how much money she had spent bringing the house it was a part of — the remnants of which now lie at the bottom of the ravine — up to par.
"This was one whe me build already and mi lose a whole heap of money in. The bathroom did complete, this was the kitchen, everything did complete, tile, face basin, bath, toilet.
"The river bank is right under the bathroom so it can go over at any time. Wi nah tek nuh chance."
But she insisted, "Mi ready fi move, man; and thank God, they really give wi a start."
Carlene, her neighbour, is also distressed at her lack of progress in building her new home.
"My house reach lintel and mi cyaan go nuh further because the man dem not working without the money up front. dem (ministry) want wi to finish the top and then dem gi wi the money to give the man dem fi the rest, but there are things on the house that must be done and the man not doing it until they get the money up front. Much more than what dem going even give to wi. Because you have to pay them a $2,000 a day, or mi have to give them a $1,500, and they want that money up front.
"Wi have wi work inna town same way and is to get back an forth almost 20 miles," and the fare is going to be a burden, one resident said.
Several miles away in St Thomas, the issues raised by the relocated residents were evident at the decrepit-looking housing scheme that is West Albion.
But for a few construction workers swinging buckets on one premises, the area resembled a ghost town. To the left of the bumpy road leading into the community was a string of one-bedroom board houses provided as part of the project.
Only two of the premises are occupied, the others are closed, their entrances boarded up and overgrown with weeds. In some instances the cantilevers provided a nest for bees and wasps, while others were eroding from lack of maintenance and from exposure to the elements. On the right was a maze of concrete structures, none completed.
A team of construction workers were observed casting the roof of one of the houses. That premises was among a handful near completion, the others were shells.
Clive Headman — who said he was one of the first persons to move to the area after his home in Papine, St Andrew, was washed away with flood waters during Hurrican Gustav two years ago — explained that West Albion was underdeveloped and thus uninviting for the persons who are used to a different lifestyle in the Corporate Area.
"Right now most of the people are still on the gully bank up town because they are not moving. Up there they can feed their children and send them to school, but here there is nothing. You can't run out of your place and come in a suffering area like this?" he asked, explaining that initially he embraced the opportunity to make anew his life.
But two years after receiving his board dwelling, and after failing to complete a $600,000 two-bedroom addition to it, Headman, a taxi operator, said he feels it's time for him to pack up and go 'home'.
"To how me see the thing is like I am getting poorer and poorer over here so. So me just stop build and start meditate back town," he said, adding that he expected that the community would have been developed with more alacrity.
"We can't live here. Here is not living area, it don't reach the living type as yet, is pure bush. People rather dem ghetto; meck the river come and wash we 'way and we take the boat or the plane come back out. But we can't live here," he continued.
Headman said that many persons are just not able to complete construction on their premises.
Lorna Murray, another resident relocated from Papine, was more optimistic however, despite moving into her house just two weeks ago.
"I love mi house man, is long time I wanted to move in," she said, noting that she and her son constructed the premises after their home was also washed away in previous hurricanes. Her greatest issues, she said, was that thieves stole much of the material she purchased for construction.
"That is the biggest thing around here. Dem tief a lot of materials from me; block, sand, steel. But I am just glad that I can move in," she said, noting that the area was safer than her previously home and that it offered her space to create a food garden.