The demolition of the 39 domes in Spring City, Abaco, which housed Hurricane Dorian survivors, was necessary due to the “hazardous unsafe and unhealthy conditions” at the site, the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM) said.
It added that criticism of the government’s decision, especially from Free National Movement Leader Michael Pintard, is “hypocritical and distasteful”. Pintard condemned the “demolishing of the domes and the displacement of Bahamian families”.
In a statement, OPM said the domes were only meant to be temporary shelters, not long-term homes.
“Initially, the intention was to dismantle the domes in the hope that something might be salvaged,” it said.
“However, it was quickly determined that because the site is riddled with mold and conditions have deteriorated, and are generally unsafe, a more assertive demolition process would be needed.
“Additionally, some residents of the site are regularly engaging in activities which are illegal, and other activities which are not conducive to public health, or the public good. The government has, therefore, worked carefully with each family to move them out of the domes, and provided resources for a transition to more dignified housing.
“Those who criticize these efforts must lack knowledge of the state of the domes site and the process that led to the beginning of the dismantling process yesterday.
“It is astonishing, otherwise, that they would advocate for our fellow citizens to be left living in such squalid conditions. The leader of the opposition surely does not believe that Bahamians should live permanently in this level of indignity; beset by his own internal political problems, he is using dome residents he never helped himself to score political points.
“It is especially hypocritical and distasteful that those who effectively abandoned Abaconians when they were in government now pretend to care about their fate. The previous administration failed to build a single home during their time in office, for any Bahamian, anywhere.”
Photos and video of the demolition were widely circulated on Thursday and prompted criticism in some circles.
On Thursday, Central and South Abaco MP John Pinder II told The Nassau Guardian that he was “heartbroken that they went there this morning with a bulldozer”.
“I believe that was the wrong course of action and I stand with my fellow Abaconians, and I will do whatever I can to help them,” said Pinder, who is a member of the governing party.
But OPM said that joint meetings were held with the Ministry of Transport and Housing, the Ministry of Social Services, and the Disaster Reconstruction Authority to assist dome occupants.
“To date, most dome occupants have received assistance in the form of a $4,000 cash stipend,” it said.
“Additional assistance beyond the stipend was rendered to each occupant that requested it. The assistance ranged from assessing damaged homes for upcoming repairs, connecting families to prospective landlords, assisting them with applications for new housing, and expediting approvals. The team has even gone as far as assisting residents by transporting their belongings to their new accommodation.
“We have kept at the forefront of this effort the well-being of the families affected.
“We have treated them humanely and with the utmost dignity and compassion. Most of them can attest to these efforts.
“Unfortunately, we also encountered a small handful of occupants who were reluctant to leave the domes. From the beginning, this small group of people made it clear that they were not going to cooperate, and not be a part of the process. They remain very vocal and continue to make demands for large amounts of money, etc., before they move.
“We understand and share in the concerns from the public about the fact that the domes had to be demolished instead of disassembled individually and stored for future use.
“Unfortunately, the joint assessments conducted, concluded that the domes the previous administration erected in Spring City were not apt for relocation or future use due to their appalling state and deterioration.
“We cannot respond for the missteps of our predecessors and the funds wasted in this ill-fated dome project.”
The statement from OPM also pointed to unsafe and reported illegal activity it said occurred at the site.
In addition to mold, some dome occupants installed toilets and other water-based facilities in the domes, OPM said.
“There were cases where people were paying rent to the original recipients, which was certainly unethical, if not illegal,” it said.
“One dome was being used as a sex brothel, by a group of foreign nationals engaged in prostitution.
“One was being used as an illegal bar. Occupants complained that a lot of theft was taking place, with people going into domes and stealing personal items. Many occupants reported not feeling safe.”
OPM noted that the sewer system never functioned properly and, when it rained, “the hole where the waste lay would overflow with fecal matter”.
The Davis administration has committed to building 300 new homes on Abaco by next year.
Hurricane Dorian, a Category 5 storm, decimated portions of Abaco and Grand Bahama in September 2019.
Following the storm, then-Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis announced the establishment of temporary housing in the form of dome-like structures, that was expected to cost about $6.4 million.
He said the government planned to set up 250 domes on Abaco in a “tent city”.