Albury: Housing still a challenge on Abaco

Housing options pose an issue as many Abaconians have begun returning to the island three months after the passing of Hurricane Dorian, Central and South Abaco MP James Albury said yesterday.

In October, the government announced a project to build domes next to the Spring City subdivision to house residents who lost their homes on Abaco during the storm.

The project, called the “Family Relief Center”, was projected to be completed by the end of December. However, Minister of State for Disaster Preparedness, Management and Reconstruction Iram Lewis said they are now projected to be completed “within the start of the first quarter of next year”, Eyewitness News reported yesterday.

The news comes as government has announced that hurricane shelters on New Providence that were housing storm survivors are expected to be closed before the end of this month.

“Relatively, a good amount of people have returned [to Abaco],” Albury said yesterday.

“There’s still a lot of people, of course, who have not returned yet. Primarily people who, they’re either starting secure employment [elsewhere], or people who have their children in school. But you have seen an increase in the people who have returned.”

He outlined “some of the basic building blocks of the community have returned”, including some government offices, and that some residents are taking advantage of the tax exemptions as they’ve returned home to start rebuilding.

But he also commented on the difficulty with available housing for residents to return to as he stated: “There’s just not the housing available for people to return en masse, I guess I’ll put it that way.

“That’s one of the million dollar questions, is ‘How do you get all these people back home?’”

He added, “Even before the hurricane, housing on Abaco was an issue, because there’s a lot of people who wanted more affordable housing options and more convenient housing options.

“So, it was already a pretty tight market accommodation-wise even before all of this. So, of course, this is just a whole new ball game altogether now.

“The farther you go…from where the epicenter of the storm was, you’ll see of course homes that weren’t really necessarily damaged as much, and a lot of people have already secured housing in those areas.

“Either they’re renting them, or staying with friends and family, but that’s already so saturated as it is,” he continued.

“But there’s always going to be an extent to what we can really do, and, of course, the policy is the government’s not really in the business of doing these big housing projects anymore.

“So, it’s just not really feasible to go and say well we’re going to build several hundred homes. It’s just not feasible and we’re not going to be able to do that in a way that really helps a large amount of people.”

While there has been some concern from residents that would prefer the domes to be located on their own properties so that they can more easily rebuild, Albury noted that there is “no 100 percent satisfaction with these kinds of decisions”.

“The tough, the realistic answer, is there’s not going to be a lot of perfect solutions for people who are trying to go down that avenue,” he said.

Albury also stated that where the delay is concerned, he would rather the project be done right the first time than rush to finish and result in any “repercussions that maybe we didn’t foresee”, which he said applied to the status of the Abaco airport opening for international flights as well.

Last week, the Ministry of Works Senior Family Island Engineer David Cox said the government hopes to have work done at the Marsh Harbour International Airport to allow for international flights by December 1 – Sunday past.

“To my understanding they’ve secured power in that area as far as general supply of electricity, so it doesn’t have to be running on the generator all the time.

“We have to satisfy the international security requirements so I know I’ve had conversations with my colleague, the minister responsible for aviation, about that and of course that’s one of my big concerns and his as well and I think everybody who wants to see Abaco to grow.

“Because the sooner we can get some of those international flights returning, that’s, of course, going to help us uptick the economy in various ways…

“But hopefully we’ll see that come back – everybody wants it done yesterday, including myself, but it just has to be done when it’s done, in the correct way.”

Dorian is the strongest storm on record in The Bahamas. It has resulted in 70 confirmed deaths and has left hundreds missing and displaced.

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