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‘Barbaric’ eviction at Gulfstream halted

Tenants due to be evicted today by the Bermuda Housing Corporation for unpaid rent have been given a last-minute reprieve.

Locks were due to be changed today at the Gulfstream transitional living complex for residents owing at least $10,000 each for their rooms in the former United States military barracks at Southside.

Residents estimated that up to 20 families had been ordered out.

However, responding yesterday to a query from this newspaper, Craig Cannonier, the Minister of Public Works, said he had not been informed of the decision, and would have it halted.

“Having only been made aware of this in the past 24 hours, I am now seeking an immediate review of the matter before moving ahead with action of any kind,” Mr Cannonier told The Royal Gazette.

The minister said he would ensure no evictions took place and would “seek solutions as to how we can move forward, bearing in mind that there are families involved”.

The minister added that BHC, to his understanding, had been “extremely diligent in seeking opportunities to relieve the situation”.

The August 22 letter giving final notice took tenants by surprise, causing a scramble for alternative housing and leaving some with nowhere to go — just before the start of the school year.

“You don't know what to think about it,” a mother-of-one said. “You've just got to figure out where your family's going to live.”

Families feared being split up, with the Department of Child and Family Services offering to help tenants with children and no accommodation.

The move drew swift condemnation from Sheelagh Cooper of the Coalition for the Protection of Children, who called it “beyond barbaric”.

“The mandate of the BHC is to provide affordable housing for those who lack the resources to compete in the open market for housing,” Ms Cooper said.

“Most, if not all of them, are either without work or have meagre part-time jobs — and yes, they do fall into arrears. So what then? Do they live on the street with their children?

“Believe me, that place is no luxury location to begin with. It's miles from anywhere with limited bus access, and there are no laundry facilities. Surely we can treat our struggling families better?”

Gulfstream, which overlooks an airport runway along Southside Road in St David's, had 83 rooms when the Bermuda Government repurposed it in 2008.

Tenants who spoke with this newspaper asked not to be identified. “I have my grandparents' house to go to,” the mother said. “There's just me and my daughter. A lot of the people getting evicted are families that are going to be split up.

“There are others with up to three teenage children, families with babies, families that have suffered the loss of a baby.”

She was frank about her arrears — roughly $13,000 built up over about two years' stay — but said that with a lack of steady work, plus a bill of about $14,000 after giving birth uninsured at the hospital, she was incapable of covering it.

“Financial Assistance said I was ineligible because I have my name on my sister's inheritance money.”

Others were allowed to stay after they came up with payment plans, which for one woman meant dipping into her pension.

“That's the money that I'm supposed to live off when I retire,” she said.

Rooms go for $550 a month, she said, with rents as high as $700 in the summer when air conditioning is activated.

A third resident said her complaints about mould, leaking windows and cockroaches in the facility had not been addressed — but the recent presence of repairmen working on vacant rooms was fuelling rumours that the complex would be emptied to make way for the America's Cup next year.

She had contacted her case worker at BHC only to be told “there's nothing they can do”.

Former minister Quinton Edness also criticised the decision, saying the consequences for children would be “terrible”.

“The housing corporation must not just kick out people with children who have nowhere else to go,” Mr Edness said. “Even if they owe $10,000, obviously they have not been able to find work. If a family is not co-operating that's one thing, but they must work out accommodation of some kind.”

Kicked out: locks were due to be changed at the Gulfstream transitional housing complex (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)

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Published August 30, 2016 at 3:51 pm (Updated August 31, 2016 at 9:04 am)

‘Barbaric’ eviction at Gulfstream halted

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