By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
Abaco’s Chamber of Commerce president yesterday said the island had suffered “a lost opportunity” to properly plan its sustainable post-Dorian rebirth while warning that the current housing shortage is “stifling our growth”.
Daphne Degregory-Miaoulis told Tribune Business that COVID-19’s eruption had been “catastrophic” for efforts to rebuild the island following the Category Five storm as she argued that Abaco had missed the chance to properly masterplan Marsh Harbour’s resilient revival.
“One of the sad things after Marsh Harbour was levelled is a master plan was not considered,” she said. “It should have been time for the business community and government representatives to come together with proper architects and town planning to really shape how we wanted to look instead of letting businesses operate from the side of a road, from a car trunk or have shops in residential areas. It was a lost opportunity.”
Mrs Degregory-Miaoulis also urged the Government to look seriously at addressing the housing needs of public service workers itself by building homes or underwriting their financing. Pointing out that Customs was still operating from trailers that lack wash rooms and, often, generators at both the Marsh Harbour and Williams Town ports, she added that other civil servants were still being housed in what she estimated were 50 trailers at the Marsh Harbour government complex.
“Unfortunately, those who have rental homes are opting for the Airbnb vacation rentals,” the Chamber president said. “The Ministry of Education, I’m a realtor, and they’re looking for five homes for teachers. The police and the Royal Bahamas Defence Force, they’re looking for homes.
“How do I quantify it? How big is the problem? I wouldn’t know how to put a percentage on it, but it’s certainly enough and it’s stifling our growth. I would say it’s quite a huge problem.” Leonard Sands, the Bahamian Contractors Association (BCA) president, earlier this week said Abaco and Grand Bahama are suffering a housing shortage - as opposed to a labour shortage - when it comes to their post-Dorian reconstruction.
While there was “an abundance” of work, contractors and developers were struggling to attract skilled tradespersons due to the lack of available rental accommodation at competitive prices. As a result, he warned that The Bahamas was in danger of “repeating the same cycle” of illegal housing communities (shanty towns) that Abaco saw pre-Dorian with Pigeon Pea and the Mudd as persons working on that island would build such structures for their families.
Mr Sands added: “I’ve spoken to some persons on the ground in Abaco and Grand Bahama, and they will tell you there’s a housing shortage. They want to hire tradespeople like carpenters but there’s no place for them to live, so that creates a labour shortage. It’s not really a labour shortage in cases where there’s an abundance of work. It’s a housing crisis.”
Meanwhile, the Disaster Reconstruction Authority’s (DRA) chairman yesterday said persons who received Dorian aid from the previous administration’s small home repair programme used the money to buy non-approved products such as “high end mattresses” and mirrors.
“We discovered categories of damage that were not confined to reconstruction parameters and what is considered major damage,” he said. “In some instances, we saw high-end mattresses and interior mirrors, for example, being purchased with aid funds. I saw one purchase order and invoice that was paid for, I think, a $2,500 mattress using funds that were supposed to be used for home repair.”
He said many of the purchased items were not on the DRA’s approved list and instead were approved by workers in the agency. He added that the small home repairs initiative was oversubscribed. Some $2m has been allocated for the Davis administration’s version of small home repairs, which will be launched in phases.
“The programme will be different from the predecessor as the authority will now seek to procure building supplies in bulk and directly include direct employment of skilled labour,” Mr Storr said during a press conference at the Office of the Prime Minister.
“We have established a reconstruction unit to assist as many homeowners as possible with their reconstruction efforts. We do recognise that all governments are limited financially, which is why we sought to change the model to this one.
“Purchase orders and direct grants will no longer be used as we discovered some received funds but their homes are still in need of repair. On that note, I would like to announce that homeowners and businesses are being notified that all outstanding purchase orders that are out there are being cancelled.”