Editorial: Fifty houses for $300 Million . . . and counting?

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Whichever way we look at it, the surprising uprising in Point and Villa last Friday hinged on an issue of housing and people’s cynicism about Government’s stated intention to improve their lot where that area of human need is concerned.

Persuading people to give up that which is close and familiar to them – even when manifestly deficient – for that which is promised, distant (even by a stone’s throw), and requires even the most minimal dislocation or relocation is seldom welcome.

Residents of depressed communities can become uncannily close-knit and tightly bonded, precisely because they are depressed. They need and depend on each other for the availability of basics that they borrow, barter or pool. The prospect of being torn away from friends, neighbors, relatives and surroundings in which they derive their basic bearings and identity; their sense of social worth or collective support and security – is never going to be easy.

Friday’s Booby Alley riot would have reinforced that feeling among the residents; that ‘we repelled them because we stuck together in resistance; that we looked out and stood up for our neighbors, our homies; that we were able to mobilize and respond rapidly, resist and repel effectively, because we are tightly-packed, crowded, bunched and clustered’.

In other words, the authorities just gave the ghetto more justification for its existence, for its prolongation – for its congestion. Apart from naturally not wanting their hood dismembered, and its seedy satisfactions disbanded, they now see its preservation as dependent on their own adapted notion of community defense and protection – even against their own governmental godfather and chief patron.

What erupted on Friday in Point could not have developed on the spur of that particular moment. It must have been festering and rumbling for some time – unnoticed or disregarded. It was the culmination of breakdown in communication, relationship and trust between the residents and their most identifiable, most immediate leader and authority – their Parliamentary Representative.

Someone had failed in massaging the people of Booby Alley into a steady and gradual acceptance of the plans which required their supposedly temporary dislocation. Perhaps someone had not even tried; maybe even stopped talking to the people as they might have expected, and to which they had likely been made accustomed.

The regular cussing-off that takes place on a radio station established in the area as part of an ever expanding enterprise of self-enrichment could never substitute for the conversations with which they had repeatedly been seduced into transporting slyly-disguised intentions on their faithful shoulders until the coveted destination of power was attained.

Their simple aspiration, rendered with childlike naivety, was that the one they had pinnacled would in turn give serious and sincere priority to elevating them in at least a few of the basic matrices and metrics of human development. Housing improvement and land distribution are good and laudable places to start.

If the people’s hope and confidence in their leader-representative has, with shocking rapidity, transformed into cynicism and resentment, then that can hardly be surprising.

People are not stupid – certainly not in densely-packed, street-smart, worldly-wise cultural melting pots like Point and Villa. They sometimes choose to pay no mind – or appear not to – when their immediate priorities for survival and basic needs are more pressing.

But never think they’re stupid or unaware of what’s going on. They often understand it even better than those who can better articulate with words the issues that the dwellers of Villa, Point and Booby Alley will express with riots and roadblocks, with stones and defiance, when their rage and frustration has roiled and boiled enough.

Don’t think they’re not hearing – like the rest of us – that $300 million dollars has to date been spent on government’s vaunted housing projects, with barely 50 completed dwellings to show for it! With that kind of money, even if each house with all infrastructure and amenities factored had cost $1Million, there should have been at least 300 of them.

Truth is for that kind of money – given that the talk is about affordable housing, which cannot be considered such if it exceeds $300,000 per unit – such a sum should comfortably deliver 1,000 houses. If we ignore the nonsensical promise of 500 of them in 500 days – that one-per-day absurdity – and grant a more realistic one per week, reckoned across four years, allowing year one as time needed to catch breath from campaign promise hollering, then by now more than 200 houses should have been completed, with money for 800 more; not necessarily in 800 days.

The people of the dense and fertile human vineyards of Point and Villa could not have failed to hear persistent whispers – rumours, even – of why these housing projects are being allowed, if not deliberately caused, to drag on far beyond schedule and way above budget: who is the alleged or reputed owner of the construction equipment and whose son is fronting for his father.

The people of Pointe, Villa and Booby Alley would have witnessed the blatant sweetheart deal of a building and 10 thousand square feet of land on which it sits being doled out (Shared) ridiculously cheap to interests, whose only real Foundation is the intimately close family connection that masquerades behind political abetments and speciously concocted legality, dressed up in the violated legitimacy of Cabinet conclusions.

Add to that the perception – factual or not – that poor and underprivileged people are being forced out because of miniscule competition to the imposed enterprise of a parachuted marital relative, and last Friday’s confrontation could easily be explained as the finally-blown valve of a long overheated and oppressively over-weighted pressure cooker.

Ministers are growing increasingly apprehensive and unhappy with the way things are going, and how they are rapidly moving from bad to worse. But they freeze in terror of the modus operandi, where – in a flash – even the most luminous and angelic Michaels can be Browned and villainized into silence with unflattering things long known about them – but concealed and withheld, retained in reserve until they step out of line and out come the dirt and reproaches: shut up and stand down . . . or else!

Makes you wonder if the revelations about Indian E-books was not a retaliation for someone’s known opposition to UWI’s involvement in the planned national university, or for that hard-hitting treatise against the GPH deal – which is now earning justification from the same mouths of internal denigration that its author has had to sustain and endure.

But we already know the answer to that, don’t we? After all, the people of Villa and Point are not so far from Rural East that they have heard of long the information about Michael Freeland and Customs was around but kept under wraps until it the stubbornness of his political ambitions made it necessary to throw him under the bus of public exposure, to blow him away, so as to clear the way for the present custodian of housing and lands. Methinks we all know who has a particular fetish for money, banking and real estate.

Who will blink and back down in the Booby Alley, Point and Villa saga will be who considers themselves as having the most at stake, pitting the adversarial determinations of self-aggrandizing ruthlessness against existential desperation.

The people of Booby Alley, Point, Villa – and Barbuda – have signaled clearly their willingness to take up arms against any perceived sea of troubles.

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