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25 FAMILIES EVICTED

CECILY ASSON and LAUREL WILLIAMS Tuesday, March 21 2017

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TWENTY-FIVE families, including children and babies, were yesterday evicted from their apartment homes in five condemned HDC (Housing Development Corporation) buildings at Harmony Hall in Gasparillo. Some, with no other place to go, were hunkering down on mattresses on the roadside preparing for a night out in the open.

Father of one Godfrey Phillip sought salvation from the head of government. “I want Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley to look upon us and have mercy,” the 32-yearold man cried. He was one of dozens deemed by the State housing agency as illegal occupants of the condemned buildings. At least 50 children are among the lost evicted by the HDC.

Buildings 1 to 5, each has 20 apartments and all were occupied.

The illegal occupation of the decrepit buildings started a few years ago when persons, learning that the structures were condemned, repaired the vandalised apartments and quietly moved in. Yesterday at 9 am, HDC officials and work crews arrived with protection in the form of heavily armed police officers from the Inter Agency Task Force (IATF).

The occupants were ordered to remove their belongings from the apartments and leave. Up to late yesterday, many were still outside the buildings with their possessions on the side of the road, pondering their next move.

Those evicted, who spoke with Newsday, said they knew they had been illegally occupying the apartments but thought they would be allowed to stay until this applications for HDC homes would be processed and approved. “Why can’t we be afforded shelter? These apartment buildings were condemned.

How fair is that,” Phillip asked. He has been at the apartment for the past three years.

A mid-morning shower added to woes of the evicted families as household electronic appliances, clothing and mattresses got wet.

Phillip’s sister Alyssa, who was also evicted, recalled what took place yesterday when HDC officials arrived.

“This morning my husband and I lie down sleeping and we heard knocking on the door. When he opened the door, officers just walked in and told us we had to pack up leave,” she said.

She added that occupants received no warning notice of the eviction. Alyssa said the families are willing to pay a mortgage or rent for the apartments. “People fixed the electrical, plumbing, leaks and other problems. We spent money on these apartments and now we have to leave?” Acknowledging that they broke the law by illegally moving into the apartments, many of the evicted people said this was the best they could have done.

“We didn’t have a choice,” cried mother of two Marissa Summer Toppin. “Okay, you came and put us out. This is not just the work of the HDC, but the work of the government.

I know we did wrong but you think if we had another choice we would have been here? “I have been to numerous ministers, numerous places to get a house. I know we did wrong, but we applied for housing and nothing was forthcoming,” Toppin said.

“I am willing to pay a mortgage.

I have a file number at the HDC since 2007 and cannot get a house.

I fed am up!” HDC Head of Communications Marissa Findlay reiterated to Newsday that the buildings in question were not fit for occupancy. “They have not been allocated to anyone so those families are trespassing and doing so possibly to their own detriment. We have repeatedly removed illegal tenants from these buildings, we have repeatedly noted that caution signs have been placed at these buildings but even these signs have been illegally removed,” Findlay said.

Saying having an application on file does not entitle one to housing, Findlay added that the HDC does not have enough units to meet current demand for housing and advised those desperate for housing to visit the HDC and apply under the ‘Emergency Housing Portfolio’.

“If not, they must seek shelter alternatively by perhaps going to relatives or to the Self Help Division.

They have to take charge of their lives. Adults have to find ways in which to manage their situation.

If you are a parent, it is essential for you to find a way to raise your family but they cannot continue to occupy these buildings which have been deemed unsafe due to structural and physical conditions. It is illegal,” Findlay said.

“I understand their situation but they have to find rental accommodation within their economic means. We cannot endorse illegal activities and they are putting themselves at risk because the buildings are structurally unsound.”

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