Tens of millions of dollars are being spent on the ground as rebuilding on the Abaco Islands continues. According to a construction industry insider, however, he lamented that it mainly constitutes private rebuilding efforts.
Leonard Sands, the immediate past president of the Bahamian Contractors’ Association (BCA), said the work happening on the islands is driving the positive growth in the construction industry to the point where some pockets of the sector are oversubscribed and contractors don’t have the capacity to meet demand.
On the government financing side of things, however, he said things continue to move slowly.
“Because of the nature of the second home market and the capacity of those persons who own second homes in the Abacos and the cays to finance their own reconstruction, I have multiple contacts there who tell me that their biggest challenge right now is supplying skilled labor to support the demand for houses. That’s where it is right now and that’s not a bad thing. What that means is that there is so much work going on that they need more people to come in to support the efforts of building in the Abacos,” Sands told Guardian Business.
“The Abacos right now is what’s driving most of the residential building in this country. We expected that. Think about it, about 15,000 persons were affected by Hurricane Dorian, so you have a large amount of homes that need to be built. That’s what the expectation was but we are more surprised on the quick turnaround. Now the government end is moving slowly, but on the private sector end, tens of millions are being spent on the ground daily and there are more commitments every month.”
Hurricane Dorian barreled its way through northern Bahamas in September 2019, destroying thousands of homes and displacing residents on Grand Bahama and Abaco. Damage was estimated to be in excess of $3 billion. Sands said from his viewpoint, there is a mix of local Abaconians and foreign second home owners rebuilding. The only commonality is that they were able to easily secure financing.
“It is both and that’s the interesting and dynamic thing about the Abacos. Those persons who would have gotten insurance money and were able to access financing, they are rebuilding. Those who are local are rebuilding. Obviously, there are persons who are still waiting on government financing because they did not have home insurance in place and that’s where the stagnation is happening in terms of the slowness,” he said.
“But everywhere, there was financing in place, insurance in place, those segments are oversubscribed. I have contractor buddies here on New Providence who have moved over to Abaco and they’re also at capacity in terms of the works that they’ve been able to get there.”
As of August 30, 2020, 4,335 homeowners have registered for assistance through the government’s Small Home Repair Programme, which was established to help residents impacted by Hurricane Dorian rebuild.
Of that number, 3,166 applications were approved to date and $10 million has been allocated so far for the program – 30 percent for Abaco and 70 percent for Grand Bahama.
The high workload from rebuilding has not necessarily translated into more jobs for Bahamians. Sands admitted that while there is a lot of activity and a high demand for skilled labor, some of the work is being done by foreign nationals.
“I think we have to be fair in looking at what’s happening and what’s on the ground. Does it mean that we have 100 percent subscription of Bahamian talent, labor and skills in every part of the development that’s happening in Abaco? No, it doesn’t mean that. What it means is there are hundreds and thousands of locals and persons from around the neighboring islands in the Abacos and cays working. That is certain,” he said.
“Are they also augmented by persons who would have been there or came in from other projects? That is also true. What we can say is there is a good mix of local Abaconians, persons from Nassau, Freeport and the neighboring islands that are in the Abacos doing construction work.”
Up to September 2020, the government had spent $30 million directly with Bahamians on the management of debris sites and community cleanup from the disaster zones impacted by Dorian.